Making The Circuit - Live Performances Help Art Garfunkel Connect With Fans

October, 1998
Allentown Morning Call
Allentown PA

After frequent touring as part of Simon and Garfunkel during the 1960s when the duo was topping the pop charts, Art Garfunkel became a virtual stranger to the concert stage. Following his breakup with Paul Simon in 1970, Garfunkel toured only once -- in 1977 --until 1987, when he organized a band with keyboardist Nicky Hopkins for a European tour. Since the late 1980s, however, Garfunkel, who will perform Saturday night at the Rajah Temple, Reading, has made the concert stage a second home.

This change says as much about the realities of his career as it does his artistic ambitions. "This is a tough age for people like me," Garfunkel, 56, said. "We find it hard to have our music reach people who are also in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They don't really want to go to the record store. It's too noisy and it's rude and it's overwhelming. You get all that hip hop on the speakers. So you wonder, how am I going to reach people?

"If I go through the record company and make a record and they try to sell my record, I think I'm going to the wrong place. They (the record company) are the new suits, as (Paul) McCartney used to call them, with their eyes on market research and the Spice Girls and all these other realities. If anything, they're going to be a filter between me and the audience. ... We (Garfunkel and his fans) are fine as a circuit. It's the middle thing, the record company, that's filtering me out. (I need) a more direct appeal and a more direct connection."

Garfunkel, though, had his artistic reasons for shying away from the concert stage, as well. "At first I was very vulnerable, and I felt maybe a little undersized," Garfunkel said about performing solo. "Where's that wonderful guitar of Paul's? And can I really handle the between-songs stuff? Can I keep it alive? What do I do with my hands? So at first I had a lot of vulnerability.

"It takes years for it to feel comfortable, for you to own the stage and for you to stand planted on stage and talk to the audience and fool around. ... Now, I feel more than ever this is really fun. I dig it. I never had such a relaxed time being a (band) leader like I am now."

Garfunkel is an artist who marches to his own drummer these days. His success with Simon and Garfunkel undoubtedly has helped give him the financial freedom to follow his muse. After all, from 1964 to 1970, the duo released six critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums, as well as a string of classic hit singles (including "The Sounds of Silence," "The Boxer," "Mrs. Robinson," "Cecilia," "Homeward Bound" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water"). They also won five Grammys.

In the early 1970s, Garfunkel ventured into acting, starring with Alan Arkin, Richard Benjamin, Buck Henry and Bob Newhart in 1970's "Catch-22" and Jack Nicholson, Ann-Margret and Candice Bergen in the 1971 film "Carnal Knowledge."

He also recorded frequently. His 1973 debut album, "Angel Clare," which included the hit single "All I Know," was a notable success. He released "Breakaway" in 1975, "Watermark" in 1978, "Fate For Breakfast" in 1979 and "Scissors Cut" in 1981.

In the 1980s, though, Garfunkel's activities grew a bit more divergent. His only conventional studio album was 1987's "Lefty." Otherwise, Garfunkel pursued a road less traveled. Working with one of his favorite songwriters, Jimmy Webb, he recorded a holiday cantata, "The Animals Christmas," released in 1986.

In 1984 he began one of his most unusual projects, a walk across America. Split into 40 segments, Garfunkel finished his trek in 1996, celebrating the completion with a concert at Ellis Island recorded for the 1997 live album, "Across America."

"It's an escape from the speed of modern life, the tempo, the media, the hype, the television, all these offerings, the stimuli that we're supposed to be full of, as if life is really about USA Today," Garfunkel said of his walks, adding that he has now begun a similar trek across Europe.

"Life is not really about that," he said. "It's about your philosophical questioning, what are you here for? What will you do with your time? What's worthwhile for you? That's what your life is. It's not about filling it up with what manufacturers want to put in front of your eyes and ears."

While touring and walking have continued to be regular activities for Garfunkel in the 1990s, his recording pace has slowed. His most recent conventional studio disc was "Up Til Now," which combined a few new songs with previously released material.

Garfunkel also has taken on the role of father, having had a son, James, with his wife, Kim, six years ago. Becoming a parent helped inspire Garfunkel's latest disc, "Songs From A Parent To A Child." The record, created for children, includes Garfunkel's versions of songs by the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Lovin' Spoonful, Marvin Gaye and other artists.

"(The) idea was, imagine you're a parent in the front seat of a car and you're 6- and your 8-year-old are both in the back seat," Garfunkel explained. "You want to pop in a cassette on a car trip that introduces them to the loveliness of music. So you want it to be very melodic and not be adult in the lyrics."

What's next for Garfunkel? For one thing, don't expect a Simon and Garfunkel reunion any time soon. "I'm very happy doing what I'm doing. I'm real busy," Garfunkel said. "I haven't seen much of Paul because he's busy with his thing as I am with mine. It's fine.

"I don't know how to live with regret, as if I wish life were something else. I never think that way. I take it as it lays and make the most of what's on my plate and I try to have a good time and lately I'm succeeding."

A return to acting is a strong possibility. His most recent roles were in the films "Bad Timing" (1980) and "Boxing Helena" (1993), but Garfunkel recently signed with the William Morris Agency, and he's ready to field film offers.

"I am really of a mind to get back into that," he said. "I have a feeling that within the next year you'll see me do something.

"I don't want to do a walk on. I think I can handle comedy. I think I can handle being an out-and-out hero. I wouldn't mind being a daddy. I would love to be a singer in a film, mix some music in.

"But I don't want to play the neurotic or the odd fellow. I can do that, and I've gotten into some weird movies, because I think weird is an interesting thing if it's spicy and interesting.

"But that kind of gimmick appeal is a thing of the past, so I could work for a mainstream film director or an artier film, either way. I'd love to see Woody Allen look in my direction. That would be a natural for me."