Touring with a career’s worth of iconic songs and a life’s worth of talent and hard work, the legendary Art Garfunkel brings everything to a long-awaited series of intimate shows across the country and abroad. While he packed for shows in Europe I spoke with Art about his gift as a singer, his show, and his cross-country strolls. For more visit artgarfunkel.com and watch out for an autobiography to learn about Art as an author, entertainer, and proud family man.
Art Garfunkel: Hello, Andrea. We have time for a little short chat. You can help me sell tickets to a few shows.
Andrea Seastrand: I don’t think you’ll need my help, to be honest.
I hope not. You know, at Carnegie Hall there’s a lot of seats there we have to fill.
That’s where I wanted to start. Tell me about playing at Carnegie Hall!
The main thing I want to say about it is how unjaded I feel. I’m just a kid who’s about to play god damn Carnegie Hall! The great Carnegie Hall! I’ve worked with Paul Simon. He’s a big star. But now I’m working with Carnegie Hall. That’s another big star! So I’m sharing the night with the famous Carnegie Hall. I’m really a kid when it comes to excitement and purity after all the years I’ve been in this business.
What do you attribute that to?
I love my job! When you sing and it tickles those vocal cords to make that sound and put it through the technology and have it magnified and ring through a house, you have these moments of truth that pass through you into the room. And that’s the fundamental thing. The work itself, if you stay alive to it, is such a lucky job!
Of course people have always commented on your gift as a vocalist, but you seem to be blessed in knowing that you’ve always wanted to be a singer, even from a young age.
I keep my standards and keep appreciating just fresh air. If you can keep your value system simple, and take the good things as really good and not get spoiled by a cluttered American landscape, you’ve got a good thing. I have this middle class background—Jack my Papa, Rose my Mama, they were really sweet souls, very grounded and down to Earth, very moral people. As the middle boy of three boys I grew up in New York as a wily kid trying to carve my way in between my brothers. So, I have a value system that’s nice and normal. It makes me love my work and feel how lucky I am to get away with this way of [laughs] of making a living. They haven’t found me out yet, Andrea! I’m just getting away with murder. And there’s a vitality in the center of it all. As long as I get a good night’s sleep and I love the songs and I love singing and I love to produce the sound, it’s about love. Every time you do the show it’s as fresh as the present tense. It’s the only tense we live in and you stay entranced by the possibility.
If you would, tell me a little about your shows. Your bio said you read a little poetry.
They give away the whole show! What’s the point? I’m going to execute that thing the people probably already read about. It’s Simon and Garfunkel and Artie Garfunkel solo career in the show, half and half. I do read bits that are kind of poetic. I don’t know what to call them. Call them “45 second bits”. And they’re thoughtful, somewhat rhymed, unrhymed, and the syllables fall with a rhythm as in poetry but I don’t—careful of that word, Andrea. Don’t put that word “poem” in there; it’s deadly. I wrote a piece about that. If you write and there’s tone and color in the writing and people call it poetry? It deadens the mind of the listener. So, I get literary between some of the songs. I listen very carefully as I’m doing my spoken stuff to be in touch with the audience and I really feel they’re with me.
You’re right. There’s a lot that goes into a successful public reading.
It’s its own art form. I did a show in Tel Aviv with my son, Arthur Jr. who’s 24. He sang a few tunes and worked in Bloomfield Arena, 10,000 fans, just last month. Benjamin Netanyahu invited us to come over. I thought I’d go meet him. He’s a good speaker. He’s crisp and very educated and said, “Here’s what I learned in all my years of speaking: It’s the pauses.” It’s true. Speaking is its own art form. I am into it, the fun of suddenly going decrescendo and getting soft and hushed and profound.
I recently saw a book in an antique store called The Art of Walkingand thought if I ever had the chance to talk with you I’d have to ask about your cross country walks.
I fell into the walking thing years ago when I took a freighter across the Pacific on my lonesome to Japan. I got to Kobe, Osaka and the little bit I had packed I just hatched the idea “I think I’ll check into a hotel and walk completely hands free. I’ll have a pair of socks and a paperback book. I’ll have a hat to keep the sun off my nose.”
But, you know, if you’re a rock star you do slightly eccentric things. I’ll buy new clothes every other day and I’ll fish my way with the help of my map through Japan from east to west and improvise the way. I’ll cut through the rice fields so I don’t need the roads. I just need to know where the sun is so I’ll know that my direction is west, a little north and I’ll follow my trusty map but I don’t know the roads. Now, when the day begins, you don’t say, “Where’s my car keys?” You leave the little inn and you truck along following the sun as your guide as you cut through the rice fields.
