Gary James' Interview With
Art Garfunkel




Art Garfunkel is a household name. As half of the 1960s duo Simon And Garfunkel, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel enjoyed unprecedented success. From 1964 to 1970 they recorded one hit album after another. We're talking "Wednesday Morning 3 AM", "Sounds Of Silence", "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme", "The Graduate", "Bookends" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water". Those albums produced songs like "The Sound Of Silence", "Homeward Bound", "I Am A Rock", "Kathy's Song", "April Come She Will", "For Emily", "Whenever I May Find Her", "At The Zoo", "A Hazy Shade Of Winter", "America", "Scarborough Fair / "Canticle", "Mrs. Robinson", "The Boxer", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Cecilia", "El Condor Pasa" and "My Little Town". Simon And Garfunkel won five Grammy Awards together, two in 1968 for Record Of The Year and Best Contemporary Pop Performance / Duo or Group for "Mrs. Robinson" and three in 1970 for Record Of The Year / Album Of The Year and Best Accompanying Vocalists for "Bridge Over Troubled Water", which also won Song Of The Year and Best Engineered Recording. In 1977 "Bridge Over Troubled Water" received the prestigious Britannia Award for Best International Pop LP And Single 1952 - 1977 as voted by the music industry of Great Britain. In 1972, "Simon And Garfunkel's Greatest Hits" was released, remaining on the charts for 131 weeks in the U.S. and a staggering 179 weeks in the U.K. The album has sold 14 million units, the largest selling album of all time for a duo. In 1990 Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Art Garfunkel pursued an acting career as well. He appeared in Mike Nichols' movies Catch-22 in 1969 and Carnal Knowledge in 1971 opposite Anne Margret, Candice Bergen and Jack Nicholson. He also appeared in Nicholas Roeg's Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession (1980) with Theresa Russell and Harvey Keitel, Good To Go in 1986, and Jennifer Lynch's Boxing Helena in 1994.

Art Garfunkel's first solo album, "Angel Clare" was released in 1973 to critical and commercial acclaim. The album contained the Jimmy Webb song "All I Know", which became a big hit for Art Garfunkel. "Second Avenue" became a hit single for Art Garfunkel in 1974. "Breakaway", co-produced with Richard Perry, was released in 1975 and contained the mega-hit, "I Only Have Eyes For You". In 1981 Simon And Garfunkel reunited for a concert in New York's Central Park before a crowd of 500,000.

Art Garfunkel has just released his autobiography titled What Is It All But Luminous Notes From An Underground Man. (Knopf Books) 2017 saw Art Garfunkel on tour all over the world. We spoke with Art Garfunkel about his autobiography.

Q - Your publisher is keeping you busy these days I assume.

A - Very.

Q - What is harder, promoting a book or promoting a song?

A - They're about the same. When I do a show, no matter how nervous I am, and I still get nervous, the whole thing is very exposed to me. It's not my nature to be an entertainer, but I run to the songs when the show starts. I fall into these famous songs with great pleasure and I stay there. That saves me from the vulnerability of being a stage performer. So, when you're putting out a book it's very weird. I never did this before. It's my autobiography, my life. I did a book tour where you sit on stage and answer questions, but the whole thing is daunting. How do you promote a book that is about your whole life? You just try to be a nice guy that leaves them interested and hope they'll go "I like him. I think I'll check into his book."

Q - I would think it starts even before the book that people would be interested in you.

A - Well, I was the guy below the radar, a little bit behind Paul Simon, so I ended up being a little bit of a mystery.

Q - You say, "I feel somewhat different from many people in the extraordinary amount of good fortune that fell into my lap and made up my life." It actually didn't fall into your lap because you worked very hard.

A - Okay. I'm trying to be modest. (laughs) You're taking my humility away from me. Okay, I deserve it! I worked very hard. It's true. I'm a great believer in practice and rehearsal and do it again and then do it again. Get it right. I have our engineer Roy Halee, co-producer, who always says, "Standards, man. Standards. You have good standards." It's a forgotten concept in this world now.

Q - The second part of that quote of yours was, "I rehearsed a lot in my teenage years and really sought after what this country holds, good fortunes for those who go after it with hard work." Some people do in fact work hard and never realize the success you've had.

A - Tenacity. I had a lucky gift. My singing voice at age five was ringing in my ears and I was thinking it's special. I was given a gift.

Q - Right.

A - But, I don't know. Maybe everybody is given a gift. They just have to indentify it early in life and jump on it.

Q - Like I always say, it's a God given gift.

A - There is some truth to that, but it's the mixture of taking that lucky gift and being tenacious. Don't give up. Stay at it. Sure they reject you seventy-five times in a row. Dust yourself off and go at it again.

Q - Page 10 of your autobiography you write, "Some people can just do it. They listen to the radio and begin to emulate." That being the case, what would you say about singing lessons, is that a waste of time and money?

