Art Garfunkel: What I've Learned

December 21, 2011
Esquire Magazine
By Cal Fussman

I knew I was touched when I was five. I was kind of a goody-goody who could sing like an angel. I would seek hallways and stairwells where the tiles would give a lovely reverberation, and my ears would go, "Fuck me, this is nice."

If you don't have human dignity, you're going to walk in a hunched way. But if you feel yourself pulled at the top of your head toward the heavens, you're a human being with dignity. ."

I met Paul in our school play, Alice in Wonderland. He was this funny guy who cracked me up all the time. We moved to junior high school together, started smoking cigarettes. We loved "Earth Angel" and we emulated the Everly Brothers. We would stare at each other's mouths to copy each other's diction. I would watch where the tongue hit the palate when Paul said a t. Just where is that t? We would be nose to nose. When you're very young, you're insane. You're a fanatic about your loves. The world hasn't shown you how to corral the thing and be normal. ."

Whatever your kids are comes from you. So whatever irritates, look at yourself. ."

We didn't push for exaggerating one's contribution. That would throw off the balance. There are many songs where I'm supposed to be a shadow. Many songs, I was a silvery edge around Paul Simon's coffee-brown lead front part. As the record emerged, you go, "That's what it is. Those are the two personalities. That's what's happening." And the sound is lovely as long as the composite works. I don't care if it's seven-eighths Paul and one-eighth Arthur. Look how the silvery edge makes the record work. ."

You'll never find the answer to "What's the right hat?" ."

How about Elvis? He wasn't quite "the King" when he was younger. As the years went by, he developed a fantastic physical presence. He treated himself like a wonderful jaguar, a platinum cat. That was acquired over the years. ."

Doesn't personality subvert harmony over time? Yes, it does. Length of time with a group that requires harmony and consistent cooperation is the devil's business. Or, you might say, a marriage. ."

A beautiful ass is a joy forever. ."

Never mind the transience of show business and popularity. When we hear Ray Charles, we go, "That's a great singer." You don't need a reporter or a writer to tell us. Good is good and it should shine through the years. ."

Many people portray the sixties in a caricatured way. They don't get how healthy the sixties were. What a bust-out of spirit in America. How vital! How wonderfully questioning! They don't get that. They just go to the daisies. ."

I found when my boy turned sixteen, he becomes his own man. It throws the papa a little bit, you know? He has his own haircut, his own sense of clothes. He has his own identity, and it's his. The shift is very challenging. It can happen overnight. One morning they wake up and they have their angle, their slant on who they are. They can hardly figure it out. All they know is "This wasn't me for the first fifteen, sixteen years. But this is me now." You'd better fasten your seat belt, watch, and learn. ."

It seems to me that at nineteen or twenty, a young man is burning to be great at something. I was. You have a vision that's beyond the neighborhood. You want to make a mark while you're alive. You don't know exactly your future, but you want to be great at it. And greatness is an important word. And you dare not tell anybody how extreme and how burning are your visions, because you don't want anybody to mess with them. ."

I'm a mathematician who's anal-compulsive. So I don't want to freshen up the song each performance. To me, singing is execution. You don't throw out what you've learned to execute. You refine what you've learned. And I run into a difference of opinion with Paul on this. When we tour, after the eighteenth show Paul invariably goes, "Now we know it. I'm tired of the show. Let's move on to some other project." And I go, "No. Now we're ready to execute it." Execution is where it's at, man. Refine and refine. Find the inner beauty within and keep going. Live to refine. But for every one of me, there's nine of the other type: Keep it fresh through reinvention. ."

To relax is to unpeel your layers of bullshit, of personality, of protectiveness. It's hard work. ."

I love this guy. He's full of brilliant ideas. He's committed to his musical truth and I'm committed to mine. I differ with him about what we should do here and there. So how do we work it out? If the game is about politeness and niceness, you lose the record. You really want to see it go toward your vision because you're so excited about how it could be. So I want to say no. What else is new? You have to accommodate two things. Friction is heat. It drives things. So the friction, the dueling, is absolutely par for the course. It's two people who are in love with the vision of the record as they see it. That is just fine, and it makes me respect how deeply musical I am and he is. But the heat of friction is tiring and ultimately wears you down. ."

