Art Garfunkel, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is performing at the Ithaca State Theatre tonight at 8:00p.m. Through his solo work and collaborations with Paul Simon in the famous folk rock duo Simon and Garfunkel, he has earned eight Grammys over the course of his career. Garfunkel is also an author, recently publishing What Is It All But Luminous, a book of poems, memoirs and stories. In advance of his concert, I had the pleasure of talking to Garfunkel about his love for performing, his relationship with Paul Simon and the list of artists he has on his iPod.
The Sun: What made you decide to come to Ithaca on this tour?
AG: I’m really interested in making a mark with campus kids. I want them to come to my show and go, “There’s nothing dated about Garfunkel. What an interesting role model for how a man can turn 76!” I want it to work between my age and your age.
Sun: Is there anything different for you about performing now versus performing when you were younger?
AG: It’s very fresh. It’s not old for me. I’ll do “Sound of Silence” in the concert and I’ll do “Scarborough Fair” and I’ll approach the mic with a vitality that is alive and well in the present tense. I say to myself, “Here comes the best Scarborough I ever sang.” It is not a repetitive experience for me. The present tense is all we ever have, and I love this work. Like never before, I’m into this stuff. I lost my voice in 2010 and to have it back is like, “Thanks God.” I’ve never felt so strongly the fun of singing now that I have it back.
Sun: You mention trying to make every time you sing a song the best you’ve ever sang it. Is that a matter of attitude, or do you actually make changes to songs over the years?
AG: Attitude. I finesse all the time. As many times as I’ve done “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” I want to do something different with the opening lines… something much more bittersweet. You bring your most evolved self, which is today. This is our most arrived state we’ve ever been in. So you try to bring that to your line readings […] Other people feel the need to change their show and keep it fresh. I’m the other way. I just want to do my thing and make it finer and finer.
Sun: What’s your favorite song to sing?
AG: My favorite song to sing is “Perfect Moment,” which I wrote a few years ago. It’s a very intimate, private truth. I won’t tell you what it’s about, but it’s very intimate and private. I do it often third in my show. I love pretty things, and to me it has a real pretty melody. When you write them yourself, they’re your exact taste.
Sun: How do you balance your career with Paul Simon versus your legacy as a solo singer?
AG: The Paul Simon thing has to be accommodated in the name of reality. If I did a concert and I dropped “Homeward Bound” I would feel coy. Come on. Why not give the audience their expectations? But then the rest is proportioned. How much? I choose to go 50 percent Simon and Garfunkel. And since I made 12 albums, I love them all. And every time I make an album I’m deeply involved. I’m a workaholic — a perfectionist. I love being in the studio because it’s a shy person’s pleasure. You work when nobody sees you and you fix and polish. So the craftwork of record-making is the thing I fell in love with.
[…] Right now I’m not particularly good friends with Paul Simon. Like the weather, we have sweet days and unsweet days. It’s boring. It is what it is. But I love this guy. If you don’t love a deep, old friend, you don’t love your life. This is my history! […] We were a remarkable combination of two very different people that fused with a hell of a tight fusion.
Sun: What’s your favorite memory from your musical career?
AG: Stepping on stage at the concert in Central Park in 1981. You know, you get very happy by the size of your audience. If you put out an album and it sells four million in the first month, that speaks very loud and clear and it makes you very happy. When you show up years after you were a team and there you are, Simon and Garfunkel, and you’re half of it, and the size of the New York audience is beyond a half of a million, I turned to Paul and said, “I knew we did something right in the 60s. I didn’t know it was this right!”
Sun: You asked me before how I think you’re seen among people of my generation. How do you want to be seen?
AG: I want to be seen as a singer who can do the songs of anybody. I had a fabulous run with Paul Simon and those hits are a delight to sing and to share, and they make up about half my show, but I want to be seen as kind of a Renaissance man: a guy who’s cooking. I use the rule “stay interested to yourself,” and that guides me through life, so I became a writer — one of those guys who keeps a little notebook in their back pocket — and I walk across countries. I walked the United States. I walked Europe, from Western Ireland to Istanbul. Every step of the way. I do it with installments. I leave home, fly to Europe, do 120 miles, come back a week later. Later in the year, I do another one.
I write. For 30 years I’ve been writing. And I finally just got the courage to put it into a book and see if it means anything. I got an agent, we shopped around my book, I got a great response. (I feel like Donald Trump touting myself.) But from that moment on, I thought, “I am a writer,” and I slipped into book world, to my shock and amazement. I’m going to serve up about seven or eight of [my writings] during the show, interspersed between the songs.
Sun: Are there any current artists who you like to listen to?
AG: Hold on a moment and I’ll give you my listening tape. You hooked me into a question I really love. I play [my iPod] as I’m walking. It’s got about 100 different things. It’s got Yeats. It’s got Dylan Thomas. It has classical and very few pop things. I like The Beatles. I like Mark Knopfler. I like Kenny Rankin. I like Michael McDonald as a singer. I go toward the singers.
Here’s my list on my iPod. It starts with these vocal exercises. Then I go to James Taylor, who I love to sing with. He’s so good. Like the rest of the world, I’m a huge James Taylor fan. I sing about five different things from his last album that I love. Then J.J. Cale. He’s a very easy, gentle blues guitar player. I sing along with him. I go to the Everly Brothers. There’s an album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, and both Paul and I fell in love with this album many years ago, so I have about seven different cuts on my master tape. Chet Baker, famous as a jazz trumpet player, but also a magnificent crooner… the world doesn’t seem to get this. There’s about six different cuts of Chet Baker. What a killer of a crooner. He’s better than Sinatra in that same style. And then I have here Simon and Garfunkel, Old Friends. Art Garfunkel, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” A couple of my own things. And here’s Maurice Ravel, “Mother Goose Suite.” If you don’t know it, check it out. Here’s Paul Desmond, the great jazz saxophone player. The Swingle Singers — they do jazz, Bach, and they sing it. All the notes are transcribed for vocals. They’re great. You get to know Bach’s notes in a rhythmic jazz way. To me, Bach is #1. If you want to know music, go to Bach. They’re dazzling constructions, these fugal things, how they copy each other and they climb, and the whole construction is like a gothic cathedral.
Sun: Any modern artists?
AG: I made a parting of the ways with modern society. I’m a lucky guy who has money in the bank. I can do what I choose. I love stage work. I lost the fun of the record business. I don’t really know how it works now. But being on stage singing is a delight for me. That’s the core of what I do. And I walk a lot. This is my life.
Lev Akabas is a junior in the college of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.