Pieces of Art

The Enigmatic Art Garfunkel
by Andrea Roth

There is a power in music that can conjure up deep memories, bring about inspiration and elicit goose bumps. Just the first few notes of the 1970 song “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” along with the velvety touch of Art Garfunkel’s voice, transports many people back to another time of denim bell-bottoms and teenaged baby boomers.

And when Simon and Garfunkel took the stage in New York’s Central Park in 1981 in front of a half-million people, the power of music was there with a capital M, says Garfunkel. “We were blissed out—when the audience is that size, you can’t help but feel the love and validation of your career, it’s the happiest feeling,” Garfunkel said. “I serve that potential power of what music can mean. When music lives up to its potential power, you have a lot.”

Hopefully he will feel that love and validation in central Illinois when he headlines the Peoria Civic Center on July 28, playing songs from his new album Some Enchanted Evening, as well as some Simon and Garfunkel favorites.

On May 23, with time to spare before a tribute concert in Washington, D.C. for his former bandmate Paul Simon, Garfunkel explained in his precise, crisp delivery that he can never relate to being “on tour.” “I’m always working. I’m the guy who does concerts, 60 to 70 a year, inside or outside, with or without an orchestra— I do a tour of nine shows over a couple weeks,” Garfunkel said. And he’s been working steadily since the January release of his 12th solo album, Some Enchanted Evening.

Although he couldn’t pinpoint a previous trip to Peoria, Garfunkel said he looks forward to coming to the Midwest because of the laid-back atmosphere. “The niceness factor goes way up, the sense of trust goes way up, you don’t have to count your change,” Garfunkel said. “In New York, you live with a vigilance and selfprotectedness… you can relax in the Midwest.”

Growing up in Queens, New York, the blond, curly-topped musician knew early on that he would climb the record charts. In the spring of 1953, just before he was to graduate from the 6th grade, Arthur Ira Garfunkel met Paul Simon. The two friends were cast in a production of Alice in Wonderland and became inseparable. “Paul kept me in stitches,” Garfunkel said. “He was the live wire, a turned-on kid in the neighborhood—like me. By the 7th grade we were smoking cigarettes together.” After a high score on an aptitude test allowed him to skip the 8th grade, Garfunkel found himself one of the youngest in his class. “Thank God there was Paul Simon, my buddy, through those adolescent years,” he said.

Blown away by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and other guests on Alan Freed’s rock ‘n’ roll show, Garfunkel said the two started emulating what they heard and practicing constantly. By the age of 14, Garfunkel had already decided he would make it as a musician. “It’s the nature of being a New Yorker,” Garfunkel said. “You just take the subway into Manhattan and knock on the door of the Brill Building and see if they’ll sign you. We had this competitive attitude that they would put us on the charts. And they did.” Prior to the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll, Garfunkel grew up listening to old Victrola records, discovering opera singer Enrico Caruso and the adventurous jazz quartet the Hi-Los—both of whom taught him about upper range and harmony.

The two musicians took different paths after high school, Simon to Queens College and Garfunkel to Columbia College, where he pursued his bachelor’s degree in art history. Garfunkel also went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics—a subject which carries an intrinsic connection to music. “In all the years I’ve made records, I have unbelievable patience to erase and polish and fix and redo; this amazing ability is linked mathematically,” Garfunkel said. And then he added, referencing his search for just the right sound, “Right with a capital R, I chase after it.” After playing together for a few years after college, Garfunkel and Simon began calling themselves Tom & Jerry, and recorded their first demo, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” in 1957, which sold a whopping 150,000 copies.

The two regrouped in 1962, and after a name change to Simon and Garfunkel, they recorded five albums over six years—ending a fabulous run with 13 top 40 hits. Since their tense split in 1970, the duo has reunited amicably several times, most recently for a 2003-2004 tour.

But music isn’t his only passion. Since 1968 Garfunkel has documented every book he has read, and in May he reached his goal of reading 1,000 books with The Confessions, by Jean Jacques Rousseau. Sometime in his mid-20s, Garfunkel says his intellect kicked in. “It was knowing with a capital K, for the sake of it,” Garfunkel said. “I thought, ‘How can I be an educated person if I haven’t read this or that?’ Then you start filling in the holes and making up for not having read them.” Garfunkel has read everything from Plato’s Symposium to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and he says his selections aren’t “the cheap stuff, it’s all substantial.” The three with the most substance to the musician are Ulysses by James Joyce; Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

In the mid-80s, he also began a decade-long chase after America, making 40 separate excursions to complete a trek from New York City to the Pacific coast of Washington state. Setting off from his kitchen in New York in his tennis shoes one day, Garfunkel said he decided on a whim to pursue a cross-country journey. When asked what he may have learned from the experience, he answered matter-of-factly with a question, “Do we ever learn anything?” and continued, “I think we have these notions that we are learning and growing wiser...I’m not sure that’s true. I shy away from that kind of talk,” Garfunkel said. “I got more acquainted with the topography of the U.S…I saw how much small towns are sadly departed from. A TV reality is replacing the reality of the American land and I saw that really clear. And how vast the western two-thirds of the country is—we have several more centuries of growth before we’re in any way crowded.”

What he isn’t shying away from is his family. He’s excited about falling deeper in love with his wife of almost 20 years, Kim—to whom he dedicated his latest album—and about strengthening his connections with his sons, James, 16, and Beau, 1. With a need to seek out novelty and unique challenges, he’s also ready for a change, a major departure from anything he’s previously done.

“I like to swim the other way. I do look to go against the tide,” Garfunkel said. “Maybe going into government—that would be something I’ve never done—and challenging the enormous cynicism in America. How are we ever going to solve the world’s problems with such cynicism?” Since his next-door neighbor just happens to be New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Garfunkel said he may soon ask him, ‘How can I be a servant to this city and its needs?’

When asked about the possibility of another Simon and Garfunkel reunion, he shrugged the question off, but said it wasn’t out of the question. “In this part of my life, I find working with Paul feasible and easy, why not? Fifteen years ago it would have been…I don’t think so,” Garfunkel said. “We have our own center of gravity in our bellies, we’re very relaxed…we may have something cooked up our sleeve.”

So how about another Simon and Garfunkel reunion to ease the cynicism in America? It just might work with a capital W. a&s