Ultimately, you're overworked. You do want to rest. When we would finish a project, I was ready for a two-month pause. Paul was ready for a two-week pause. So we differed on that and I got very tired. Paul's sense of humor was not making me laugh. I needed a rest. That's such a "What else is new?" It's so normal that people get tired and want to take a rest. I am sorry that the rest turned to a split. I'm really sorry about that. I loved Simon and Garfunkel. I love them to this day. I think the compatibility of our two talents is a cool thing. ."

I can't cater to people who want to make a big deal of the friction. There's no story there. So don't spin one. ."

Or spin the story with the amount of love that went into it. The story of Simon and Garfunkel is a story of remarkable compatibility. To harmonize that close is the story. How do you get so close to somebody? Well, you put your head right up to them, you sing and you hear them very nearby, and a little bubble comes over the two of you and you're in a zone. That is the story — that you can get so close! How do you get so close to a person? Love, man. You love the person. You love their talent. You love what's coming out. You love the sound. That's the fucking story. To pick up on when the love and the compatibility frayed a little is nasty business. It's typical journalists going for the underroad instead of the road. It gets me angry. You want to talk about the absence of van Gogh's great talent when it didn't work? What a waste of time. It's fucking van Gogh, man. ."

My voice and my singing are not behind the eight ball in any sense. Nobody can do anything to me except lick the lollipop when I bring it out. ."

Money, to me, meant if you're watching a movie and you're bored with the movie, you can get up and leave. You don't have to sit through to the end. Money means the absence of things that you have to do when you don't have money. ."

Paul's a poker player. He hides his cards. But when he finally plays them, they're picture cards. The red cards, hearts and diamonds. ."

We men never know what to do about wallets. If it's a bulge in the back pocket, that doesn't do it. Do you go with a money clip? ."

Let us not pollute the waters of great fortune. No matter what other celebs will say, I am here to say it was great fun. The party is on. Life has played the lucky card my way. This puts you in a great mood. I'm sorry. There's not much complexity there. Chicks are available. ."

What you look for in a woman really shifts over the years. When you're young, the pretty mouth is everything. When you're older, character is everything. Depth. Can you see me when I'm hurting and can you be there? ."

My wife is kind of a noneater. We don't have a dinner table. We have a big butcher-block table in our kitchen. So you eat sideways on the run. We have minimized what eating is all about except when we go out to dinner. ."

There were something like a half million people in Central Park. The larger the audience, the easier the show. The killer show is a living room with nine people looking at you. When it's huge, you can concentrate on your musical values. ."

When the first song goes good, it tumbles into a can-do complex. When you love a little piece of the show, it keeps affecting what comes next. Momentum is everything. ."

My feelings at the end were we could have sung better. I was a man whose ears demanded beautiful pitch and beautiful singing. Paul said, "Artie, you had a wonderful impact. Let yourself be happy!" I realized it was time to drop my critical point of view. And I let myself be happy. ."

Paul just had his seventieth birthday party. We passed the mic around, and I know you're supposed to be jocular and light, but I took another tack. "Who will speak at whose funeral?" I said. Shake them up. Then I said, "You'll outlast me, Paul. You live more carefully than I do." He said, "Well, write out what you want, Artie. I'll say it." ."

I love to read. It keeps the noise of the world at bay. ."

Yeah, there are some songs Paul's done where I've thought, I wish I was working with him. I know how to take this way up. There are a few of them. And he'd probably agree. ."

When you're a kid, you think adults have more of a balance and solitude. Then you realize they've learned how to posture. ."

We're always saying kindness is everything. It's a nice phrase. But have you been kind today? We think we are. But are you sure? Being kind takes work. ."

One day can really change everything. You wake up in the morning, you're way out of it. You drank too much the night before. You wake up and feel warped as a human being. But one good day of doing things right — eating well, working well, getting a few things accomplished — can leave you in a better place. ."

I've crossed two continents by foot. I don't know what's next. I used to think, Follow the break of the spring. ."

How about how great life is? The body coordinates itself and fits together chemically and physically. It's just God's gift. It's a goddamn miracle that this gift carries on day after day. The body works! Who can ignore that, who can count on that? Ultimately it breaks down and then you get the truth. Nope, it was only working by the grace of God. ."