Art Garfunkel steps out

October 1998
Dayton Daily News

Art Garfunkel sometimes grows weary trying to escape the shadow of his friend and former partner, Paul Simon. It doesn't matter that Garfunkel is now 56 years old and has been working as a solo artist for the past quarter-century.

He will always be remembered as the tall guy with the blonde afro, hands stuffed deep into his well-worn bluejeans, who always stood over Simon's right shoulder when they performed onstage. He will always be the guy whose angelic tenor lifted songs like "Bridge Over Troubled Water" into otherworldly realms.

No matter what Garfunkel does, his work will always be measured against the songs he sang with Simon. Even worse, most people can't help but compare the two men's solo careers.

Garfunkel, who has enjoyed middling success since the split, is a wonderful singer but he's not a songwriter. Simon, whose career continues to describe an ascending arc, long ago established himself as one of the best and most adventurous songwriters of his generation.

"I don't like that I'll always be compared to Paul," Garfunkel, who will perform Saturday night at the Rajah Theatre in Reading, said during a telephone interview from his home in New York City. "If Paul goes out and does this or that and I don't, I don't want to be the guy who didn't do something because other people have forced a comparison. That's a drag. I don't like that I'm linked to him in that way."

But Garfunkel, a genial coversationalist whose warmth and gentleness fairly ooze through the telephone line, doesn't mind being linked to Simon in friendship and through the remarkable music they made.

Garfunkel doesn't let his ego cloud the fact that it was the enormous critical and commercial success of Simon and Garfunkel that allowed him to launch a solo career and made it possible for him to branch out into movies, write a book of poetry and >walk across America .

"Mostly, Simon and Garfunkel means tremendous good fortune that reverberates through the rest of my life," said Garfunkel, who is married and the father of a 7-year-old boy, his only child. "You would have to be very weird to not call that an enormous life enrichment, a very lucky ride that charms your life forever."

And he can't deny the enduring power of the music he and Simon made together. He became reacquainted with that legacy last year when Columbia Records released "Old Friends," a three-CD compilation that includes almost all of the duo's recorded work along with some rare studio outtakes and live tracks.

"I heard it and it was the first time I heard Simon and Garfunkel records in a long time, except occasionally in a restaurant or something .... I was struck by how close we were. I forgot. And I thought to myself, "You can't sing so tight without listening so tight. You can't listen so tight without really being close, like brothers.' It says something deeply affectionate about what the friendship was about."

Garfunkel dips deeply into the Simon and Garfunkel catalogue when he performs. Along with solo hits like "All I Know," "Bright Eyes" and "A Heart in New York," he sings a number of Simon tunes, although he generally stays away from obvious choices like "Sounds of Silence," "I Am a Rock," "Homeward Bound," "America," "Mrs. Robinson," "The Boxer" or "Fakin' It."

The Simon songs he most likes to sing now are "Poem on the Underground Wall" ("It plays against Artie Garfunkel's sweet tenor sound"), "Kathy's Song" ("It's Paul's No. 1 love song"), and "Scarborough Fair" ("I have a certain memory, a certain woman I lost, and I go to that place").

And then there's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," the song that defines Garfunkel as a singer and perhaps as a person.

"When I open "Bridge,' I tend to enjoy getting right into "When you're weary,' because in my mind I'm thinking, "You, me, when we are really down, like we all get, let me sing this song. Life has s--- in it. It's no fun. We all get it. We get it on a regular basis. It makes fools of us.

"When we are there, let me sing a song about giving that pat on the back of the head that says, "There, there, it will pass."'

Though he sometimes feels like he might as well make it official and legally tack "and" to the front of his surname, Garfunkel doesn't run from his musical past. And he doesn't mind the obligatory question about a possible reunion.

"I can't rule it out because this is my deep, lifelong friend," he said. "But I don't see it anywhere in the near future. I'm busy with other plans. I think he is. I don't speak to him too much these days.

"So we have no plans but I would not rule it out and I would not count on it, either. It's in the you-never-know category."