Below is one of four interviews from Still Water
Interviewer: You're involved in an interesting project; walking all the way across the
country. What route are you following?
Art Garfunkel: I left my apartment several years ago and first headed due west along the same latitude line, just to get a slice of America, traveling slowly on foot, to have more time to think, and to sing, and to write. As I continued, the changes of itinerary just came to me; I began to drift to the south. Lately I've thought, Am I headed for the Pacific in California or British Columbia...? It's somewhat arbitrary. It started when I went to Japan a few years ago. I took a freighter across the Pacific and went to Yokohama. I traveled alone, and when I got to Japan I decided to see the country on foot, since I'd never been there. I checked what little baggage I had into the hotel I'd arrived at, and I traveled as if I were new to earth. Except for the fact that I was upright instead of on all fours, it was a bit like crawling out of your playpen, wandering and wondering.
Interviewer: Did you know any
Japanese before you went there ?
Art Garfunkel: I studied on the freighter going over, so I had just a little facility in speaking it. And I could read the road signs.
Did you get into any trouble, being alone without much knowledge of the language?
Art Garfunkel: By the end of the first day I was about twenty miles out and I needed a place to stay, so I stopped at an inn and in a charade-like kind of English I asked for a room. She sent me away, so I hitched back to my original hotel. When I later looked up the word she had used when she called her husband about me, it was alone. They must have thought that was too strange, someone traveling on foot alone. I set out the next day, and when I needed a room again I just relied on the human common denominator of a smile. I didn't have any problems after that. I was never desperate; there was always a place to say. You can always shift for yourself; take a chance and it'll work.
Some of the Japanese people along the way recognized you. Was that an odd feeling?
Art Garfunkel: It's always amusing; it's fun, the celebrity trip I've been on for twenty-something years. It's a constant party of a kind. It's a potential magical encounter with everyone. A fan meets a hero, he knows him from the albums. They start off with "Are you who I think you are?" or "Can I have your autograph?" They're open to whatever the exchange may be. I often get very probing. I get into surprisingly serious conversations, things that in the normal course of socializing you'd back off from. But you find people say, "Well, it's a celebrity situation, I'll say things I wouldn't normally say". For years I've been using the vantage point of the celebrity life to be curious about people. You can be a reporter. They're getting a kick out of meeting you, but you're using the celebrity thing to really make contact with them.
As a kid I was a loner. When I achieved public recognition, it was a huge stroke of affection, and it gave me an "in" with which to make contact with people.
Does it often happen that the celebrityhood becomes intrusive?
Art Garfunkel: That's the other half of it. After the initial years, I started noticing that many situations come with terrible timing. It's interruptive. What's really tough is that it often interrupts the quality of the time you have with a friend. Say a friend is now explaining to you what it was that's always been hurting him or her about something you have always done. And it's a quality understanding, you really don't want interruption. But as a celebrity, you're always a walking target. And you really are required to have your grace about it; they don't know what they're interrupting. You can lose some of your private life to it, but then again the phone does the same thing.
To get back to your trip across the country - will you eventually go west? You travel
what, about two days at a time?
Art Garfunkel: I leave my house, I fly out to the state where I last left off on my walk, and I rent a car at the airport and drive to my last spot, then I do about a week of walking, covering 100 to 120 miles. In general, I'm doing the smallest paved road that takes me west.
So you really get to see backyards, you're really seeing America?
Art Garfunkel: In part, I'm seeing how uninspired America is. The landscape seems to change with time much more rapidly than I thought. I try to look at what is no longer on earth, things that existed up until just recently. Unless we try to notice the absence of things, they'll just slip away.
Do you see a lot of decomposing small towns, ways of life that are no longer extant?
Art Garfunkel: They've all gone to the cities. Small towns do not look charmingly small; they look sadly departed-from. Evidently the power of television or pop culture has pulled off the young people toward the cities.
Everything is so homogenized; regional accents hardly exist anymore.
Art Garfunkel: Why did we get this way? Is this homogenization the by-product of "Business comes first; the home office and its headquarters needed to call the country one single unit"?
Do people see you on the street and say, "Hey there's Art Garfunkel"?
Art Garfunkel: They often assume, "It couldn't be him." I often play this game: I say, "What would he be doing here? Besides, isn't he taller?" They seem to agree. Then maybe I'll say "Should I feel flattered? What's he like? Where does he live?" I want them to say: "I know who you are; what is it like to be a celebrity? What makes it different from my life?". That would be the more direct expression of natural curiosity.
What would you say to give them a sense of what's it like?
Art Garfunkel: Well, it's way more good than bad to achieve public recognition for singing. When people talk about the price of fame or the difficulties, they are certainly describing the minor aspects of it all. There are many positive things: the chance to express yourself, the ability to get closer to the back room. It increases awareness of how things work.
So other famous people who claims it's so horrible to be a celebrity....
Art Garfunkel: They lie. Nobody gets onto the top of the charts by accident. There's no one who was ever dragged there, or woke up there. They have rehearsed, and they have set out to match a vision of, as Norman Podhoretz said, "making it." You often see the celebrity hating the intrusion, or the incredible latitude the press has. But basically, being famous increases one's personal power enormously.