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Across America Promotional CD Interview With Art Garfunkel

The following passages were taken from a British limited release Across America promotional CD. The CD contains four songs as well as an interview with Art Garfunkel. I've transcribed Art's responses to a wide range of questions. The headings before each paragraph(s) are the web page editors way of dividing up the various subjects for easier references. All responses are Art Garfunkel's unless otherwise noted.

Thanks to David Clancy for sending us this interview.

What has Art Garfunkel been up to the last few years?

A few years ago I put out an album called Up 'til Now. And that was the year I did a whole run of shows with my famous former partner Paul at the Paramount Theater. And then we did large concerts all over the world, about six of them. When that was finished, I began to really firm up my own Art Garfunkel concert. So in the last few years, my main activity has been to move from recording studio to the stage. I've had a good time firming up my stage legs and finally learning to talk to an audience, and pace a show, and be a band leader and I've really been thrilled to do live shows. I came last year to Festival Hall and had a really happy night singing for my fans. We did a whole European tour. I've now done a couple hundred shows between America, the Far East and Europe. That's been my main activity along with introducing my little son to his first school. I did a bit part in a movie called Boxing Helena, but maybe that was a few years ago.

Walk Across America

My walk across America started in the early 80's when, as a traveler, I'm the son of a traveling salesman. As a traveler, I took a freighter across the Pacific in the early 80's to Japan. It was the first time I had ever been there. I was alone and had a little bit of luggage. As I pulled into the harbor, I hatched the notion, I will check this little bit of luggage in a hotel in Kobe and walk the country from coast to coast. It is not that big of a walk, not that big a challenge. I set off though these rice fields and I began to sort of wake up the notion of traveling as something you don't have to reach for your car keys. I use the horizon and the setting sun as my guide. I fished my way through rice fields and the whole thing worked rather well. You improvise your way. The more you are stuck for a place at night, the more you actually find some saving grace that is quite picturesque. So when that worked well, I came home and said, right, I'll walk the United States. Somewhere around '84, I left my New York apartment, cut across Central Park, and went past my alma mater Columbia University, across the George Washington Bridge and I was in New Jersey. Most of the time I was alone with my Sony Walkman and my notebood in my pocket. In the '80's I was doing a lot of writing. Bits that I would call prose poems. So I reflected on whats going on in the United States. Over forty more excursions, about three a year, taking about twelve years, I crossed the entire United States.

How have the press and Art Garfunkel's fans treated him during his walk?

I was left almost totally alone. There were times that the press latched onto me and then I would have to strike a deal. If you leave me alone (laughs), I'll give you an interview in the coffee shop in the town I'm about to come to. That happened a little. But I was never really hassled and I find the world, this is going to shock people, but the world is a safe place. Almost the entire world is trying to mind their own business and stay out of trouble and find their way to heaven in their own way. They just can't be bothered with you.

There is another phenomena that my fellow celebrities may know. If you are wearing a non-persona, if behind your face, you are feeling like I'm not a famous singer, I'm just a guy looking out at the beauty of the landscape. The attitude that you project belies any sense of celebrity. So, even if somebody says, 'he seems to look like Art Garfunkel, but it can't be, look at his tone (laughs), his attitude, that couldn't be him.' So I never get hassled.

How did Art Garfunkel prepare for the Ellis Island concerts?

I have been doing a lot of touring, and developing and refining my show and knowing how to sing my songs to maximum precision, is how I look at it. It got more and more refined, so by the time we were doing these two nights at Ellis Island, I knew what I wanted to do with every syllable. So it became like master recordings.

The story behind "Crying In The Rain"

The second track is "Crying In The Rain". I had come over years ago to England to do the Prince's Trust show. And James Taylor was on the bill. I called James at his hotel earlier that week and said, James, why don't we work on a duet together, incorporate it into the Prince's Trust show, and James said, "oh, I don't know if I want to get nervous and do something brand new this week." He called me back an hour later, and said "there is a tune of the Everly's that I have been wanting to work with you on. And whether we do it this week or not, I think it's great for us to try." We got together in the hotel and ran down "Crying In The Rain", and then he looked in my eye and said, "I don't know when we'll get to this, but let's definitely do this song." Then four years went by and finally we got to it. I love to work with James, he is so damn accurate.

"I Only Have Eyes For You" and other standards

"I Only Have Eyes For You" was a big hit for me, so you have to put it in there. It reminds me of a whole album that I really could make of those 30's and 40's standards [editor's note: RECORD THIS ALBUM!]. You see, I love to hold my notes… To me, it’s a very soothing thing to do in a tense world. Show that you can be supremely easy about your delivery. I’m a child of Bing Crosby in that way. But none of this stuff works if you don’t have a band that keeps the energy… happening.