This led to wonderful relaxation, the most underestimated word that means so much spiritually and biologically. To relax is to do everything. It’s the gate to all of our skills, from singing to wisdom. Relax. Let it go. Cultivate the exhales, breathe slow. Let the shoulders drop, keep the spine straight. Don’t walk fast or slow. Find the median. Put as much ease into your program as you can get away with so that you’re a little tot that’s left the playpen and is now upright on two legs but there’s not much more built into the program. Just look and feel and remember and jot things down in your notebook in your back pocket.
Later on I began to bring an iPod so I could sing. It was an emptying out of the daily agenda so that we could pull the plug on our over-stimulated, modern life. And it leads to deeper breathing. It’s the big downshift. You just pull the plug on your normal thing. You trust in emptiness and it leads to a certain fullness. When you’re not taking in the TV show or whatever the stimulus is and you’re just feeling yourself and you have your five senses, you start feeling very full and very godly and very pleased. All because that word “relax” has deep dimension.
But isn’t it also a word that’s overused and hasn’t it lost some meaning? People always say, “Oh, just relax!”
It’s one of those words that’s so deceptively simple that you don’t realize it has a depth to it. It reminds me of the word “nice”. A person who’s nice is actually quite a wonderful person. The word is so simple. What a tame little adjective “nice” is. But show me a nice friend and I’ll show you a great person.
So, what should we say now? I can’t hide my age. You have to reveal what an oldster you are; it’s always printed anyway. My passions center around my wife Kathryn. I found her about 30 years ago and we’re rock steady, thank God. It’s beautiful to have stability in your emotional center. All the jealousy that I don’t have to have, all the numbers she does not put me through, thank the Lord. So I love and appreciate what I have with this beautiful babe. We have two kids. Same Mama, same two kids, with a real age spread. Arthur, Jr is 24 and little Beau is 9.
And Arthur Jr is an amazing vocalist, too!
Have you run into him on YouTube? He can really sing his ass off. He’s better than me and I’m pretty good.
Oh, do you know what I did want to ask…
I love when people say “Do you know what…” I always want to stop and say “Oh, no let me guess. Do I know what? Is it about…give me 2 seconds. Give me six million guesses. Do I know what, alright. Is it about Africa? No, alright. Let me have five and a half more million guesses. Do I know what…”
[Laughing] I think you’d miss your flight. I’m not sure if you want to speak about this but I know there was a time that you lost your singing voice. Can we talk about that for a little bit before we hang up?
Why not. It’s big, it’s truthful, and a big part of my biography. In 2010, Andrea, the voice went south and I don’t know why. I had finished working with Paulie in the Far East and we were loud, and maybe that’s it. I was really amped way up doing these arena shows, loud “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. And maybe that’s it because a few months after that, I wasn’t able to sing. All the fineness of the vocal cords went crude and fluttery and bassy. I couldn’t speak with any clear resonance. It was tragic. I don’t know myself to not be a singer so it threw me back to before I was five years old and started feeling that’s who I am, this kid who sings. It threw me back to a very hard place of no identity. That was 2010 and ’11.
I knew I could never give it up. I just had to believe I’m in a mending process. And, sure enough, with patience and I went through my whole self-created regimen to try and tease the voice back. I did 160 shows since I lost it and the first many dozen were—if I do say so myself—they were brave. There was a lot of irregular [laughs] sounds that would come out of me and I would just trust in the audience’s love of the authentic attempt. The authenticity seemed to communicate to the audience. Just a human being in his fallible nature showing up and doing his best! And out would come some good stuff. Then, finally, maybe 75 shows ago things did fall into place and there was full healing and I’m back in action. Two more questions!
Two more? Oh, well, I don’t have anything else but—
How about this: Speak to Paul Simon lately?
Now I wasn’t going to ask you about that. I wanted to talk about you, but we can talk about you and Paul. I’d love to.
No, no, it’s ok. You don’t have to. I don’t want to put words in your mouth.
Oh! I have one. Have you talked to Paul Simon lately?
I’d assume people always ask if you and Paul will tour again.
That’s question number one. And you can’t be coy. You have to try and be forthright and give them your best guess because reality is never that well known. Who knows. The real answer is who knows. But I love my show in its present form and I love the elbow room of commanding the stage with my own gift. I love working with just one acoustic guitar, Tab Laven who plays beautiful Martin guitar. We get “Scarborough Fair” and “The Boxer” and you’d be surprised. If the singer can sing—and I can sing—one guitar can fill up the sound picture as long as the singer is an artist.
Catch Art at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Oct. 3, the Grunin Center in Toms River, NJ on Oct. 9, the Mayo PAC in Morristown, NJ on Oct. 10, the Smith Center For The Arts in Geneva, NY on Oct. 23, and the Empire State Center For The Arts in Albany, NY on Oct. 24. For more information, go to artgarfunkel.com.