Art and His Craft
Date : Tuesday, 23rd June 1998
Author : Kannan Chandran
The music of Art Garfunkel has followed closely the success of Simon & Garfunkel's numerous hit albums. As he walks through a rich career, he's also taken to enjoying nature and the beauty of life. Art Garfunkel's melodious voice feels like honey down the throat as he talks about his big walk across America. One half of the phenomenally famous, multi-Grammy-winning Simon & Garfunkel duo, Garfunkel is still keeping true to the old music which so captivated (and still does) the Baby Boomer generation. Having recently put out a new album of past hits largely recorded live to an Ellis Island audience, Garfunkel is in an upbeat mood.
Having come out of the penumbra of the Simon & Garfunkel limelight, putting out albums which clung rather tenaciously to the duo's old format, it's a full circle back to the glory days for the "voice" of Simon & Garfunkel. With a voice as distinctive and identifiable as his, and with songs that still sell in the millions, it seemed only logical that Garfunkel contemporise them in today's context of recording techniques and modern technology.
But Garfunkel is not so hot about what goes on on the other side of the microphone. For him, the great recording breakthrough was, and still is, stereo. "I am in love with echo, that's as far as I go. I try not to be seduced by technology. It's not that important. Stereo, to me, was a wonderful enhancement to the ear. Beyond that it's gimmicky and I'm not sure it's necessary.
"Music is made on the studio side of the glass, not the control panel side. Musicianship is about the groove, the beat, the music, melody and rhythm. I play down what goes on in the control room," he states, his melodic voice taking on a firm timbre.
That spirit might have resulted in Garfunkel's music taking a longer time to be appreciated by a younger audience that has been won over by electronics and gadgetry; image and special effects. For Garfunkel, the principal conduits for his messages are the music and his voice. Lyrics that describe life in all its facets.
He reckons the longevity of Simon & Garfunkel's music can be attributed to melody. "We had real melody; you don't find that a lot," he explains, illustrating his point by humming a refrain from the haunting Sound of Silence.
"Melody has been forgotten," he laments, his sorrowful voice reflecting his mood. "When we crafted our records, we did it very very carefully. When I was mixing those tunes, I was thinking of a 50-year lifespan." The fact that his re-recording of the great tunes has been met with enthusiasm does realise his intentions.
"I'm satisfied with Across America. I fussed over it and worked on it a long time. I mixed it very carefully. We had a nice blend, but it's not hopeless without Paul," he states, almost as if regular confirmation of the fact is required.
Across America brought the family man in Garfunkel onstage. His wife, Kim Cermak Garfunkel, and son, James, contributed to the recordings, as did James Taylor. The concept of Across America was born out of Garfunkel's love for walking. "I'm getting on in years and my heart needs attention," Garfunkel admits. "It's hard to get a tennis game going. I'm not a jogger and I don't want to buy a treadmill."
What Garfunkel does enjoy is the great outdoors. So, he decided to hit the road. "In 1984, I took a freighter from San Francisco to Kobe. When I got off the ship I decided was going to walk about this whole country. I had my credit card..." What followed was three weeks of pounding the padi fields and back streets, which took Garfunkel from Kobe to Fukuoka.
Thus inspired, he decided to do likewise in the US. "It was the most pleasant experience and allowed me to experience the beauty of the land," Garfunkel recalls. Like in any form of exercise, the first day is a tough one to overcome.
"It helped me shake out the New York noise and confusion. The second day, I start to settle down and by the third day I'm looking at the horizon and feeling a sense of God. I am alone, this is Earth, I have this wonderful thing called life. I feel very full, contented and spiritually rewarded," he says, getting emotional about his nature walks.
His diet of 45km a day, wearing an attitude of "nothing to worry about" allowed him to walk through the various parts of his homeland, often unrecognised. Despite his trademark hair and famous face "people didn't recognise me. I guess it's because I didn't carry the pop star attitude."
His peregrination also showed him some negative aspects of the US. "I saw how much there wasn't a vision. There was a great passivity. From my perspective, the post-Cold War years dissolved the fears thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev. We've now ushered in a new age, full of opportunity and it's appropriate to be happy.
"The US is in a fortunate position to exert influence towards evolution and to bring the planet to a more compassionate phase. But I didn't see any of that. America is still myopic, still worrying about localism. "A wonderfully inspiring leader would help," Garfunkel concludes.
Since his walking habit took hold, Garfunkel reckons his health has improved. "It's been years since I had a cold, when I used to get it twice a year. I feel a little more like an oak tree." And for an encore, Garfunkel's going to stroll across Europe: from Ireland to Istanbul. As for his music, I guess we can expect more of the same, too.