Art Garfunkel Laid-back folksinger finds his own stride

January 26, 2003

While Paul Simon continues to make clinical folk albums nobody cares about, his former partner Art Garfunkel, 61, has spent the last three decades excelling in the art of living life. He's acted in movies, released 11 solo albums, made his hair fuzzier than ever, and walked across the United States, Japan and Europe. Having logged more than 4,500 miles on his feet, Garfunkel took a break last year to record the collaborative CD "Everything Waits to Be Noticed" with songwriters Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock. The trio performs at the Fillmore next Sunday. We caught up with him in France in the midst of his latest expedition.

Q: You were out walking again today.

A: Yeah. I did another 30 kilometers just southeast of Lyon. I feel great. I have so much air in me. So much lung power. I feel straightened.

Q: Do you leave little flags out at night so you remember where you left off?

A: I leave little bread crumbs. I wear lederhosen. They call me Hansel and I'm looking for Gretel.

Q: What?

A: No, I memorize the exact spot at the end of the day. I look at my marker and know where to pick up tomorrow. My brother is with me on this trip to help me with the pickup at the end of the day, so I'm not lost in Nowheresville when the sun goes down. So when he comes to pick me up I make sure to remember the exact spot.

Q: Where do you sleep?

A: When you get so far out that it's not sensible to keep coming back those many miles to your standard stuff, you find something. Every two or three nights it changes. After all, you're walking over a 100 kilometers, so you're going to find a little one-star or two-star hotel somewhere. It's not so difficult in the Western world.

Q: You just have to lower your standards a little bit.

A: Yeah. As long as it doesn't smell of urine, that's what I care about. I just need a mattress that's slightly thicker than a pancake and no funny smells. And then I'm just a middle-class guy from Queens who got lucky with a couple of hit records.

Q: You probably have to use special shoes.

A: I'm a New Balance man, not that I'm an endorser. I have a bunch of them. I like to keep them pretty new. I go through one or two a year.

Q: I thought you burned through a pair a week.

A: I don't get to do too many walks. I only get to do about three of these a year.

Q: Is this like exercise or just a leisure pursuit?

A: It's so San Francisco. When I used to visit there it was called dropping out. Or freaking out. Or opening up the button-downs.

Q: Are you high?

A: It's organic. Walking is such a Zen activity. It's great for a singer. It's really about breathing and lungs. Today I started working on a song I have to sing as soon as I get back called "Grateful." So I was working on what I'm going to do with the lines dynamically, "Here's where I'll break the tension and suddenly sing vibrato-less." So I was sketching out what I am going to do when I get back. It's a great way to unplug. I love that they can't get me. Except for this phone call. You got me.

Q: Sorry about that.

A: No. I care a lot. The thrust of my argument is how much I love my CD. To me, it came out good. I don't want to be too quiet or distant or above it all. I don't want to be anything. I want to stand up and say, "You should check this out. It turned out good."

Q: Do you still hate performing live?

A: No. I've come to like it.

Q: What happened?

A: When you took your first flight, didn't it feel weird to be in this iron capsule up there? Kind of bouncy and dangerous? But something in repetition inures us to the fear. You just finally calm down if you do it enough. In my case, the first 17,000 times were not enough. But slowly you get to feel mistakes are good. Some of them are awful, like, to miss the words in a big ballad. But fortunately it's never happened to me. My wife told me, generally when you make a mistake the audience really looks in on you. They feel this is the unscripted stuff. So those become golden moments more real than anybody expected. It's fun to play with it. I'm finally relaxed enough to have it in my command.

Q: It took you only 30 years.

A: I've paid the price of being misunderstood all these years by not getting it out earlier. This is the me I know. Misunderstood. A square peg in a Bush world. It's tough to get my case across. I was the quiet half of a famous duo, but I've been cooking all along. Not quiet at all, as far as I'm concerned. It's tough to be in show business when you're the philosophical type, a book reader. It's a very funny challenge. But I'm into it now.