Alliance helps turn Garfunkel's poems to songs

January 31, 2003
San Jose Mercury News
By Paul Freeman, Times Correspondent

He has for decades been considered one of pop music's finest interpreters of song. Now the golden-voiced crooner Art Garfunkel is finally writing his own tunes. You know of his historic partnership with Paul Simon. Garfunkel has now teamed with singer-songwriters Buddy Mondlock and Maia Sharp on the album "Everything Waits To Be Noticed" (Manhattan Records), a collection blending pop, folk and jazz sensibilities.

Producer-singer-songwriter Billy Mann (Carole King, Celine Dion) had long been hoping to work with Garfunkel. Mann and Graham Lyle co-wrote a song called "Bounce" especially for him. "He played it for me on the phone," Garfunkel recalls. "It was a gem, an infectious shuffle that hooked me, and I said, "I'm inclined to want to pull closer to this scenario. You be the producer. I'll be the artist."

Mann shot back with the notion of teaming Garfunkel with two singer-songwriters, Sharp and Mondlock. Sharp had penned songs for Cher and Paul Carrack; Mondlock for Joan Baez and Garth Brooks. Mann wanted Garfunkel himself to get involved in the songwriting. The idea wasn't completely unprecedented. Garfunkel began writing prose poems in the '80s. "I thought, 'It's time to say these things, succinctly and interestingly, with a rhyme and reason to the flow of the syllables, so they'll dance and it won't by jumbly.' When I wrote these poems, it shifted my sense of myself a little bit. I felt more thoughtful all through the '80s, more sober and more examining of everything. For me, to be a writer is to be a thinker and to weigh your words with a little more care."

Mann's entreaties convinced Garfunkel that it was time to ponder songwriting. "I said, 'If my poems could be amalgamated, somehow made into songs, then you would have done a big thing for me, Billy.' He said, 'Well, these writers can do that."

Several compositions from Garfunkel's poetry book "Still Water" served as song seeds. Mondlock began working on the poem titled "Perfect Moment." New Yorker Garfunkel flew to Nashville to hear the results. "I came in and had the thrill of my life, hearing this super, pretty song. And I'm a real sucker for pretty things. It was unfinished, but it was my notion, fleshed out, wonderfully capturing the spirit. I thought, 'That's my baby, all right.' I pulled up a chair and learned to sing it." Garfunkel then helped finish the song. Sharp flew in the next day, and the threesome quickly wrote "Wishbone," based on a poem about loss. "Once I met Maia, I thought, 'Billy's vision is right. These two talents are extreme.' Billy pulled it all together. He was the captain."

Garfunkel found songwriting to be quite different from composing poetry. "Poems are dense, rich nuggets of concept -- my poems, anyway. Songs are different. They tend to have couplets. They tend to be a little easier in the use of language. They can't take too much density and richness. You can't be arty. Even if it's good arty, it tends to be not songlike." It was Garfunkel's singing and producing skills that went into the timeless hits created by his longtime partnership with Paul Simon, including "Sounds of Silence" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Then he established a solo career, recording such songs as "All I Know." With ample musical gifts, why not try songwriting?

"I think I was blocked. I'm a words man and a notes man. So it's all there. But for some reason I never brought myself to sit at the piano, chain my leg to it and stay there while I doodled, hunted, made discoveries, put it down on tape and do that sweat that's called songwriting.
In the '60s, I said, 'I ain't gonna do it, because it'll look like I'm going for equal time' - - vis-a-vis Paul Simon, whom I thought was a towering talent. Why even pretend that I needed to put two songs of mine on the next album when I felt Paul had that part of Simon and Garfunkel covered?"

On Sunday, Sharp and Mondlock will join Garfunkel onstage at the Fillmore. Garfunkel has always been able to weave magic with harmonies. Now his 11-year-old son James is displaying a similar ability.

"I believe in air. Leave things alone. Let things happen. I don't like to push, swerve. manipulate. But when something accidentally happens right and comes out of my son, I want to be immediate in my noticing and praising it. It is an encouraging thing. I would like to see James be acquainted with one of the great riches in this world -- the notes, their combinations, the fascination of music and its possibilities. It's one of God's great faces."