Art Garfunkel is more reconciled with his past than ever before

March 14 , 2006
The Orange County Register

It's the morning after the Oscars, and as he answers the phone at his Manhattan office and cracks a complimentary joke about my promptness Art Garfunkel laughs, then inexplicably announces, "I'm in one of those moods."

What that mood is, he never makes clear, though the philosophical performer with a reputation for not suffering fools seems far more playful than prickly. Still, that's a dangerous opening statement.

A sensationalist focused on Garfunkel's minor yet headline-making pot busts recently might pounce on that invitation into private-life prying. (Garfunkel is expectedly mum: "I have no thought on it.")

Yet it doesn't help clarify his state of mind that within minutes we leap across an array of topics - the pervasiveness of apologetic people ("Do you find in society there are a lot of I'm-sorrys?"), how there are now nonstop flights from New York to Orange County, how flat Jon Stewart was as an Oscars host ("bring back Chris Rock!") but also how tickled Garfunkel was to see his old "Carnal Knowledge" co-star Jack Nicholson presenting the Best Picture statuette.

"I love that man, he's my friend, so I'm concerned that he's breathing full. Looks like he's got years to go. A rich, lively guy, and I want to see him stay in form."

Do they keep in touch?

"Yeah, we speak. I'll see him when I come out."

It's been two years since Simon & Garfunkel reunited not for another Central Park one-off but for an acclaimed, highly profitable tour. Meanwhile, Garfunkel, 64, hasn't issued anything new since 2002's well-received "Everything Waits to Be Noticed," his first solo set to sport self-penned lyrics.

So that begs the question: Just what will he perform?

Turns out he just compiled a set list of about 16 songs. "I do keep the famous hits in the show because I don't want to be coy and difficult. I play down the middle. And I love to sing `Bridge Over Troubled Water' and `Scarborough Fair.'

"But the trick is to not lean too much on the past, because I have made 11 solo albums." Indeed, he's hard at work on the 12th, which he describes as "pretty creamy. It'll be a lovers album, (for) late-night dancing. Nothing esoteric about it."

As you might expect, given the current trend, it will find Garfunkel dipping into the Great American Songbook. "These elegant oldies are to music what Fred Astaire is to film - rich in entertainment."

Don't accuse him of jumping on Rod Stewart's bandwagon, however. All along Garfunkel has included standards on his albums; one of his biggest hits, of course, was his remake of "I Only Have Eyes for You," from 1975's Top 10 album "Breakaway" - which was produced by Richard Perry, who has been re-enlisted for Garfunkel's latest project.

Incidentally, 1975 was the same year S&G reteamed for their last hit, "My Little Town." As has so often been the case, where Garfunkel goes, music from or questions about Simon aren't far behind.

Like this one: Did the S&G reunion tour overshadow Garfunkel's last album, seeing as one was launched soon after the other came out?

"Perhaps, I don't know," he says resignedly.

Doubtful, seeing as "that tour came out of the fact that the Grammys chose to honor Paul and Artie for a lifetime achievement, and that experience of me and Paul getting together (to perform at the ceremony) was much like fun and games in junior high school."

For once, Garfunkel notes, the duo spent a prolonged period of time together without feuding. "It was a very easy, talented Paul Simon that I just dealt with. He's had three kids in the last decade, and he's a very benign papa."

Garfunkel, too: In addition to raising son James, 15, the singer and his wife welcomed a baby, Beau, six months ago. "So I've undergone a similar ... I won't use the word `mellowing,' but I'm easier to take."

And apparently not as offended by those who insist the Hall of Famer is insignificant compared to his former partner. Consider his inclusion on Blender's list last year of "The Most Awesomely Mediocre Artists of All Time." Andrew Ridgley of Wham! - that's mediocrity. But the voice of a dozen generation-defining gems as well as a credible actor who has worked with Mike Nichols and Nicolas Roeg?

"Spin rules the world," he says, "and maybe I've suffered from that. But I still sing good. Maybe the instrument I bring now is a little richer, because the sound of the voice, like wine, has more body as the years go by. But my ability to finesse and be sensitive and interpretive is still the same. If anything, it's enhanced now because I've seen more. I've had my heart broken, I know jealousy, I know money. I can give more color to the lyric.

"But I'm still in this for the right reasons. I love to entertain and I'm constantly refining my show. And I'm all content, no flash. I face the music with no safety net. That's my style. I chase after truth and beauty every time I work."