Most Art Garfunkel clichés are true – he’s intelligent, intense and painfully sensitive. Some aren’t – anyone would look 6 foot 7 next to Paul Simon. At 50, Garfunkel seems eerily unchanged, a Phillies cap perched on top of his explosion of blond hair. But the quiet half of S&G is, in fact, weathering major changes these days – he’s cutting his first studio album in nearly six years, Up til Now; chasing after his 2-year-old son, James; and touring with Paul Simon as part of the Concert Event of a Lifetime, Simon’s career retrospective. Over coffee at Joe Allen, a venerable restaurant in New York City’s theater district frequented by celebrities and Cats extras, Garfunkel talks.
Garfunkel: You aren’t going to be nasty, are you? It’s written all over your face that you’re probably not going to be nasty.
RS: No, no.
I’d like to think that the interviewer supports the ego of these various people trying to entertain people. Why not look for what’s interesting, what’s uplifting, what’s worthy?
Heck, most of your press has been great.
I’ve been treated good. I’m lucky. I’ve definitely had a fortunate life [looks skyward]. From the moment I was 5 and I realized [sings], “Ah-ha-haaaa! I can sing!” I knew God is good.
Would you describe your album as a retrospective?
It’s a grab bag. The album is half new stuff – I did a wonderful James Taylor duet, “Crying in the Rain.” But a lot of it is underproduced. There are a bunch of one-offs, as the English would say, on the album. I found a first take of the song “All I Know,” an old Jimmy Webb hit I had. It’s just us in the studio. What do you think of Conan O’Brien?
Well, every time I tune in, I feel for the guy. He’s still a bit nervous. Why?
I find it interesting. One can go 50-50 on Conan. I like him, yeah. I root for him to make it. Because he’s a live, vulnerable human being.
What prompted the inclusion of “The Breakup” [S&G’s mock announcement of their breakup] on the album?
I did it one day some years ago when I wandered into the studio where Paul was working and I was in a Nicholson mood. I’m so tired of hearing about Simon and Garfunkel friction and trouble. And the truth is, we go so far back together that we’re in a life bond here. It’s corny to talk about the sweet side, but there’s an enormous amount of love in this old friendship. We’re sort of old Jewish souls.
How has it felt to be onstage with Paul once again?
I longed to do this for quite a while. And thanks to the Unplugged age – and Paul’s openness to two voices and one guitar – we can finally play less-is-more, the way I love it. I love to produce that sound with him – timeless; nothing changes.
How do you summon the emotion after singing the same song a thousand times?
When they applaud the opening of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” I’m standing back receiving the applause, but I’m thinking, “I’m about to talk about when we’re down. And don’t I know about down? Don’t I have my hurt? Doesn’t everybody in the audience have serious hurts?” It’s all quite real. And if I can give them a soothing sound and, with the luck of wind, through my soul create a visceral moment as a singer, why can’t I again and again say, if we feel this, “Let me, through the luck of the gods, be just a comfort for one song.” And that’s what goes through my mind.
You’re freaking me out a bit here, Art.
I’m not part of the cynical age. Does precious have to be a sentimental word? Does that have to be a bad thing? Let’s actually be, think; let’s entertain; let’s touch each other; let’s be as real as we can, just for fun. Want more coffee?
Thanks. What’s going on with you on the acting front?
I’m torn between wanting to do it again, because I’ve had fun acting, and I have a feel for it, and being a bit of an elitist as to what’s out there. I’m reading a script now, and they said Harvey Keitel looks like he’s gonna do it. So we’ll see where that goes.
Any dream roles?
J.D. Salinger wrote a collection of unpublished short stories that came into my hands. One is magnificent. It’s about a young man who loses his way in his male-female relationships as he ages. And there’s something so sympathetic about this guy, and the dichotomy between his worthiness and his lostness touches me to the max.
A little-known fact about you is that you’ve been walking across the U.S. in 100-mile increments.
There’s so many little-known facts. My mom, she’s 81. She’s fallen in love with a younger man, six years after my father died. People don’t know these things. Paul Simon’s birthday is coming up. I’m very proud of the gift I have for him. It’s a magic wand with little stars in it, and a tiny, tiny little Elvis in gold lamé is in there, and you have to find Elvis.
You know he won’t get duplicates of that. So back to walking.
Years ago, I hatched the notion of walking across the U.S. So before I knew it, I had the New Balance sneakers on, left my apartment, and eight days later I was in Pennsylvania. I’m almost up to Butte, Mont., now. I’ve made about 20 legs on my trip over seven or eight years.
Don’t you have a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia?
No, I did years of architecture at Columbia because I never could pick a major. I went on to graduate school in mathematics and got a master’s in that. I love numbers, and I play with percentages all the time.
Well, if Lenny Dykstra is batting .428, but he gets one more out, I can calculate quickly how much his batting average is going to drop.
So it’s useful.