Art Garfunkel explains why and how he sings

January 12, 2008
The Dallas Morning News

Art Garfunkel loves to walk. His own two feet have carried him (albeit in 40 trips) across the entire United States, from his apartment in Manhattan to the mouth of the Columbia River at the lip of the blue Pacific in Washington state.

But has he ever walked across Texas?

"God forbid. Are you kidding?" he says. "I thought I'd go funny on you, because I think of Harry Dean Stanton's movie Paris, Texas. Middle Texas has not just 300 miles of flat sunshine beating down on scruff. It's got 500 miles of that. It gets a little – what's the word? – unforgiving. In that middle Texas, it's solar."

Even so, Texas is where he finds himself tonight. He will take the stage at Nokia Theatre at Grand Prairie to croon songs from his latest album, Some Enchanted Evening, which came out about a year ago.

It showcases Mr. Garfunkel's softly sublime countertenor, which appeared to fly in on heavenly wings in the 1960s as half of that enormously gifted duo, Simon and Garfunkel.

From their appearance on the soundtrack of The Graduate in 1967, the boys from New York went on to record such classics as "The Boxer," "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," each of which relied heavily on Mr. Garfunkel's rare gift.

So at 66, how does he feel about his voice?

"It's a very intimate question," he says. "Nothing could be more intimate. It is my first friend, my singing voice. I noticed that I could sing in tune at 4 or 5, and it became my friend. And it was attached to my notion of God. Where did this come from? Given by who?"

He decided "there must be a larger force, and I have been – I don't want to say the word chosen –but if this isn't a sweet gift, I don't know what it is. I felt incumbent at age 4 or 5 to use it, to enjoy it, to steal away in private and develop it."

He grew up in a Queens, N.Y., family of "modestly serious Jews, and from the Jewish background, I got to love those minor-key songs. I got to love the big wooden room, the synagogue room, where the reverberation is lovely. Because it's wood and it's got a high ceiling. Privacy and reverb are a winning combination."

His advice to a kid who discovers in his or her own throat a similar gift?

"Find a stairwell and make sure no one's listening," he says. "And then just go to town with your ego. Get loose."

Some of what he sang in those early years appears on the new record. Some Enchanted Evening offers gentle covers of romantic classics from the 1920s to the 1960s, including Ira and George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me," Lerner and Lowe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do."

The new record is actually one of a dozen solo releases by Mr. Garfunkel, whose first was Angel Clare in 1973. He and Richard Perry, "my producer of Beatles fame," as the singer calls him, "with whom I made Breakaway in the 1970s," are happy to have merged talents again on Some Enchanted Evening.

While recording "I Only Have Eyes for You" for Breakaway , the two made a discovery, which Mr. Garfunkel calls "a little production formula."

"We took an oldie that was elegant, slow dancing, and we grooved it in a rock 'n' roll modern idiom," he says. "We had the electric piano being very Zen. Pools of glass and very liquidy. We had the drummer being very modern, real fat drum sound in an unapologetic back beat.

"We had the bass player being an electric bass, not a stand-up bass. We used the sense to color some heavenly overdubs that are different textures than you ever would have done in the proper Fred Astaire age. So, we grooved with the old '20s and '30s songs, and we knew if it works on 'I Only Have Eyes for You,' it'll work on so many songs."

Despite his interest in such material, cabaret has never appealed. "I'm a rock 'n' roll child," he says, noting how proud he was to have spoken on behalf of Beach Boys great Brian Wilson, a recent honoree at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

"Just to get into the studio reality and deal with candy-coated rock 'n' roll with an organ goosebumps spiritual thing, which is what Brian did, which is what I know so much about myself ... how to make hymns that have such a tug-at-the-heart sweetness and combine it with great rock 'n' roll. I've done it all my life," he says, "and to give tribute to Brian, the master of 'Help Me, Rhonda' and all this great stuff, I, like him, am a rock 'n' roll child."

He may be raising his own rock 'n' roll child or two. Mr. Garfunkel and his wife, Kim, are the parents of James, 17, and Beau, 2.

James, he says, "is just over the top" in terms of being an individualist. As for whether the teen will enter the music world, "I don't know," his father says. "It's certainly an option. It lays there as an obvious choice."

James' mother "is theatrical and she's a singer, so he's a mixture of both of us. He likes Blink 182, and he likes rock 'n' roll tracks when they're good, but he likes Miles Davis, and he hears these things better than I do."

Despite being half of a famous pair, Mr. Garfunkel is, like his son, quite the individualist. During the 1970s, he made a name for himself as an actor, appearing in Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge (opposite Jack Nicholson) and Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession, which remains his favorite.

"Just because it was that part of my life," says Mr. Garfunkel, "I went for the gold ferociously, the gold meaning I want to give this character a rhyme and reason that I see in my vision. I want to really get across the feeling of this man being undone by love going wrong between him and her. I want to make him come apart skillfully. That was my game, and I gave it a focus of attention like nothing I've ever done."

He occasionally reads scripts but refuses to do a movie if it feels like it's being made "to keep the wheel of the American movie business going 'round, which is not enough. In this one life, I ain't gonna live forever, so that's not enough of a draw."

It's been an extraordinary life already, not the least of which is where his passion for walking has taken him.

"I love the lay of the land," he says in that silky voice, the same one that gave such lilt to the line "Sail on, silver girl" from "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

"This physical earth, this ball in space that spins," he says. "I know it better tangibly. I now know the topography and the drainage of the rivers and the rise and fall and undulation of the American continent intimately. It's in my memory, and in my legs."