A Few Words With Professor Art: A Lecture On The Art Of Being Garfunkel

June 1, 1978
Rolling Stone Magazine
By Rich Wiseman

Art Garfunkel, a folded Los Angeles Times in his hand, was in a good mood as he lounged in his room at the Chateau Marmont. 

The night before, despite a lingering sore throat, he'd put on a confident, spirited show at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the thirty-third of forty dates on this, his first solo tour. He'd won two standing ovations and along the way felt loose enough to tease the audience about the glitter in his cotton-candy hair ("Is it working?") and after a spirited "Cecilia" (one of six Simon and Garfunkel songs in the set), about an S&G reunion: "I'm beginning to think the old duo shouldn't have split up after all." And for someone with a reputation for running his words through more safety checks than a first-time parachutist, his unabashed response to compliments after the show sounded downright candid: "It sure is nice being stroked."

But, Art Garfunkel was also disturbed. In his usual meticulous fashion he'd spent ninety minutes on a long-distance phone interview several days earlier, the fruit of which he held in his hand. The profile was headlined, "Art Garfunkel's Bridge over Stage Fright," but that headline, it turned out, was one of the few parts of the Times article he considered fair.

"In essence, this tour is dominated by a successful overcoming of something I shied away from for a long time," he said, casually twirling ringlets in his hear with his right index finger. "I don't always want to play the vulnerable one: 'Is he strong enough to be a person or is he, in fact, a sack of potatoes?' That's a little bit of an embarrassing pose to keep copping, although it's true for me, and any person who tries to grow, because they're involved in stretching, and the stretching goes with nerves."

As for the article in general, Garfunkel matter-of-factly called it one of those interviews "so off-putting that you vow you'll never do it again. It's not me. Many of those things are things I've said. It shows you the power of the editor."

Asked to be more specific, Garfunkel seized the opportunity: "I'll take you through the article." For the next hour-plus, he did just that. Before long the interview took on the trappings of a class in some experimental college, with Professor Garfunkel delivering a primer on how and how not to write about Art Garfunkel--and how ever if the quotes are right, they're not necessarily what he meant.

Art Garfunkel's last tour was in 1970 when he and then-partner Paul Simon were riding the crest of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water,' which went on to become one of the biggest albums in pop history. But nothing since. "Now that's kind of jerking my tool--'Let's create dynamics by exaggerating those things that have to do with upness and downness'--is bullshit. It hurts my feelings, it puts me on the defensive. You mean, 'Hard work in similar endeavors, with a lesser degree of mass acclaim. That is not the same as 'nothing.'"

Those endeavors included the release of Angel Clare in 1973, the Richard Perry-produced Breakaway in 1975 and Watermark earlier this year. Each took more than a year to produce, and each attained gold status. Garfunkel seemed partial tot he soufflé pop of Watermark, an LP that features nine Jimmy Webb songs, a traditional Irish folk song and the James Taylor/Paul Simon collaboration, "(What a) Wonderful World" (its inclusion, at the last minute, was due to "record-business realities, which to my ear was very acceptable"). "I'm in Watermark more than I have been in any album," said Garfunkel, who produced the LP. Then, speaking of his players, who ranged from the Chieftains to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, he added: "This time my partners were more supportive. That tilts it more in my direction in terms of allowing me to express myself more fully."

Asked if he was somewhat disappointed that Watermark had not sold even more in this era of platinum-plus, Garfunkel paused. "No, I'm not disappointed somewhat," he replied, a mite annoyed. "Enough people bought it, enough for me."

But back to class: Last year with 'Watermark' [due out] Columbia Records urged him to set up a tour to help sell records. "Nice and blunt and fairly accurate from a business point of view."

Then on a Christmas skiing trip to Aspen, Garfunkel decided to get back into the grind; "I was skiing," he recalled, "and then I thought to myself, 'I know what I'll do, I'll tour.'" "It's a little ironic that he justaposes the previous paragraph with that. It makes Garfunkel look like--unbeknownst to Garfunkel--he was only fitting into a preprogrammed business pressure and he thinks it came to him himself."

