Art Garfunkel Pieces Together The Past With The Present In New Album

By Larry Katz
Entertainment News Service
June 28, 1994

"I was a stay-at-home guy in the '80s," a cheerful Art Garfunkel said. "Well, my reclusive years are officially over."

In the years since Simon and Garfunkel's 1971 breakup, the world has seen and heard a great deal from Paul Simon, but not nearly so much from the sweet-voiced Garfunkel.  Especially not recently.  Garfunkel hasn't had a single Top 40 hit since racking up a half dozen from 1973 to '78.

Now he's ready to step back into the spotlight. After 21 performances at the Paramount on Broadway last fall in a Simon career retrospective, and the release of his album, "Up "til Now," Garfunkel is charged up, albeit in his own relaxed way.

"I feel like a kid starting out," Garfunkel said. "As many years as I've been in this business, I have not done that many shows without my famous partner.  I'm just getting my legs on stage."

Garfunkel’s low visibility in the '80s coincided with an emotional low. In 1979 his girlfriend, actress Laurie Bird, committed suicide while Garfunkel was in Europe shooting the Nicholas Roeg film, "Bad Timing." He was devastated. Some claim you can hear a loss of confidence in the albums he recorded after the tragedy.

Garfunkel, 52, now appears to be at peace with himself, a contented family man. In 1988, he married Kim Cermak, who sings backup vocals on Garfunkel's tour. They’re the parents of a 3-year old son, James, whose curly-haired countenance looks out from the cover of "Up "til Now."

"Up" contains some fresh material, including a duet with James Taylor, "Crying in the Rain," and a cover of Dire Straits' "Why Worry." But half the album consists of bits and pieces from Garfunkel's past, going all the way back to the original 1964 acoustic version of "The Sounds of Silence."  While the album may seem slapped together, it's actually a product of Garfunkel's perfectionism. "I wanted to put out an album by the time I was doing the Paramount shows with Paul," he said. "I knew those shows would be a good career kick. I started the album, but I go slow on these things. I fuss. I recorded a few good things, but I wasn't really finished. "So I started thinking, 'What have I recorded that nobody knows but me?' I did a theme for a TV show, 'Brooklyn Bridge.' I had a song Jimmy Webb wrote for me called 'Skywriter' that we recorded live at Albert Hall in 1988. Nobody else knows it, so it seems like a brand new song."

But everyone knows "The Sounds of Silence," if not the early version heard on "Up 'til Now." "The original recording had our two voices and one guitar," Garfunkel explained. "It was on the first Simon and Garfunkel album, 'Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M ‘. Well, that album didn't’t sell like the other albums did. It's not nearly as well-known.

"The famous 'Sounds of Silence' has overdubbed drums, bass and that electric 12-string sound that was typical of folk-rock in the mid-'60s.  The world knows that 'Sounds of Silence.'  But clear out the electric sounds and you hear the lyrics. You hear the two voices. I wanted to put that forward."

The overdubbed version was completed and released by producer Tom Wilson in 1965 without
the knowledge of Garfunkel, who was a student at Columbia University, or Simon, who had moved to London. Had it not become a No. 1 hit, the two might never have reunited.

"It was just like life," Garfunkel said. "You try to go one way, and then from a completely other direction you get a lucky break. Paul and I probably would have stayed on different tracks. I don't think Paul was about to come back to the States.  Accident and circumstance are really what rule lives."  Now that's a surprising remark coming from a self-admitted perfectionist. "I'm trying to loosen up," Garfunkel said. "Maybe it's because of my child. Control freaks like me are really undone by a child. We can't keep the house or our thoughts all neat. You have to be a person and admit that life is chaotic. I'm learning to accept things that are human and not precise as part of what communicates and entertains."

Does this mean he might change the direction of his music and move away from soft ballads?
"It's time to surprise people," he responded. "I'd say let my next album be all the things you would not expect. I've left a lot of stuff unexplored. Something with heavy, complex rhythms would be a lot of fun. To stay vital and alive, you have to have a new project, a new stretch, a new reach."  

"My primary identity is singer," Garfunkel says. But he retains other interests as well. In 1989, he published "Still Water," a collection of prose poems. He resumed his once promising, now sporadic acting career with a supporting role in last year's controversial "Boxing Helena.”

And then there’s The Walk. Garfunkel is engaged in an extended, bit by bit trek, across the United States for no reason other than his own pleasure.  “I’m up to Butte, Montana”, he said.  “One day in the mid-80s I left my apartment in Manhattan, walked across Central Park, across the George Washington Bridge and through New Jersey.  Eight days later I was in Pennsylvania.”

I called it the first installment of a cross country walk.  Every so often I get a break and fly out to where I left off and pick up at the exact spot, it’s wonderful, really healthy and liberating.  It’s under the theory that life is for enjoyment.”

So if that next Garfunkel album-which he plans to start before the end of the year- takes a while to get finished maybe because Garfunkel believes there is more to life than one’s career.

“People often ask what ‘took you so long between albums?’ I say, ‘how long should I take?’  I play after I work.  So to me if it looks dilettante-ish, well I’m not competing as hot and heavy as some other people.  But I think I can get away with that if my work is good.”

Gee, he sounds so well adjusted.  Where’s all that envy he is suppose to feel towards the richer, more famous, more successful Paul Simon?

Garfunkel laughs.  “I am not in life to have success,” he said.  “I’m in life to make beautiful things.”