Background to "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

I find myself talking about "Bridge Over Troubled Water" often. Paul wrote "Bridge Over Troubled Water" back around ’69 in his East End Avenue apartment and called me and said, "I’m awfully excited, you have to come over and hear this." He wrote it as a two verse song and we got together and he showed me this song and he sang it in a key that was a little too high for him, because he wrote it for me. So he had to use his falsetto. And I was always a fan of Paul’s very nice flutey falsetto voice. So when I heard it I said - it’s a killer. But you might consider doing it yourself because it gives you a chance to show off your falsetto. He said no, I wrote this specifically with you in mind. And I said immediately, cool, great, I’ll take it. And that simple little past that took 15 seconds of conversation has gone down in so many interviews about how I had rejected the song and how Paul was ticked off that I didn’t like it or something. I’ve now spent twenty years trying to show that it was such a simple matter - a great song was shown to me, I returned the gesture of givingness by trying to give it back to him. And complimenting Paul on his falsetto and he said no, I want you to do it. I said, great, I’ll do it.

When we went to the studio and began to work on it. I began to realize that Phil Spector’s great production on "Old Man River" by the Righteous Brother would serve as a brilliant model for "Bridge Over Troubled Water". If we can add a third verse to "Bridge", and make the third verse open up so that lots of new instruments would come in and the whole record would expand. We could make the beginning of the song seem like it is all set-up, set-up, set-up, and then the kitchen sink falls in and the record gets big. I like that notion, production wise. So I said to Paul we need a third verse, everything you wrote is a set-up. He liked that and began writing a third verse and I worked with Larry Knectel on piano to help him find chords to serve as a turnaround between verses and we recorded it. I must say it was expensive to work that way. These things grew organically out of the studio work and you looked at what went down and you decided where it wanted to go from there and you added and augmented from there. When the track was finished and I was doing the vocals, I found the last verse the easiest. It was very inspiring to hit those big note and to get up that high and to make it. And that was a real thrill in my life.

I knew the second verse has to be a preparation for that last verse so it needs to have some baritone edge and ballsiness [sic] to set up the last verse. Mind you we recorded the whole track first and now I’m talking about the vocal which came later. When I finally did the first verse, and I wanted it to be very delicate to prepare for what’s coming ahead. I went crazy singing it, and fixing it and redoing it, and polishing it. It’s got so much labor to make it seem seamless.

When did Art Garfunkel begin to start writing prose poems?

Paul and I finished our world tour in Israel in 1983. I came to Switzerland and I was motor cycling around, realizing with all this free time on my bike, I could invent the game of words and start writing. When you get lines that have a flow and the syllables dance just the way you want, whether it rhymes or not, you stop, you jot it down. I began to realize I was into another form of expression for the first time. I’m not really a song writer, except for my teenage years. So this really was the first time I became a writer during the whole middle 80’s. As I was crossing the country, so many different things were coming to me. Memories of loss, the love of travel...

What time of day did Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon record in the studio?

In the early days of the ‘60’s, Paul and I would come into the studios at 7pm, and if it was really happening, we’d be rolling by two in the morning. And the hours of 2,3,4, and 5 were very rich productive times. Then we would get tired and go home at 9 the next morning. They were great nights.

Reverberation and Inspirational Ballads

I think if you talk to any singer, you’ll see that the reverb that a room gives you which helps finish the note is a flattery that is a real turn on. I think without that, some inspiration dries up. I was singing at age six, "Unchained Melody" in school. The kids would leave the class and I’d sneak back up the stairwell before I walked home and spend another half-hour with nobody around just because the stairwell has good sound (editor’s note: Sings a few lines from "Unchained Melody".) Or whatever the hits were, "Unchained Melody" was a hit, so was "You’ll Never Walk Alone", that great goose bump ballad from "Carousal". This is when I learned about inspirational ballads and the fun of singing with reverberation.

Art Garfunkel’s early years

I was popular. It was fun to be a singer, which became my identity starting at age six. I sang in the talent shows. I had a well adjusted early years in my life. Who knows where we all go wrong. Young people will know the great pain and pressure called "what is your field of study?" It feels false, because I think so many people would like to say they have many areas of interest, what do you mean "what’s my one field of study?"

And this is where we get acquainted with the system and how to find our niche in the economic wheel. It’s kind of a drag. A necessary drag - to glean your living out of the system and to find your way to make peace with the world as we know it and to be a realist. I never could do that very well. When they forced me into a major, I chose architecture and spent four wasted years at Columbia pursuing that. I ultimately got my Bachelor Degree, then went on to a Masters and a Ph.d in Mathematics. But, in these later years, I was really for the first time falling in love with reading. Letting my curiosity go in all of the 360 degrees.

Then along came, through the back door, my private hobby of singing, with my old buddy, Paul Simon and a record contract and a hit record and I was released of the question, "what’s your major?".

Art Garfunkel connecting with his audience and his appreciation for life

You know, you spend all these nights in the recording studio and you sing to these perforated sound walls and it’s kind of dreary when you look at what you’re doing. And the foam pad around the microphone is all so technical. But when you close your eyes you have to think that there are real people that crave truth and beauty on the other side of the mic. Never mind British politics and American elections and all this hype we have to live with. We still are human beings yearning for truth and beauty. I try and hook into that and be real as somebody who can remind people that life has poignancy and the non-mundane in it. Where I’m coming from is gratitude that I can have an audience that cares to show up and support me when I sing. A lot of people are not cared about. I’m not the only one that has expressions that they want to get across. But I’m the lucky one that has people who will care to come and let me express. This is the workshop of my devotion.

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