"In Aspen I got into that wonderful state called ready…It's a result of a great bombardment of forces finally penetrating your core. I came back…and put together a band…and a show." "That sounds like me. Readiness, in fact, is very central to this tour."

When a performer stays offstage so long, fear often develops. The singer admitted that happened to him. "Now we get into the problem with proportion." "Fear was definitely an obstacle…For me it was a long, slow process to overcome the fear to the point that I was willing to try performing again." "I guess I said that, but it's not accurate. I did not spend the first four or five years thinking of performing or trying to overcome any fear. I was busy with other things. Its in the last few years that I've begun to think, and very subliminally, that it is pleasurable to sing for people when the sound system is right."

End of opening remarks. With friends Andy and Daisy present, Garfunkel put down the article and the topic switched to last night's show. Garfunkel mentioned that he had received a cortisone shot to help him through. But when the tape recorder was clicked on, Professor Garfunkel was alerted:

ART: Cortisone creates a superficial health. Superficial means it's not an essential character.

ANDY: If you weren't singing for a living, you wouldn't sing on a night where your throat was bad. It puts your throat back to where it should be.

ART: Well, it had a speed factor to it. It took me not only out of the valley of poor chops, it took me way beyond normal. That's the point. It's something I never do.

ANDY: Should you take drugs if you're writing a book?

ART: I would have no moral feelings about that.

DAISY (Laughing): Well, most of the public is so drugged out anyway. What do they care?

ART: I wish I could smell a little more. I love those shows when you come out and smell dope. It's so rare in my shows.

Garfunkel continued reading: "…After my first two albums, I still didn't think I had enough good material of my own to do a good show. You have to give people value for their hard-earned money. People don't want to see a '70s performer doing '60s material." "That's me in a certain mood, pontificating what people want and don't want to do."

It was evident that Garfunkel was annoyed at having to justify his aversion to composing…Garfunkel concluded his case testily: "…I don't like to write." "I should have asked, 'Do you water-ski?' He would have said, 'No.' I would have said, 'Why?' And then I would have invited him to consider how it feels being asked that same question twice a year every year for the last six or seven years."

With Simon…they raised the acoustic/contemporary folk genre to an exalted level that hasn't been approached since. As a soloist, Garfunkel has been touring small concert halls with lush pop material--" "'Lush' implies a weight and size. But I have a guitar, a piano and a drummer [and "covocalist" Leah Kunkel]. Our proportions are scaled down"--that isn't as formidable as the Simon and Garfunkel duets. "Two people are inherently more interesting than one. The loss of Paul Simon is a loss of great talent. Naturally it's something I can't enjoy dwelling on. Give me a break and I'll take it from there."

It's a common assumption that Garfunkel's life has been mostly leisure. "A lot of my colleagues pursue it very hot and heavy, ninety-five percent style, but I try to keep it seventy-five percent. To me that seems human. You can figure I'll keep a proportion of seventy-five percent work for decades to come, hopefully.

"From 1973 to 1977 I made three albums, and they took up most of my time. There's something odd about how now that I step on the stage the audience can see Art Garfunkel putting himself on the line for us. They write me up as if to say, 'He's finally committed.'"

"This tour has put me back in the public eye and I like being there…" "Very weird for Art Garfunkel to make a statement like that. So out of character. It seems like a phony moment in a conversation." "I'm going to be less standoffish than I used to be." "That's the way I feel for the next couple of months…I'll be recording again, maybe in Aspen this summer. In the fall I'll be touring. Then I think it's going to lead to a nice period of wanting to do something else. I'd love to go to China."

His critique finished, Garfunkel was asked to give the Times writer his due; after all, the inevitable Simon and Garfunkel reunion question had not been asked. Garfunkel stared ahead thoughtfully for a moment. "Maybe he did ask me that, and I just turned aside from it," he said, barely audible. Then, after a pause, he turned toward the tape recorder: "Can I speak that softly and feel that it will be articulate? 'Cause I liked that answer, listening in my own mind. I think that that's the definitive statement on 'Will Simon and Garfunkel get back?' My quote was 'Maybe he did ask me that and I turned aside from it.' If I never said another word on that subject I'd be pleased."