'For the first time, singing is not the easy thing it has always been'
Published: August 16, 2012
Author: Chris Epting
August 28 sees the release of Art Garfunkel's The Singer, a 34-song, two-CD collection that spans every inch of his vaunted career. It features seven Simon and Garfunkel classic studio and live performances, plus the most extensive gathering ever of solo Garfunkel, from 1973's Angel Clare to a pair of new songs.
Recently, Spinner had the pleasure of speaking with Garfunkel, and the singer, actor and poet remains refreshingly unjaded -- still a self-described "struggling artist" that gets nervous when he steps behind a microphone, whose thoughts wander seamlessly and interestingly from one to the next.
He recently endured some throat issues but is feeling much better and is currently preparing for a series of concerts in honor of this epic release.
Talk about The Singer, if you would.
When I put it together I thought, I believe I'm showing up more effectively than I've ever showed up since my early days. In fact, even with Simon and Garfunkel I didn't show up that much. I was the harmonist behind Paul. This album really says, "Hello, here I have
always been." I don't know if people really listen for any length of time nowadays, but if you hang in and hear the flow from tune to tune you're supposed to hear that the singer can really sing. When one song finishes it segues into another piece of entertaining singing so I'm proud of keeping the focus on the voice and watching tune after tune present shades of a first rate singer. I was very involved in this. I chose everything and was completely immersed.
You did a really nice job with the liner notes, sharing so many little stories and insights.
The whole thing, this entire package is very important to me. It's as if I'm never going to sing again. I have had vocal trouble for two years now I've been off the stage but I'm going back now. I've got my shows booked so I'm coming out of a hiatus, so there is an urgency to all of this for me. When I was south, not happening as a vocalist, I began to think, in this digital age, I'm probably finished in the record business. I like to sing. I love the shows, but records, I don't know how you negotiate the record business anymore. So I did this collection and I have my fingers crossed.
The way you describe it, it seems to have some sort of finality.
This is my swan song, man. I've put together 50 years of what I did, with and without Paul, and it's me saying, "While I was here on earth, this was me and music. This is as important as my life is. This is it."
It's always interesting to hear the stripped-down version of "Sound of Silence" that you included. I'm not sure everyone knows that this song was originally much simpler and stark.
That is some song. The lyric is all about imagery of ratty tenements and crummy apartment buildings in New York, the whole thing is just rust -- and well, I really like the notes I wrote for this song. I remember the song when it was written and I could see it was written into my range so Paul had me in mind, he was harmonizing, and I see us then. If you know New York, we're uptown, at Columbia University and Paul is bringing his guitar with excitement -- "Here's the sixth song I've written, Artie. What do you think of this one?" And I'm so delighted to sing it and the audience is kicked on its butt. When the enthusiasm is really there it helps a performer so afterwards I said to Paul, "That's the best one of all," and he knew I was intensely excited.
What's most important to you as an artist today?
I want to feel like, I want to try and be real and artful and show that you can still be mainstream and popular while being true to your art. Admittedly, I'm having a tough time with this age we live in -- It's too off the top. I really don't like how listening is an act we do on the fly while we multitask. There's a real one that tough on me in this age
And your voice is feeling stronger now?
I will say yes but with a certain nervousness behind it. It's a critical part of my life if you want to know the truth. This business makes you vulnerable. You're exposed. You appear relaxed during a concert as if to say, "You're in my hands, I've got you covered." I'll bring that attitude to the stage but I'm not sure what's going to happen. I do get very concerned. I was confident when I booked these upcoming shows, but I'll know when it's showtime how things are. I'm always trembling, I can tell you that. I get scared, though when it comes to performing the other choice is mail it in so I'll take being scared. It keeps me grounded.
You recorded two new songs for this package. How was it, being in the studio?
There I was on mic in the vocal booth trying to be sure and damned if I wasn't 14 years old again -- just trembling with the hope that I can do it. Being afraid of failure is a timeless worry. No matter how long you do, you are always sort of a novice. You're always trying to get from kindergarten to the first grade. You should have seen me from the front end, where I addressed the microphone: It was blank, it was zero, it was the unknown. I had to dive in to create. Along the way there was panic, frustration anger. I could have smashed my fist in to the vocal booth wall. But you hang in, the results start to flow. I'm prickly sometimes. But I had to do this. Friends say, "If you never did another thing, you've made contribution. Enjoy it." But I had to do this collection. And I have to go out and sing. I worked hard tO come out of this tricky patch in my life and I just might be coming out it. This is a very important time and place for me.
You're still an old-fashioned artist. You don't even own a computer, right?
That is right. I had an innate resistance from the very beginning. There's very little in the modern world that makes sense to me because it all seems to be about speed. It's all about wanting to do it faster. Faster is not always better. In fact, I think it's rarely better so I resist technology as much as I can. I mean, I look around today and see so many using speed to rush through life and get to the end faster. I'm in no rush [laughs].