Art Garfunkel muses on timeless melodies and his ‘gift from God,’ ahead of Tel Aviv gig

Source: Times of
Published:June 8, 2015
Author: Jessica Steinber

The familiar halo of graying curls is still partly visible at the back of Art Garfunkel’s balding pate, and the voice — that clear, lilting tenor — sounds the same, simultaneously solid and sweet.

And that was just at the press conference.

After arriving in Israel on Sunday, Garfunkel spoke Monday morning prior to his Wednesday, June 10, concert at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium.

It’s his first time performing solo in Israel, and Garfunkel, dressed in a crisp white shirt and gray sports jacket, said he “came to say hello and tell you I’m very thrilled and full of jetlag.”

He held up a small piece of white note paper, and pointing to the scrawled list, commented that this was the set list for Wednesday night.

“There will be some Simon and Garfunkel, some Art Garfunkel, and a surprise, my son, and there’s the surprise, no more surprises,” he said.

Israeli audiences will welcome that news, as most audiences still want to hear “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Feeling Groovy,” those now age-old classics written by Paul Simon and sung for eternity by Garfunkel. He’s okay with that.

“I concentrate on being a good singer,” he said. “First comes the paying customers who have the right to hear a nice sound from Art Garfunkel. I can sing very well if I get my sleep and this is my job.”

Garfunkel, a long-time smoker, said he lost his voice in 2010 and it took four years of surgery and healing to regain “the Art Garfunkel sound again,” he said.

He returned to performing a year and a half ago, and works regularly in Europe, the US and Japan.

He said he tends to perform mostly on weekends, and prepares for each concert the same way he always did.

“I’m 73 years old, and I do what I always do,” he said. “I warm up before shows, I put my iPod on and sing to James Taylor and Chet Baker. I do my exercises, touch my toes in the hotel room. I try and lose a few pounds and always fail.”

While in Israel, he said he would mostly take naps, hang out with his son, and avoid noise and phone calls. He called it his method of self-protection, spending less time enjoying Israel and more time focusing on his show in order to “give them the Art Garfunkel voice.”

The 73-year-old singer said his older son, James, 24, often sings with him onstage.

When asked if his son is a better singer than Paul Simon, Garfunkel thought for a minute, and then answered, “Pretty much about the same. My boy sings a little bit better than I do, and I’m pretty good. I wouldn’t bring him if it was nepotism, I’m trying to give the customers their real value for the ticket. I bring Arthur Jr. because he’s so damn good.”

According to all reports, Garfunkel’s older son is named James. His younger son is named Beau.

It’s Garfunkel’s first time performing solo in Israel, though he and Simon played here in 1983. When asked why it took him so long to come, he laughed and said he had laundry and dentist appointments to attend do. But he made it clear that it wasn’t because of any boycott issues.

“I’m here with my brothers and sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews,” he said, referring to his fellow Jews in Israel.

In fact, said Garfunkel, his singing career began as a seven-year-old in his family’s Queens, New York, synagogue. He didn’t love Hebrew school, because he didn’t understand the Hebrew read in class. But he loved singing with the rabbi on Saturday mornings, he said, mimicking the singsong sound of Hebrew prayers.

“I realized I have a gift from God,” he said. “I sang minor key, ancient melodies, ladadeeda deeda. I could see that people relate to it and these Hebrew words are useful to me.”

Throughout the press conference, Garfunkel asked various speakers to repeat certain Hebrew words.

Lashevet? What’s that,” he asked when photographers were asked to sit down.

Notzetz? I like that,” he said, when a blogger gave the name of her site, which means sparkling.

Garfunkel, who walked across the US and Europe during a decade-long period from the late 1980s until the late 1990s, said he thinks of himself as a Renaissance man — a regular guy with a great voice, who has tried to live his life despite the disappointments and failures that plague everyone. But he didn’t want to talk about his complicated relationship with fellow balladeer Paul Simon.

Instead, he said, he wanted to talk about his career, and his music.

“A singer’s life is a little bit outside of time,” he said. “When it’s time to sing we go to a place in our heads that’s not part of age, not part of time. I did not take my keys and bring them down, I sing in the same key.”

Key, harmony and vocals are what please Garfunkel. He said he’s cynical about new music, and he only “knows what he knows.”

“Melody works at any age,” he said.

“Melody works at any age,” he said.

He hummed a bar from “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.,” “of a girl that I love, that’s a lovely melody.”

And another hummed line, “friends just can’t be found,” from “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

“They’re thoughtful and poetic words at any age,” he said.

And his personal favorites? “Perfect Moment,” from his album, “Everything Waits to Be Noticed,” and “Barbara Allen,” a ballad that he thinks his best vocal of all because it’s a song where he wears his heart on his sleeve, said Garfunkel.

As for a new album, he said he’s a record man, because he’s shy and likes to “stroke the record and craft it just right and get it just right.” But he doesn’t understand today’s record business.

“I understand going viral,” he said. “You make one four-minute song and if it’s really fabulous it will go viral. Nowadays we stream music, and I don’t really know what that is. Music is supposed to pass through you like water. This all makes me feel like, I just don’t know. I’m afraid I’ll make a record and my heart and soul will come out and fall on my shoes because I don’t know how to get it out there.”

For now, he’s working on several projects, including an autobiography he hopes to finish by next year. He’s on page 136.

“I’m deeply concerned with the flow of my story,” he said. “I’m up to year 2008. I’m a literary fellow these days.”

For now, he said, he tries to be “a whole human being.”

“I make love to my wife and I raise my two children,” he said. “I do the best I can.”