Art Garfunkel's Feelin' Groovy Again

Canadian Jewish News
By RON CSILLAG, Staff Reporter

That voice.

"Yes, it's me," says Art Garfunkel on the phone from New York, almost crooning. "I'm that guy in the studio, years ago, singing 'Hello darkness my old friend.' I was the one putting all those hours into The Boxer, so that the harmonica would come in just right; getting the drums in Bridge Over Troubled Water to make the last verse sound like it was important."

Not a bad introduction, even if it's tongue-in-cheek. And although there are still hints of the clear, angelic pipes that made Simon and Garfunkel world-famous for their unique harmonies, the voice is now distinctly mellow, but self-assured. Solid, even.  Art Garfunkel, now 56, is not the kind of '60s pop star who finds himself in the "Where Are They Now?" file. Since he and Paul Simon parted ways 28 years ago, after a string of multi-million-sellers like Scarborough Fair, Feelin' Groovy and Mrs. Robinson, Garfunkel could have easily slipped into obscurity.  Instead, he's released a string of solo albums (with a few hits, like Angel Clare), appeared in several films, published a >book of poetry, was the voice of a singing moose for an animated PBS series, performed an orchestral concert of Jimmy Webb songs, read the dictionary back to front and continued touring.

Garfunkel will appear in concert in Toronto May 3 at the Princess of Wales Theatre.  The evening will benefit the Youth Wing of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which houses the world's foremost collection of Judaica, not to mention the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Garfunkel is fresh from a trip to Israel, where his concert in Tel Aviv was attended by Leah Rabin. He'd been to the country twice before and has seen most of it, but this time, he made his first visit to the Dead Sea.  "I have psoriasis," he explains, "and I've been told that if you float in that salty, buoyant water, it's very good for the skin. I found it not so much therapeutic as beautiful." 

What did prove therapeutic - almost spiritual - for Garfunkel was his much-touted walk across America. Starting from his New York City apartment in 1984, he would trek about 100 miles at a time, drive or fly home, and pick up again later at the exact same spot. After 40 excursions, he completed his walk in 1996, where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean.  "I'm the son of a travelling salesman," he explains. "I love to see great countryside. This was taking that love and really savoring it slowly. And also feeling the continuity of the country, from one end to the other. You really feel its totality."  When he finished his journey, "I felt like something deep in me was registering an accomplishment. One registers these things somewhere in one's bones. It's done. I did it. So it is doable." 

Garfunkel's odyssey culminated two years ago at the massive Registry Hall of Ellis Island, where he staged a concert and recorded a new album about his trek, Across America.   "I was struck by the fact that it all started there," he says of Ellis Island, "that we all fanned out from there."   Including his own family. Garfunkel's Jewish grandparents arrived there around 1905 from the town of Jassi in northeast Romania. "How they got to be called Garfunkel, I really don't know. I wish somebody would help. Put that in the article: 'Garfunkel wishes someone would help him.'"  His family tree has him stumped but interested. "What is the name Garfunkel doing with a Romanian family? Is it that at Ellis Island they smoothed out an otherwise eastern European sounding name? Garfunkel sounds kind of German to me."

Garfunkel says he grew up hearing plenty of Yiddish. But like other children of Lower East Side immigrants, he was born "uptown," in Forest Hills. He's as American as apple pie, but his awesome success has humbled him.  "I'm an American story, in that my lucky life with Paul Simon, and now without him, is so much about how America works and allows any middle-class toad who practises a lot and has talent and takes it seriously - without any bribery or connections - to knock on doors, and win in this system. The system is very open for sincere, earnest people who try hard.   "Paul and I got on that competitive track as New York kids who were calculating the market at age 15 [as the duo Tom and Jerry]. We just kept rehearsing, making demos, knocking on doors, going to the Brill Building, and having tenacity and never giving up."

During the '70s and '80s, "I was very full of myself. My career! My potential! My hidden talents! A lot of 'me, me.'"   In 1988, he married singer-actress Kim Cermak. The couple has a son, James, 7, the spitting image of his dad.  Today, Art Garfunkel is feelin' groovy again. "Loving another," he says with purpose. "That's where it's at."