A - Good point, Gary. Let me not be glib or answer too fast here. Logical mind is impressive. Okay, so what about that? I like to quote Jack Nicholson. Jack's an old friend of mine. I used to say, "Did you take acting lessons, Jack?" He said, "Yeah." "Did you get much from it?" "Well, I believe all these things have something for you. You can glean something out of it. The stuff you don't relate to? Never mind. Throw it away. You can pick stuff up from all these things." A kid whose taking singing lessons is going to pick up some things. There's stuff to be gained. I never really did it. The few times I found a teacher it really didn't work for me. I'm being contradictory now Gary, but it mostly doesn't mean anything, a singing teacher. It sounds terribly negative, but I think the singer has to feel that either he or she is a bit of a prince inside. You have to have a little bit of a good complex and if you are, you feel self-contained. You sing because your ears are delighted by it and you practice because it's even more delightful and then you finally show it to people with great bravery, and here comes the trouble. They don't get it. They misunderstand and maybe you get discouraged or whatever happens next, but I think you sing for your own ears and you stay in the glory of it all, the notion that you're very good. Stay there. Don't let people disturb it.

Q - Talking about singing, do you listen to other singers?

A - Nowadays, no.

Q - Would you have been able to put on a record in the past of say Black Sabbath or KISS and listen to it? Or were you not into that?

A - The latter.

Q - Page 31, Paul Simon's father says to you, "Not everybody likes everybody and I just don't like you." You were twelve years old when he said that. What does that do to a twelve year old kid?

A - Now, how come you're picking up that quote? There's many, many things in my book that are about the awe inspiring power of being alive and being a person and how interesting the Third Dimension is in a human being. What makes you pick that negative quote?

Q - It was a stand out sentence in your book. And you just have to wonder what that does to a twelve year old kid.

A - It hurts your feelings. Why did you pick that one?

Q - It just stood out to me.

A - You like stuff that hurts people's feelings.

Q - No. Not at all. It stood out. I don't even know why you put it in your book.

A - I put it in the book because it's truthful and it would be light in shade. There's some of the shade. I thought it would be informative.

Q - Is it true that your favorite Pop song would be The Beatles' "Here, There And Everywhere"?

A - Yes, of course. Everything I wrote is true. I did not waste anybody's time with made-up stuff.

Q - You are a Paul McCartney fan then?

A - Well, he sings brilliantly. Yeah, I am. He's just a fantastic musician.

Q - You actually met John Lennon at the 1975 Grammy Awards. What did that mean to you?

A - The same thing it would mean to you. There's a Beatle! There's fucking John Lennon! Oh, my God! I became like a kid. I'm an enormous Beatles fan. I really could hear how good they were because I was in the studio doing that very stuff. So, I know their brilliance. When I was with John Lennon I felt like a real kid. My God, it's John Lennon! You don't say that, but you feel it. Poor John had to deal with that from everybody.

Q - Wait a minute! You must've had to deal with that too. When you would do these walks across America and Europe, were you recognized?

A - A little bit, but not much. I thought you were going to say you have to deal with that all the time. All my life I've had to deal with the recognition factor and the fact that other people are buzzed (laughs) to see me. I ignore it. I can't live my life as if I'm a celebrity. I have to live it as if I'm a person. Being a person is a full meal. That's wonderful enough and it's full of wonder and curiosity. That'll keep me busy. It would reduce my life as a person to walk around feeling I'm a celebrity. Sometimes I get in the mood, Gary, to be just that and I carry the sense of being that famous guy from that famous duo and there's a certain charisma that comes upon me as I'm walking down the street. Then I get recognized all the time. So, the inner attitude projects itself through your expression.

Q - Sure. The way you carry yourself.

A - But the other 99% of my life I ignore it and live my life. If I don't get to the cleaners before he closes I won't have that sport jacket that I need for tomorrow.

Q - What, you don't have an assistant to do that kind of thing?

A - (laughs) I'm giving you for example.

Q - When you were having all those hit record in the mid-1960s, how did life change for you? Were you able to go into a restaurant or a movie and not be bothered?

A - Well, I sort of just answered that question by saying 99% of my life I wore an attitude and persona of Mr. Everyman, Mr. Ordinary. You'd be surprised, even if you're some known guy and physically they're supposed to recognize you, if you wear a hat and not thinking that you're somebody famous, you become sort of invisible. I've got away with that most of my life.

Q - You and Paul molded yourself after The Everly Brothers. But, how does that lead you to write songs? That's not something just anyone can do.

A - That's a tough question. Number one, I'm not really a songwriter. I'm a writer of prose, poems and put it all in a book called What Is It All But Luminous. Number two, The Everlys are known as a singing group, not so much as writers. So, I'm not sure what you mean by that. Your question is fuzzy. I'm not sure where the point of the question is.

Q - Okay. You say you were influenced by The Everly Brothers.

A - Yup, 'cause they sang so damn great.

Q - Did that lead to writing songs? I guess I should have put it that way.

A - I don't know. That's your homework.

Q - Your first record, "Hey Schoolgirl" sold 150,000 copies. Today, how much does that record sell for? Any idea?

