Art Garfunkel's Unconventional New Autobiography Chronicles, Fascinates
By Jim Clash, Forbes.com October 2017
When you chat with Art Garfunkel, the second half of the iconic Simon & Garfunkel musical duo, he doesn’t seem like the 75-year-old man that he is. There’s a boyish quality there, which also comes across in his new book, “What Is It All But Luminous” (Alfred A. Knopf, September 2017). The format is not conventional. Random thoughts, photos and poems pepper the narrative. To get some sense of what it all means, I sat down with Art for some perspective. In Part 1 of this interview series, the crooner legend discusses the book’s title, his seminal songs Sound of Silence and Scarborough Fair, the soundtrack to The Graduate movie and his acting in Catch-22.
Jim Clash: Art, first congratulations on your book. Let’s start with the title - "What Is It All But Luminous" - and the subtitle - "Notes From An Underground Man." How did you come up with these?
Art Garfunkel: Thank you. I've spent 35 years of my life writing, and I've finally put it all together. It's a big deal for me. I think of myself as a little bit of a misfit in today's times. I don't get the modern America. It looks goofy to me. Maybe I'm different - I'm the goofy one. I walk across continents. I've walked America, I've walked Europe, and sometimes I'm out there. My memories haunt me and I tear up, the eyes get a little blurry and I think, 'What is it all but luminous'? Luminous is a way to describe that your vision has gone blurry - that you're feeling spiritual instead of literal. It all shines, 360-degrees around you. I never quite grew up, Jim.
JC: In the book on your list of “25 records that changed my life,” you have one Simon & Garfunkel tune – Scarborough Fair. Why that one and not Sound of Silence?
AG: The Sound of Silence changed my life. It was a big hit record, and I went from being unknown to known. So that's the logic if you look at it biographically. But I look at the question musically. "What are the songs you think a record is, Mr. Garfunkel?" The Sound of Silence was a pop song, with overdubbed guitar, bass and drums. Sure, it is singular in my autobiography. But Scarborough Fair, its flow and its smoothness, was a stunning experience as it happened for me, Paul [Simon] and [producer] Roy [Halee]. When it was finished, I felt that it was very special. It was made by the gods. So I interpreted the question of 25 records that changed my life more as studio experiences, musical happenings. Scarborough Fair was a very special success there, in my opinion.
JC: You put performing the soundtrack for The Graduate as one of your life’s top 25 achievements. How did that soundtrack come about, and was the song Mrs. Robinson written specifically for the movie?
AG: Mike Nichols - that wonderful director who passed recently - was living with three of our Simon & Garfunkel tunes, more or less as placeholders. His movie was coming to an end, and he was getting ready to put the sound and songs in. He knew he liked S&G’s music, so he had commissioned us to give him four songs. But we never came up with the fourth! Paul had written “Punky’s Dilemma” – it’s on our Bookends album, goofy silly… ‘wish I was a Kellogg’s cornflake’… It was meant to be sung over when Dustin Hoffman is floating in his family’s swimming pool, thinking about his future now that he has finished college and feeling he’s going nowhere. The song is just serendipitous.
Jim Clash: I don't remember that in the movie?
Art Garfunkel: Mike rejected it. ‘What else you got, Paul?’ Paul didn’t have anything. So Mike was living with April Come She Will, Sound of Silence and Scarborough Fair as placeholders, learning to love them just as they were in their places. So he told Paul to give him one song for when Dustin is racing down the west coast to break up the impending marriage of his girlfriend, Elaine. It needed to be up-tempo. Paul had the rhythm, but not the song. And there, in the sound stage, I said to Mike, “You know, Paul is working on a song called Mrs. Roosevelt.” Mike said. “Do you know how right that could be if we just changed the name - the syllables are perfect?” So Paul sung, "So here’s to you Mrs. Roosevelt," and I started harmonizing. When I harmonize with Paul, it falls into place – the history of Simon & Garfunkel. So Mike heard the duet, bought the whole idea, but of using Mrs. Robinson instead of Mrs. Roosevelt. There was no verse yet, so in the movie you hear: "doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo"– that’s called a song not written yet [laughs] - only the chorus was there.
JC: How did you get your acting role in Catch-22?
AG: It came about because Mike reached out to me. He saw that I could act and offered me a role. I was petrified until I opened the script and saw the very funny writing, and I began to feel confident. I could see myself in this very interesting black comedy – finding that Mike Nichols and Art Garfunkel were on somewhat of a similar track. What Mike found poignant, so did I. So I called him and said, "I could say these lines, I could be an actor and surprise myself, deliver your vision."