Garfunkel On Relationship With Simon: 'Love' And 'Like Weather In Slow Motion'

By Jim Clash, Nov/Dec 2014

The weather ebbs and flows, much like the relationship between Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon over the years. The two tour together, break up, reconcile, do it again and so on. It’s been 60 years now.

In part one and part two of this interview series with Garfunkel, we discussed the recent death of film director Mike Nichols and the origins of the seminal sixties song The Sound of Silence.

Now we move into more emotional territory: the complexities of the Simon & Garfunkel equation and the loss in early 2010 of Garfunkel’s singing voice. For the record, Garfunkel says his voice is back in full now, but the hiatus, however temporary, was devastating to the lifelong crooner.

Jim Clash: Your singing skills were evident early in life, correct Art?

Art Garfunkel: I took my singing voice as a lucky rabbit’s foot and built into my identity at age five. I was a singer to myself. My best friend in life was my voice, and we went everywhere together. Every doorway into every room of strangers I sang to myself, Jim, as I crossed the threshold. In that moment of insecurity – who are these people, what will they think of me – I hummed. At a very young age I felt a little touched. I knew that God gave me this lucky gift in my throat – and I stayed connected to God though it. Strong words, but how true. I never ripped it up, never drank Southern Comfort, I practiced and stayed responsible to the gift. This voice is my connection to the larger powers, and it’s been magical.

JC: A few years back you lost that magic.

AG: When it was gone, it was a surprise. If you ask what caused it, I still to this day don’t know. I did a far-east tour with Paul the last time we worked together. The Old Friends show, Jim [in 2009], we played Australia, Japan [and New Zealand]. The format was loud. You have Paul Simon who wants to hear things loud right at his feet in the monitors – they’re called wedgies – and you have Arthur, who is not at all interested in monitoring sound that way. He likes to use his ears to reach out into the arena, hear things that way. Very unusual, nobody does that.

JC: That does not sound like a complementary situation.

AG: I’m standing four feet from Paul with these different monitoring needs. The poor monitor engineer, Tim Holder, had a hell of a trip. You try and angle the wedgies at diagonals away from each other, do the best you can. But you end up if you’re Arthur singing loud and finding a way to do I Am A Rock very strong. Well, maybe it works on that one, but a very loud version of The Sound of Silence is not what I want. I pushed my voice to a high decibel level.

JC: I read that you also choked on a lobster at The Palm, which may have contributed to the voice problems?

AG: They love that story because it’s so picturesque. That choking experience, and the violent coughing to get it up, was a scary, almost near-death experience. The fact that I started having vocal trouble later that week tells me it’s causally connected. But my voice is back now. Most people down play the things they’ve gone through. Professionals go through all kinds of stuff. There are baseball pitchers right now having rotator cuff problems that don’t talk about it.

JC: Any talk about you and Paul reuniting for another tour?

AG: I don’t really know. Nothing specific is in the works.

JC: How would you characterize your longtime relationship with Paul – love/hate, brothers, old married couple?

AG: It’s like the weather in slow motion – clouds, then sunshine. My fondness and love for Paul is very deep, comes from childhood. You say give me some words on this interesting subject to people, but I don’t know what words to say. When the clouds come and it’s dark and there’s rain, I don’t want to describe how when things don’t work what they seem like. What it is you should say: These two guys are very different. And the fact that they took their sound and enmeshed it so remarkably implies a lot of very, very close listening, which is the same as very, very close love. I think our blend and our tight sound speaks to intense rehearsals and extremely close listening. I call that love.


Art Garfunkel Explains Song Lyrics, How Terribly Strange To Be In His 70s

The beauty of Art Garfunkel’s and Paul Simon’s music is the uncanny ability to blend beautiful sound and serious content to sum up basic truths and the mood of a generation. The release of the new 11 CD set, Simon & Garfunkel – The Complete Albums Collection (Sony Legacy) , is a wonderful affirmation of those skills.

In this fourth part of my interview series with Garfunkel, he was gracious enough to play word association with lyrics from some of the songs in that collection. Garfunkel also gives us the scoop on what it’s like, gulp, to be in his 70s. (Hint: not so bad!)

Jim Clash: I’ll throw a few lines out, you let me know what first comes to mind. “New York, you got money on your mind.” [A Heart in New York, 1981]

Art Garfunkel: That is what it is, a folksy line. I’ve really warmed to the format of a Travis-picking guitar style, and floating the vocal in a streamlined way over it. What I think about is the legato, a musical phrase being slow and stretched out. My association is not so much with the lyrics here, but the image of that legato singing over augmented guitar picking, and how they make a nice duality.

JC: “I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand.” [Bleecker Street, 1964]

AG: That’s Paul’s line – maybe mysteriouso for its own sake. I have no strong connection with it. Did he need it for the ‘hand’ rhyme? JC: “Look around, leaves are brown, there’s a patch of snow on the ground.” [A Hazy Shade of Winter, 1966]

AG: There’s a bitterness there. These are wintery images. Much of how I sing is about rhythm-making and melody, not so much about lyrics. Patch – of – snow – on – the – ground – look – around – that is about spitting out words, being very percussive while finding harmony with Paul. It’s about vowels and consonants, Jim. There’s a PATCH of snow on the ground – that word “patch” is the hook.

JC: “I’ve been Roy Halee’d and Art Garfunkel’d.“ [A Simple Desultory Philippic, 1966]

AG: Next [laughs].

JC: “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?” [Mrs. Robinson, 1968]

AG: I think immediately of nostalgia. Joe DiMaggio represents the sweet America of the 1940s. I was born in ’41, Jim, you missed it. The 40s was America’s decade and we were sitting pretty. We had just won WWII and were full of charity. We developed the Marshall Plan to shape the world on our terms. It could have been Jackie Robinson, but it was just ‘where are these heroes from when America had been such a smooth field of clover, as in our childhood?’

JC: On Bookends, when you sang about being 70, you were in your 20s. Did you ever think you’d be singing that line when you were 70?

AG: When we were kids, didn’t we say adults in their 40s and 50s were way up there? When I think of Humphrey Bogart wearing that Fedora hat in the movies, there was the grown-up. He was probably less than 60, but it seemed like you didn’t have so many more years when you attained that adulthood. Back then, the number 70 seemed a little ancient. Now my generation has put a whole new spin on those numbers.

JC: Well, relatively this is true.

AG: I’m 73 and feel pretty vital. [The line] was intended to be how terribly strange to be 70 when you’re an old man sitting on a park bench with your buddy, and you make bookends with him. But as I turned 70, I remember thinking ‘piece of cake. Drive right through, man.’ If you want to know the truth, then came 71 and it wasn’t such a piece of cake. It slips in on your lower back, your frame. You handle a long flight to Japan [Garfunkel is touring there Dec. 4-11] much worse than you used to. But in terms of mental attitude, the passion you have for your next project, 70 is effortless. Artists bounce from project to project, and I live with the fun of what’s next. If anything, I burn stronger at this age.

JC: How about your penchant for taking those big, long walks. Are you to giving up that physical aspect of your life?

AG: Yeah, I think so. It finally got to me. In August I finished walking Europe, in 30 installments starting in the late ’90s. I got from Ireland to Istanbul – I’m a nut [laughs]. I do it to get out of New York for perspective, some sky and to sing as loud as I want. Shake out the constant stimuli that come at us in the modern world, turn off everything and just hear myself, straighten up the spine – you know, less is more.

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