Art Garfunkel Q&A interview: No sound of silence here

by Tim Parsons
Tahoe Onstage
May 2019

Art Garfunkel is introspective. He’s also inquisitive, candid and, regardless of fame or fortune, highly motivated.

A stranger learns all of that during an initial conversation with him and, doubtless, by watching one of his “Less is More” performances.

What is well known is that for a half-century Art Garfunkel has been one of the most recognized names in music and entertainment.

Simon & Garfunkel won 14 Grammy Awards and recorded a litany of iconic pop songs, including “The Sound of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Homeward Bound” and “Scarborough Fair.” The folk duo performed for a half-million spectators in Central Park and 600,000 at the Colosseum in Rome. Garfunkel also has appeared in the American classic movies “Catch 22″ and “Carnal Knowledge.”

Garfunkel performs on a select schedule nowadays, including last Saturday at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa. It will be, as his memory serves, just his third appearance at Lake Tahoe.

“I have brought my show down to Less is More,” he told Tahoe Onstage by telephone. “It will be my acoustic Martin guitar player Tab Laven and the new piano player, Paul Beard — this guy is working out brilliantly. And I may be with my fabulous singing (28-year-old) son, Arthur Jr.

“I have never enjoyed what I do as much as I do as nowadays. It seems we burn stronger for our passion as we get older.”

Passion for Garfunkel, 77, is intensified due to a successful return from damage to a vocal cord. An arduous rehab lasted from 2010 to 2014. “It came back and it’s like an extra thrill.”

The performance will include the reading of some passages from Garfunkel’s prose-poem autobiography, “What Is It All But Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man.”

Garfunkel addressed many subjects in an interview with Tahoe Onstage. His answers, and our questions, have been edited to be concise.

Did you encourage Arthur Jr. to go into music?

I didn’t think I was an encourager. I always thought I was a man who leaves his children to live their lives as they choose. But if he has some needs that I can supply here and there, I guess you could call it encouragement. … I always had the hope that he could show the world that he sings remarkably great. He is a magnificent singer. If not for that, I would not encourage.

Not to give too much away, but does anybody in that ensemble play the low bass harmonica?

That’s the second verse of “The Boxer.” Good for you. You made a friend with that piece of homework. Nice, Tim. Charlie McCoy in Nashville made (low bass harmonica) his specialty.

What inspired you to write “What Is It All But Luminous”?

I started writing on a motorcycle thing when I finished a tour with Paul back in the ‘80s and I flew to the Alps. Rented a bike, tooled around the Alps in the fall in the fresh air and the spirit captured me and phrases would come to me. … It was the first good phrase that opened the window to my imagination. And I would say, “I know where this line is headed because I’ve been thinking about this theme all my life.” Between this nice-sounding rhythmic opening line and where I know I’m headed, which is going to be a nice payoff, let me see if I can string together a thread. You might call it a prose poem. As I tooled along, I kept thinking, that first line has a rhythm, what’s the natural second line that answers it rhythmically? I am thinking rhythm, the fall of the syllables, a little bit of rhyme inside, like it’s a dance. … It’s like country dancing. And I started threading linearwise prose poem the first time I ever did this game. I kept stopping and pulling off for safety, jotting down on my little pen and paper in the back pocket. That night at the little inn, I had a 20 line-thing that I liked and I would polish and spruce and the next day we’d turn to it and fix it some more and that became something – this was 30 years ago – that became kind of an ad hoc passion. I loved doing this.

When you started these, were they intended to be songs?

I don’t write songs. I find that songs and literary attempts poems — prose poems — are very different animals. Many a time I got a nice phrase that was poetic and interesting and I brought it to the piano and gave a progression of moody chords that would make me feel bittersweet because it’s in the chords. And can I get these words that I just came up with into that, and it was always, no you can’t. Songwriting is a gift of fusing melody and words. To fuse them in a seamless way as if they belong together, there’s the art. That’s Paul Simon. I don’t have that talent. I never did. Isn’t that interesting? Weird? But I love my literary attempts.

Your itinerary shows that you are performing but being selective about it.

I have money in the bank, but I have a desire to work. It’s a great thrill to sing in front of people and to still have the voice after I had vocal trouble in 2010.

What book are you reading now?

“The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us” by Eric Kandel.

Before we started the interview, you mentioned the NBA. You are coming to the region that supports the Golden State Warriors. Who do you like in the playoffs?

I like Golden State. I like that team. They have a surface of stars and I fall for it. Don’t we love Klay Thompson? Doesn’t he have a lovely attitude? It gets so full of sincere effort as the playoffs come. If you like showbusiness, this is a very sincere show of competition. They’d kill to win. That’s what it looks like to me.

It took a long time to regain your voice. Can you explain the rehabilitation?

Mending is a slow process, but you must not give up. I can’t be a person who doesn’t sing. For about three years I would bring my froggy voice to my wife’s Buddhist meeting. We all face obstacles. The Buddhists are all about facing obstacles. I brought my obstacles right here on the mic and I am going to sing “Scarborough Fair.” You will hear my effort to be brave and work through it. It’s wild. … I was singing pretty good by 2014 and started putting together my Less is More.