Garfunkel Rising

April 3, 1978
Written by Tony Schwartz

It has never been easy to get a fix on Art Garfunkel. In the eight years since his fertile partnership with Paul Simon dissolved, he has dabbled in acting, produced three albums at widely spaced intervals and maintained, for the most part, a mysteriously low profile. But Garfunkel is 36 now and for the first time he is aggressively seeking his own public identity. Fortified with new material from his latest album, "Watermark," he has embarked on a 40-city tour, his first since 1970. Even the cover of his current album bespeaks his new attitude. Garfunkel is pictured reclining in a lounge chair on a sun deck, just a few yards from the ocean. There is a broad smile across his face. "I was after a photograph with no mystique," he says. "I wanted to come out from the masks, to get away from the shadows, including my own."

The sunny image is in stark contrast to his former partner's. While Paul Simon continues to write introspective, often despairing songs, Garfunkel (who does not write) has chosen simpler, softer-edged tunes set to luxuriant arrangements. The format highlights what has always been his best quality: an effortlessly lyrical voice that is a smooth and unfettered as any in pop music. For "Watermark," his most graceful album yet, Garfunkel settled largely on tunes by Jimmy Webb, the prolific songwriter known for his lavishly romantic lyrics and lively melodies. It was to the latter that Garfunkel was especially attracted. "I respond more to notes than to lyrics," he explains. "I'm interested in their richness and power. What I get caught up in is texture and sonority--the sound per se."

Garfunkel makes no apologies for his simple, sentimental style. "When I got on my own, I became more selfish. I've been criticized for being too lush, but what that really means is that my leaning is more legato than percussive. I happen to like smooth, connected notes more than choppy, staccato ones. I find some songs too gritty, too sophisticated. My style is to sing bloody, from the heart--and, if I want to work in a palette of red, salmon, pink, orange, rose and bright crimson, then I will."

Long Layoff: He has moved cautiously since his split with Simon--a luxury afforded by the duo's extraordinary success (more than 19 million records sold in the U.S. alone). After completing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in 1970, an album much delayed by Garfunkel's first movie role, in "Catch-22," the team drifted apart. "What confirmed it was the absence of a next project," says Garfunkel. "We didn't talk about the split until after the fact." In 1971, Garfunkel appeared in a second movie, "Carnal Knowledge," and then began a long layoff. He spent one winter learning to play the harpsichord, after discovering a passion for Bach, and traveled widely. "But the internal pressure to produce a new album began to build," he says, and in 1973 he made his first solo record, "Angel Clare," followed two years later by a second, "Breakaway." Characteristically, he has alternated long vacations, often visiting Europe three or four times a year, with intense periods of work.

"Watermark" followed a long stretch of partying in Malibu, but once it was under way the album occupied Garfunkel's energies for more than a year. He traveled to Alabama, where he recorded with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a much-acclaimed session band, to Dublin to work with the Chieftains, a traditional Irish instrumental group, and to New York to cut a remake of the rock 'n' roll classic "(What a) Wonderful World," with James Taylor and Paul Simon. The last several months were spent piecing the elements together. "I work a lot on the crafting," he says. "It's exhilarating at first and then very painful. I fuss with the dynamics--emptiness vs. busyness, peaks followed by valleys, tension and then resolve. I get caught up because I think it takes a special love for the music to make it work."

Deliberate Manner: If Garfunkel's music is more self-conscious and complex than it appears at first, so are his other preoccupations. His manner is deliberate and serious, and in conversation he has an engaging intensity. Where there has been pain in his life, his inclination is to keep it private. He doesn't talk, for instance, about his marriage in 1972, which has since split up. "It's like I have a third eye that manages my feelings," he says. "It's an internal programming that heads off problems."

Still, Garfunkel seems anxious to reassess his attitudes these days. "I realize that I'm in the second half of my life now, and I think a lot about what is up ahead. For one thing, I have the feeling that in a balanced life one should die penniless. The trick is dismantling. I'm overdue to give back some of what I've gotten." Indeed, the fear that he did not have enough to offer is what kept Garfunkel from touring until now. "I felt I didn't have sufficient material to give people the full value they deserve," he says. "Now I feel I can fill out a show, and I'm finding the tour incredibly satisfying."

Even so, Garfunkel senses there is something missing. "There's a lot of 'A minus' stuff in music now, but no 'A.' Take Fleetwood Mac. They were an excellent '60s group--but only one of a dozen who were way behind the Beatles and the Stones. Now they are kings of the heap." Even his own new album gets an A minus. "I'm very happy with it," he says, "but frankly my records are something less than Simon and Garfunkel's. There's a certain combustible energy in partnerships, I think. I'm still friends with Paul, and I can imagine getting together with him one evening, starting to sing, and realizing that it sounded good when the sun came up the next morning--and we were still singing."