Art Garfunkel Goes Solo As Composer, Singer
Anderson Herald, By Robin Denselaw, January 9, 1974
NEW YORK — Art Garfunkel sat in a very expensive restaurant and ordered lunch of a plain omelette. His problem, he said, was too much choice. He was “beyond the problem of what will sustain life, but getting to the problem of what will make life meaningful ~ and that’s a more serious one.”
He has just turned 32, with a quite astonishing career behind him — including the world’s best-selling album and a couple of films. That’s hard to follow, though with his first solo record now released he’s trying.
He was dressed in conservative casuals, looking more like a junior faculty member with rich parents than an entertainer with 21 years’ experience behind him. His career started out in Queens, when he played the Cheshire Cat in a school production of “Alice.” Playing the White Rabbit was a classmate called Paul Simon. The two teamed up as “Tom and Jerry,” and had a moderately successful record.
Later, Paul moved to England as a folksinger and, between May and September when he wasn’t at school, Art came over to join him. They played in clubs, sang in Leicester Square, and obviously enjoyed themselves.
“I always feel we came out of England. The English were terrific to us. Those were the happiest days of all. There’s nothing like working your way up from five pounds a night to 25 pounds in the folk clubs,” Garfunkel recalls. While they were in England, an American producer added a rock backing to a song they had recorded called “Sounds of Silence” and Simon and Garfunkel had their first hit. From then on, there was nothing but success. Simon wrote fine, original songs, the first to combine soft rock with intelligent lyrics, and he played excellent guitar. Garfunkel just sang — he was blessed with an exquisite, clear tenor that blended perfectly with Simon’s harmonies, and the combination made them both multimillionaires. Their last album, “Bridge Over Trouble Water” is the world’s all-time best seller, and their greatest hits compilation is still in the British charts.
Garfunkel is still unwilling to discuss why the sensationally successful duo split up, and says simply “It wasn’t a personality clash, because there was no confrontation or collision. It was nonmutual growth….anyway, it’s scrapbook material.’’ Could they play together again? “Maybe in the ‘eighties,” and did they ever see each other? “We speak. He called up the other night and we compared our sales.”
Each is firmly set on a solo career. Simon is in the lead (two superb albums and concerts in England and America), while Garfunkel has only given one performance, at his record company’s convention, and has only just released a solo album. It is called “Angel Clare,” took a year and a half to make, is popular in America but has been ignored in Britian. It’s lush, immaculately produced, with an orchestra, a choir, and a host of top musicians providing the backing tracks. It is also curiously alien to the folk and rock tradition through which Garfunkel graduated, for on it he sounds like a classically trained singer showing off his voice on some favorite tunes by Randy Newman and Jim Webb.
He describes it like this: “Unlike Paul, I feel that lyrics are less important than music. My taste runs to the notes—to the rhythm.” He spends most of his time in the studio getting exactly what he wants from the session men. “I pretty well know what I want them to play, and which likes are a plus, which are B minus, and which are C. And I really want to collect all the As, and with the wonder of tape you can stop and start until you do that. I spend 90 per cent of my time on the tracks. Come the vocals, I feel the fun is over. I would love to have released my album with no vocals on it.”
Art Garfunkel's listening these days, is more to Bach than to rock (the album even includes a Bach Chorale with new words, sandwiched between a French-Haitian folk song) and he says he is depressed by what has happened to the music scene. “It has gone through the standard numbers — creativity, followed by ornate exaggeration, followed by degenerate imitation, in an incredibly short period of time."
He likes Randy Newman and Joni Mitchell, but “It’s a long time since I’d rush out to buy an album, already salivating, eager to bring it home, knowing I was going to like it.” So what’s gone wrong? Partly, he thinks, it’s that the music business is getting so commercial.
“It’s very serious big business, and it really excites the greed glands, you know, and that’s very anti-musical. Pop culture seems a little vacant to me, a missing substance. But in the golden age of the Beatles it was really worth taking seriously—you could put it next to Bach or Beethoven.”
What of his own next moves? He’s worried by all the possibilities open to him, but it looks as if he will record another album, and then maybe get a band together and perform. He knows what the next album will consist of, but refused to be drawn when I suggested he might be attempting a classical work, except to correct me: “I prefer the word ‘spiritual.’”
But he is coming to London later this month, and may start recording here. He will be contacting British guitarists whom he would like to work on the next album—but again, no details. He agreed, though, that he approved of George Harrison. (“Oh, that would be wonderful. I can really understand him. What’s happened to him in his life is what’s happened to me.”)
Garfunkel has appeared successfully In two Mike Nichols’ films, “Catch 22” and ‘Carnal Knowledge,” but has turned down all other offers. He is a perfectionist and he likes being in control, and that is something he can be in a recording studio but not in front of a camera.
“I have an inferiority complex about acting.” he said. “If other actors turned on me and said ‘What exactly are you doing here?’ I’d have no answer.”
Even so, he’s sorry about some parts he’s turned down. “I regret not taking the lead role in ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ — when I saw the movie I realized I would have had fun having a shot at it. Then, Tony Richardson came to me with a really interesting script, and I was on the brink of doing it . . . I was to play this fellow who has one obsession, the laundromat, and washing clothes. I could really identify with that character."
In future, he’ll only act if it’s a glorified vacation. “If someone rings up and says ‘We’re shooting in Greece from June to September, the chef will be good, the cast you already know and like, and you can bring your wife,’ then I’ll do it . . . but creatively, the richest thing is making your own records. Most people in the music business are in it for the love of music. Most people in Hollywood are in it for the love of being big stars."
It may sound from that as if Garfunkel is an introverted recluse, but there are unexpected sides to his character. He suddenly talks about his love of showbiz, and says it was this—not politics—that made him reunite for a one-night stand with Paul in aid of the McGovern campaign. “Peter, Paul and Mary were also performing for the night, and I thought it would be a great show. I wasn’t impressed by McGovern.”
Not that he’s impressed by Nixon either. He breaks away in mid-conversation to announce that he's just sent letters to his congressman to demand Nixon’s impeachment, and has sent funds to the American Civil Liberties Union, giving them the same message.
He seemed pleased at having done that—it was a positive action. For the over-all impression Garfunkel gave was of a man with considerable honesty, varied talents and enough money to last several lifetimes, looking for the right outlets. To meet me in New York (for only the second interview he had given since the Simon and Garfunkel days) he had flown up from Virginia, where he and his wife are househunting, and he is looking for peace.
“The other day I was thinking, ‘How much peace have I had?’ — that’s being truly peaceful from head to toe—and it came to about an hour and a half’s worth. I’m probably more tense than the average person. I’m probably miserable. I must strive to make some more comfort in my soul.”
And how would he cheer up? “Well, drugs won’t really do it . . . Having kids is supposed to be terrific, I’d like to try that. And in the meantime? “I have great faith in good music.”