Art Garfunkel Sings To Different Tunes

By Mary Campbell
AP News Feature Writer
December 12, 1986

Art Garfunkel, who has trouble reconciling art and commerce, was attracted to Jimmy Webb's "the Animals' Christmas" because Webb composed it for the choir at his church in Tuxedo Park, N. Y.

“It was born out of the love of a musical person to make music," Garfunkel says.

After Webb saw that Garfunkel was interested, he composed some more, with Garfunkel's voice in mind. Now, "the Animals' Christmas" has entered the marketplace, as a Columbia Record performed by Garfunkel, Amy Grant, the Kings College School Choir and the London Symphony orchestra conducted by Carl Davis. Webb wrote 12 tunes and words to eight of them. He also set to music three poems and the words from a 12th-century carol to tell the story of the Nativity, emphasizing animals. A cricket fiddles in "Just a Simple Little Tune." The innkeeper's cat points Mary and Joseph to the stable in "Incredible Phat." "The Friendly Beasts,” "The Song of the Camels," "Carol of the Birds," "the Frog" and "Wild Geese" are self-explanatory.

It was Christmas 1982 when Garfunkel went to Webb's church and heard what now is the middle section of “The Animals' Christmas."  He says, “I had been discouraged by the record business, although totally in love still with music and music making. You come to feel, if you're working within the structure of sales and hits, there is a tainting that is subtle, tricky and interfering. You may be able to avoid this taint for years but it ultimately is insidious. That's what got me up to Tuxedo Park to check this out.

"I fell in love with the score. 1 just think Jimmy Webb is one of the great writers we have."

Garfunkel says, "In 1983 it was fully written. We did a live show at St. John the Divine in New York and Festival Hall in London. "

Then I went skiing. I was out with my Walkman, listening to the recording of the live show. 'Carol of the Birds' moved me to tears. I said to myself, 'I'm going to make a record of this so I can control the notes and be real tight and accurate.'"

On the album, Garfunkel says, "Amy is doing a contemporary sounding woman. She makes Mary a person who is amazed by what is going on, which gives it a reality." He smiles, "I play the angel I always play. No, I was trying to be a bit of Papa in this album, as if I'd sat down with a bunch of kids and opened a big storybook. It calls for me to be narrator, song singer and the Angel Gabriel.

"I asked myself, does this rub against my Jewish background?  I answered that if you sing you're a little like an actor wearing various hats. I'm wearing a hat of respect for the Christian tradition."

Garfunkel has acted in the new movie, "Good To Go," sings in the Amy Grant Christmas special to air Dec. 21 on NBC and is working on a pop album, for probable February release. After that, he says, "I look for 1987 to be a time of not putting out product. I’d rather feed my soul than entertain. I’m not going to tour.  I don’t care to do TV.  I want to explore certain potentialities within myself.  I've been writing little bits of verse and and philosophical observations and inside truth on how I work and I’d like to put these writings together. I want to write some more and get better at it and get more satisfaction out of it. “I seem to have a block in the area of music writing, probably because I had such a talented partner for so long." He refers, of course, to Paul Simon, whose songs Simon and Garfunkel sang from 1967 to 1970 plus a reunion tour in 1981. Garfunkel says, "In singing you're involved with flow and feeling and beauty. Writing for me is about notions I've held all my life that make me who I am.” "You're writing because there is at least one person on the other side of your pen. Ideally, you'd like more people to be there.  But what motivates them to care about your stuff?  Maybe I'll print my poems and send them to those 300 people I care to know me."

The recording of "The Animals' Christmas" began at Christmas 1984 with the London Symphony Orchestra. Garfunkel says, "The next layer was this 24-member choir, of boys just before their voices break, in Wimbledon outside London. I fired them up and told them, 'We want you to sing this religious stuff as if it was a hit record.'  I worked with Geoff Emerlck, the engineer who made all the Beatles albums and the first 14 Paul McCartney albums. "

Then we came to New York and started doing overdubs, putting saxophone on and the organ from St.John the Divine. Then we went to Montserrat Island and I started my vocals. We went to Nashville and recorded Amy's part. We mixed it in Montserrat last Christmas."

During the year of recording "The Animals' Christmas," Garfunkel says, "I squeezed a movie in — six or seven weeks work."  In "Good To Go" he plays a journalist who gets a story wrong, causing trouble in a black neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and becomes curious to investigate what is going on there. He says, "I get to play a hero. I did it because I liked the script. "

My last movie was 'Bad Timing' in I980. I don't have an agent. I'm happy to call music my thing. I love acting; I just don't hustle for it. I'm fairly visible. If somebody thinks I'm good casting for something, I hope they think of me."

Garfunkel doesn't plan to retire. He says, "Retiring in the sense of not putting out commercial products has a very strong appeal. I'll never not do anything. I'm committed to grow."