The Art of Garfunkel

August 16, 1998
Dayton Daily News
By Tom Hopkins

`Pop warrior' will perform with Dayton Philharmonic at Fraze. It took Art Garfunkel 20 years to come out of his shell.     Now, just try putting him back in.

`Never underestimate the massive quantity of human shyness,` the singer/songwriter/poet said softly. `It explains so many things.'   

The Art Garfunkel who will walk out on stage at Kettering's Fraze Pavilion on Saturday won't be the same man who was so overshadowed by Paul Simon that many people considered him aloof.   `I worked with a partner - how shall I describe Paul? - who was very anxious to take the ball and run with it, so I did a lot of deferring to Paul,' Garfunkel said.   `He grabbed the mike and did most of the talking, and I was happy to be the harmony singer who stood there and made sure the arrangements were beautiful. 

`Those days are over. I'm really coming of age as a stage performer. I'm happy to show that I'm a thinking musician. I talk to the audience more comfortably now, and I just love being the bandleader - controlling the pacing.'

Garfunkel will get his chance when he shares the stage with Neal Gittleman and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra in the summer's fifth Sunset Symphony concert.   The orchestra will open with selections from West Side Story and several Gershwin tunes, leading into Garfunkel's show. Look for selections from his Grammy-nominated album, Songs From a Parent to a Child, as well as favorites like Bridge Over Troubled Water, I Only Have Eyes for You and Scarborough Fair.

When I told Garfunkel his concert is nearly sold out, he chuckled and assumed the gravelly voice of an old man: `So they've not forgotten this old pop warrior!'   Not hardly. The mop-topped singer has experienced a creative resurgence in the '90s. He made a Grammy-nominated children's album, Songs From a Parent to a Child, performed for President Clinton and voiced the singing moose on the PBS cartoon series, Arthur.

Simon and Garfunkel made such an impact on the 1960s music scene that it's hard to believe Garfunkel is marking his 25th year as a solo recording artist. He toured 10 European countries in May and June and plans 22 U.S. concerts this summer and fall.

A longtime New York City resident, Garfunkel was calling from Los Angeles, where he was visiting with his wife and son. He has never visited Dayton but says his father lived here before he went on the road as a traveling salesman.   "Dayton was a big city in my father's life when he was about 18," he said. "It was the happiest time of his life. We had family in Columbus, and he worked in a hardware store in Dayton and was an actor."

His son Art became an actor, too, in such films as Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Bad Timing and Boxing Helena, but Garfunkel has always considered music as his highest calling and his beautifully ethereal voice as his most valuable tool.   "I try to soothe - to lift. That's my life," he said.   "It's a nervous world, full of hype and overstimulation. The speed and intensity of traffic in the modern world requires us to downshift. As a singer, I want to take people out of the mundane - away from the hum of traffic. That's why I go out walking: I want to downshift."

Garfunkel's obsession with long-distance walking began with a three-week hike across Japan in 1982. By 1984, he had launched an on- again, off-again walking tour of America, a journey that produced the Across America album.    He still does two walking excursions a year and trekked across Ireland in May during a 10-country concert tour of Europe. Sometimes his wife walks with him, but generally he goes it alone.     "I'm just getting exercise, pleasing the heart," he said. "You bring your Sony Walkman, you sing, do some deep breathing. When I come home, I feel really fit."

He also became "a literary guy" in the '80s, scouring dictionaries for word nuggets and writing prose poetry. A collection of his poems, Still Water, was published by Dutton in 1987.   "I began to look at words as colored shells on a beach," he said. "About every other day I would sit down and work on picturesque- sounding words, polishing and fixing them.   "That's the kind of weird guy I am. I'm a Renaissance-type guy. I'm trying to stay interesting to myself."

Born into a Jewish family, Garfunkel was once a loner. That all changed when a mutual friend sent him a picture of a singer named Kim Cermak, a Buddhist.   "She really challenged me," he said. "When I called her, she said she knew quite a lot about my nature through my singing. And I said, 'I never do this. I've been trained to never respond to people who know me through show business, because I feel that's a distortion.'   "And she said, 'Is it really? I have known you since I was a little girl of 5 or 6, through your work. Are you not in your work?"   That blew his mind. They were married in 1988 and had a son in 1990. They frequently harmonize with him in concerts, although they won't be able to make it to Kettering, he said.   

Garfunkel considers himself a religious person but has not adopted Buddhism.    "I do a song called Grateful in which I do try to speak up for my sense of God," he said. "I do believe in God, but I don't fit easily into any organized religion. I come from a Jewish family, but that's not exactly the same as having a guide that keeps you going daily. If you asked me about an afterlife, I'd have to say, 'I don't know."

Garfunkel advises his fans not to count on the much-anticipated reunion with Simon.   "I have a history with Paul, and I miss my old friend," he said. "When I listen to the old records, I can hear the affection. But life is not as easy as it could be, and I don't see a reunion in the future. We're busy doing our own agendas."