Art Garfunkel knows exactly where he stands in today’s music industry.
Although he admits he does not know what the future holds, the 66-year-old, carrot-fro’d crooner seems to realize he will never approach the pinnacle he once co-inhabited with Paul Simon from 1965 to 1970, an era in which the duo spawned some of the most beloved pop music of their generation with hits such as “The Sounds of Silence,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Mrs. Robinson,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Today, Garfunkel is comfortable with the choices he has made over the last four decades and where those choices have taken him. Some Enchanted Evening, his 12th solo album, which was released last January, is no Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. If anything, these ingredients are a bit sweeter.
“`The songs on Some Enchanted Evening` are lollipops - lick ’em or forget it,” Garfunkel tells the Current during a phone interview from his home in New York. “You really can’t put a coded message in the lollipop and say, ‘Well, while you’re enjoying this, let me give you something else.’”
Unlike many of the politically pointed Simon songs to which Garfunkel lent his angelic high tenor in the ’60s, Evening is simply a musical celebration. Rejoining producer Richard Perry, who recorded his successful 1975 solo album Breakaway, Garfunkel includes love songs from artists such as Rodgers & Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
“I don’t want to go too far and be too philosophical or pompous or make this big mess about what is going on in the world anymore,” Garfunkel says. “It’s unfair `to my audience`. It’s a bait-and-switch. My political messages came out in the ’60s when you made statements about society. Now, the only political statement I want to make is that I believe in love in all its forms. Actually, here’s my political statement: Take the clenched fist and unclench it.”
Such philosophical composure has been hard-earned and slow in arriving for the five-time Grammy Award-winning artist. If anyone had reason to be a bit tense after the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel, it was Art. Although his good looks, engaging collegiate persona, and high harmonies (not to mention his memorable surname) contributed immensely to the duo’s popularity, Simon was always the team’s visionary. Simon provided the context, while Garfunkel made the finished product sweeter for public consumption.
Garfunkel was always a complex personality whose interests took him in a variety of non-musical directions. He was a mathematician, an architecture aficionado (Simon’s “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” was directed at him), a voracious reader, an actor, and an eccentric given to making cross-country walks in different parts of the world.
While Simon’s solo career flourished after the split, Garfunkel, who always seemed to take a backseat to the songwriter, struggled to make a name for himself as a solo artist and Hollywood actor. After a splashy 1981 Central Park reunion concert and subsequent tour, the duo was set to reunite for their first studio album in 13 years. However, because of creative differences, Simon removed Garfunkel’s vocals and released the album — Hearts and Bones — as a solo project.
Nevertheless, Garfunkel has no hard feelings about the past. Time heals all, he says, adding that he would love to connect with Simon again in the recording studio if the opportunity ever presented itself.
“If Simon & Garfunkel were to pick up where they left off and make another album, it would be a good album,” he says. “And that excites me.”
Still, Garfunkel, is content now and believes in his own talent. He knows he was never the songwriter type, although he dabbled in it for the first time in 2003’s album Everything Waits to be Noticed with singer-songwriters Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock. Most of the songs were transformed from Garfunkel’s own poetry. It was producer Billy Mann, he says, who was the catalyst that got him into the Nashville studios to co-write the album.
“`Billy` wanted to combine me as a writer because he knew that I was verbal and literary and had written a lot of prose,” Garfunkel said. “Sure enough, if you give it time and somebody’s got a guitar and lays down a nice chord pattern and if the rhythm is groovy, you start playing with words and rhyme and parallel phrases and syllables, it works out.”
Although more songwriting is always a possibility, Garfunkel says he found his true calling with Evening producer Richard Perry by giving his personal take on oldies he loves. He was successful doing this on his 1973 debut solo album Angel Clare with the 1934 Harry Warren song “I Only Have Eyes For You.”
“`Perry and I` knew we had a pattern that would work for dozens and dozens of other oldies,” Garfunkel said. “We knew not many `musicians` had done those old standards and could appreciate the elegance of those great songs. For `Evening`, I had a list of 160 oldies that I loved. I brought them to Richard and we started narrowing them down.”
Promoting Evening is a challenge for Garfunkel at a stage of his career when radio airplay is not a realistic possibility and in an era when the Internet is transforming the music industry.
“We are in a state of a record business that is like an eel — if you try and hold it, it slips through your fingers,” he says. “Most everyone I know that is in the record business is having a tough time these days.”
Garfunkel blames the fluctuation, in part, on labels that are tough to negotiate with. He also says to sustain listeners who have accepted the ever-changing music commerce and technology, companies are diluting the industry with the release of thousands and thousands of songs each week.
“`Music` has become tap water,” Garfunkel says. “That ruins the ability for the mind to think that anybody’s music offering is anything more than a particle in a stream of quantity.” •
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