Art - for Art's sake

April 1, 2004
The Republican
Springfield MA

On the heels of a highly successful tour with former partner, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel steps back into the solo spotlight at Springfield Symphony Hall Saturday night.

Garfunkel, one of the most distinctive and celebrated tenors in popular music, will perform with Springfield Cover story Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. Limited seating is available in the 2,600-seat hall.

In a telephone interview from his native New York, the 62-year-old Garfunkel said he has stepped up his number of symphony-orchestra appearances. He will open the Boston Pops 2004 season next month.

"I am enjoying it so much and I have such a nice kind of symbiotic relationship with (orchestras) - they like me, I like them. Each time I do these shows, it's the best part of my work life. ... It's the closest thing to my pleasure and my calling that I know."

Garfunkel counts Barber, Ravel and Debussy among his favorite composers, though he holds a special fondness for Johann Sebastian Bach.

"I fell in love with Bach as I got to be college-age. And when I tried to find his rival, nobody quite did what 'J.S.' does. He remains my favorite guy at music, although the Beatles were pretty good."

The Springfield symphony, under the direction of Kevin Rhodes, will present Barber's "Adagio for Strings," Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite" and "Daphne & Chloe, Suite No. 2" before Garfunkel takes the stage.

Garfunkel promises a mix of selections from his solo recordings, as well as from the Simon & Garfunkel classics.

"Sometimes I'll say to the audience, 'I've just done this Simon & Garfunkel tour and, while it was great fun, it asks for me as a singer to be a harmony guy. It pushes me upstairs in the tenor range all through the night.' So there is something great about stretching out here and having the arrangements to do my singing the way it frames my style best. It's a richer singer's experience."

Audiences can expect a song or two from Garfunkel's latest disc, "Everything Waits to Be Noticed." The disc features Garfunkel's first serious foray into songwriting. Garfunkel said he does not know why he waited so long to write.

"Who knows why we don't actualize our potential skills. Perhaps Paul Simon was a block to my songwriting.

I clearly remember in the days of Simon & Garfunkel, way back when that I thought it would be foolish for me to contribute some songs to the album because Paul was just so damn good that I didn't want to go for equal time. It just seemed uncool."

It wasn't until producer Billy Mann brought Garfunkel together with Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock that he started writing songs.

Garfunkel is ambivalent about the positive critical reception "Everything Waits to Be Noticed" received.

"Y'know, I have a lot of static in the way of hearing and caring about the reaction. To live with reaction, whether it be the media, friends or anything is more of a noisy business. ... I'm chasing after what I call 'a good piece of writing.' Yes, I care if it communicates, but I don't look outside to see if it's a good piece of writing." A piece of good writing Garfunkel promises to include Saturday night is the Simon solo song "American Tune," about a nation lost.

"What a writer - that's Paul at his best, in my opinion. 'The Statue of Liberty sailing away to sea.'"

"It's tough not to be political. I almost want to introduce the song and challenge America to have a ... vision already or else get off the stage. If you have a leadership position and all you can think to do is to make more money by turning the world into a market ... Is that what your leadership is about? Bring the suffering down across the board on planet Earth. You have the power to do that America. To me, the'70s,'80s and'90s culture - through want of a vision and value system - turned to capitalism as a kind of a dufus position. ... It's not good enough."

Garfunkel's idealism extends beyond the concert stage.

He has repeatedly assisted the American Red Cross and other charities. During last year's Simon & Garfunkel tour, the pair donated $1 million to the Children's Health Fund to aid underprivileged youngsters.

On the musical side, the "Old Friends" reunion tour was so satisfying that the duo is considering a second leg, as well as a live CD or DVD.

"We both left each other in a very nice place. That tour was a dream from start to finish."

Garfunkel and Simon have a friendship that dates back 50 years. The pair met during a sixth-grade production of "Alice in Wonderland." Simon was the White Rabbit and Garfunkel the Cheshire Cat.

As teen-agers, they took the stage name Tom & Jerry and had a minor hit in 1957 with "Hey Schoolgirl."

Following college, they began performing as Simon & Garfunkel at the height of the folk-music boom. They were signed to Columbia Records in 1964.

In the years that followed, Simon & Garfunkel recorded the soundtrack to the 1960s with hits such as "The Sound of Silence," "Homeward Bound," "Mrs. Robinson," "The Boxer" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The duo's greatest hits album sold 10 million copies. They won five Grammy awards together before calling it quits in 1970.

Since the breakup, Garfunkel has released a dozen solo albums, acted in such films as "Catch 22" and "Carnal Knowledge," written a book of poetry and walked across the United States.

Throughout that time, his relationship with Simon has sometimes been rocky. Past reunion gigs never led to full resumption of the creative partnership.

It's a relationship, Garfunkel says, that has been misunderstood.

"This is an old friendship. We are like family. ... too bad Paul and Artie can't get the truth across to the media - We love to laugh. We are absolute screw-off jokesters and have been since we met each other in the sixth grade. It's laughs that fuel Simon & Garfunkel and always has been, then comes music."

Garfunkel won't comment on the evolution of the pair's relationship.

"(It's) smarmy to turn back toward one's self and to self-consciously analyze our relationship for print. It's embarrassing stuff."

Simon & Garfunkel fans yearning for new studio recordings may have to just keep hoping.

There is always a chance that the success of the tour might spur the two to return to the studio, Garfunkel said, adding nothing has been discussed.

"I never stopped being a musician, in fact I think I've grown through the years, and I see Paul as the same. So, to think of the new version of Simon & Garfunkel combining their studio chops is exciting to me. Will it happen because of all of the rest of the factors in life? I don't think so. I don't think it will happen. But when you say is there a chance? Yes, I think there is an exciting, small chance."