Art's cool light shines brightly

May 16, 1998
Birmingham Post

In the 28 years since the break-up of their musical partnership it is Art Garfunkel who has had to live for much of the time in the considerable shadow of his diminutive friend Paul Simon.

Those roles have, however, been reversed recently. While Paul Simon laboured for five years on the Capeman musical, which closed in February after little more than a month, Garfunkel has been more productive than at any other time in his musical career, post Simon and Garfunkel.

He's just about to embark on a a British tour in aid of cystic fibrosis, the third time in three years he'll have been seen in Britain, compared with just twice in the previous 25.

Garfunkel has also released a live album, a children's album and completed his walk across America that began in the mid 80s. Garfunkel would drive or fly to a location, walk for as long as he felt able and then bepi cked up, returning to the same spot at a later date to resume this leisurely marathon. It isn't quite the same as walking across the continent in one go, but it's still a considerable achievement, one typical of the quietly single-minded Garfunkel. He now plans to walk across Europe in seven to ten day bursts, commencing just prior to next month's British concerts.

The spark for this activity seems to have been his marriage, in 1988, to backing singer Kim Cernak and the birth of his son James, now seven, who regularly appears at his father's concerts to duet on Feelin' Groovy.

Certainly Garfunkel seems more self assured than he's ever been, and that wonderful tenor voice can still send shivers down the spine as it reaches the musical climax of Bridge Over Troubled Water. He's also relaxed enough to admit, unlike his former partner, that some of that famous curly-haired halo may not be his own.

At the age of 56 Garfunkel remains, however, something of an enigma, even to his closest friends. This is a man who read the dictionary from cover to cover and, despite his considerable wealth, chooses to own neither car nor motorbike. The songwriter Jimmy Webb, Garfunkel's regular tennis partner, describes him as "too cerebral perhaps for some people but I love him very much".

When I spoke to Webb earlier this year he recalled meeting Garfunkel for the first time, in the late 60s on the Kings Road in Chelsea. "I went over and introduced myself and he said 'so you're Jimmy Webb, you look like you should be Jimmy Webb'."

His relationship with Paul Simon, which has known more ups and downs than most, also seems to have reached a plateau of civility. Although a permanent reunion seems as distant as ever, they have performed several times in recent years for charity.

Even at a low point in their relationship, when Paul Simon allegedly wiped Garfunkel's vocals from what became his solo album Hearts and Bones, Garfunkel still felt able to say that whatever happened between them the pair, who have known each othersince school, were destined to be friends for life.

It's perhaps this quality, as much as the strength of Simon's songs and the duo's celestial harmonies, that gave Simon and Garfunkel such a universal, generation-gap spanning appeal. Their musical and personal relationship seemed to act as a metaphorfor the enduring power of friendship. Nowhere is that better expressed than in the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, which remains their towering achievement. Garfunkel's soothing vocal explodes with passion as, in the final verse (actually an-after-thought, Simon originally wrote just two but was persuaded to add a third) he tells the imaginary silver girl that "when you need a friend, I'm sailing right behind".

Such sentiments resonate with record buyers today as much as they did in the early 70s when Bridge Over Troubled Water and its parent album dominated charts all over the world. Both men still perform it in solo concerts although, typically, Simon gives it a complete overhaul, returning to its gospel roots, while Garfunkel stays true to the S & G original.

The same holds true for the rest of the Simon and Garfunkel repertoire. Simon only feels able to revisit his past through dramatic reinvention while Garfunkel prefers to retain the original spirit. Listen carefully to his live version of Homeward Bound however and you will detect a small, but telling, adaptation of the lyrics: "Tonight I'll sing his songs again, I'll play the game and pretend, But all his words come back to me in shades of mediocrity."

Clearly some wounds, dating back to the break-up in 1970 but probably in truth even further back have still not healed. One crucial episode in particular seems to have coloured their relationship.

Back in the late 50s, when the pair had a minor hit record as Tom And Jerry, Paul Simon went off and made a solo record without telling his partner. Garfunkel's feeling of betrayal led to the first of many schisms in their friendship which was only healed when they got back together through a mutual love of Bob Dylan and the new folk music. The Sound of Silence, Mrs. Robinson, Scarborough Fair, America and Old Friends, some of the best-known songs of the 60s, soon followed and the rest is, as they say, history.

Despite reaching Number One in Britain twice since the break-up,  with I Only Have Eyes For You and Bright Eyes, the 70s and 80s were not happy ones for Garfunkel. His girlfriend Laurie Bird committed suicide while he was away filming Nichols Roeg's Bad Timing and, prior to that, he had undergone a messy divorce. Aside from a reunion with Paul Simon for a successful concert in Central Park, and subsequent world tour, Garfunkel's commercial stock subsided. His 1987 album Lefty didn't even dent the chart.

That's why those with memories long enough to recall those days, and even those who weren't even born when Bookends, Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme and The Graduate were topping the charts all over the world, will welcome the return of this particular old friend.