A - I don't know. That's also your homework. I'm not good with those questions. Look it up. I can tell you things about Artie Garfunkel, who he is and how he feels. I'm not good at questions like what does a record cost these days.

Q - I thought someone might have brought to your attention how much that record is selling for on eBay.

A - You know something? I don't have a computer. I never bought one.

Q - What?

A - I don't know eBay. I don't know any of that stuff. I'm a very different, unusual American. I took this generation that you and I live in and I pushed it back. I take it with a grain of salt, as if the things that are meaningful to me are my family, my work possibilities, what comes next in my work life. The American scene is disappointing. It's full of nonsense and sound and fury signifying nothing, to me. You may call me spoiled or an elitist, but I have my pleasures that I am immersed in and they are not the things that make up modern life for most people. I never bought a car. I don't have a cell phone. I'm not one of these people that gets phone calls. I do have a BlackBerry. I use it for e-mailing, but it took me years before somebody said, "You know, that's a phone. You can make calls and receive them." Really? I never knew that. I'm not hooked up.

Q - Not having a cell phone because you're not talking all day long, I get. Living in New York City, I get why you don't have a car.

A - You're getting to understand me.

Q - You said in your book you loved James Dean. So do I. Since you're an actor as well as a musician I feel comfortable in saying James Dean made only three films in his lifetime, but he was the greatest actor who ever lived.

A - I know what you mean. He had a relationship with the camera lens that was so intimate. Elia Kazan, who brought him from New York to Hollywood for his first film, East Of Eden, said to the cast, "Now you've all heard about James Dean. He's a son of a bitch. He pisses people off. He's a prick. We all know this. When you see him you're not going to like him at all, but I want you to know this: I brought him into this movie because when I look into the lens on camera he is pure gold!"

Q - I just interviewed the actress Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show. She knew James Dean and said he was nice. Maybe he changed as he got more famous.

A - Maybe there's different sides to us depending on whether it's Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon.

Q - I saw your itinerary. You played the Olympia in Paris. I know you have to book that venue a year in advance. That's a big place. You're going in with a band I guess.

A - No. I played it before. My less is more style of show, the fact that it's just one guitar and my vocal, and now I've added a keyboard player, it's a minimal amount of band backing. It works, Gary. I'm telling you. I start by showing them a bit of stuff from my book. If it's a good night and I'm reading it right, I just know I've got 'em. I'm holding the audience. They're with me sentence for sentence. As I'm reading it I'm saying I knew these sentences were interesting when I wrote it. Here they are, coming alive from me tonight and for the audience as well. I believe they're saying he's a singer and he can write as well. I feel like that's what's happening.

Q - I like that minimalist approach to this music of yours. Rock 'n' Roll has gone about as far as it can go with theatrics.

A - That's right.

Q - The only reason theatrics came about...

A - Before you finish that sentence, wouldn't I know the answer to the rest of that sentence more than you? If you're going to teach Artie Garfunkel of Simon And Garfunkel about how this happened shouldn't you be biting your tongue?

Q - Hold on. I want to see if you'd agree that the audience got tired of seeing musicians with long hair, matching suits, playing guitars and drums on stage. There's got to be something else. Then theatrics came in. Would you agree with that?

A - No, I don't. You're leaving out a giant element. What's going on with the music, is it good? Is it bad? Is it very good? Is it very exciting? The power of music to be be very, very good is enormous power. If you leave that out of your thinking you missed the baby. You're only talking about bath water.

Q - The original Rolling Stones were more interesting than what they became with the elaborate stage shows, lighting and stage props. The original five guys in The Stones would have been the band to see.

A - No. They were constantly repetitive with their eight bar Blues. No, they're not brilliant musically. To me, you've gone to showmanship and theatrics. That's the other side. I thought the scene was theatrical because the music was not that great. I don't know who was making terrific music that was not succeeding. If you're really good musically, you tend to have visibility.

Q - Page 182 of your autobiography, "Soon I will die. And so soon will all my friends; important lives will end." But as long as your music is being played and people are reading your book, you'll always be alive.

A - This what my wife says to me and it's very, very heartwarming to think that way. I love that thought that when I'm finished and I pass, the music won't be finished and it might not pass. This is quite nice. Isn't that the piece where I end up, "I will write in smoke from my slow burning leaf."?

Q - I didn't write that part down.

A - If we're like leaves on a tree we come in April. We leave in November. What comes next? Well, we turn to mulch. And then we become part of the soil and we carry on as nitrogen, fixing bacteria for future growth. So, I try to establish that when I die I try to imagine that I still burn with my slow burning leaf. "Scarborough Fair" might still be on the radio in 2096.

Q - That's where you've got it made. People will remember you.

A - I like that thought, Gary. It's all about can you be good while you're alive. Can you show real artistry. If you saw me in the studio while I record you might say, "Oh, he's terribly serious. He's so earnest after all these years." You serve the art with great sincerity. You burn more and more and you get older. I'm unusual because I'm devoted to trying and being an artist. The word artist is pretentious for many people, but for me it's the real calling that I have.

Official Website: www.ArtGarfunkel.com


© Gary James. All rights reserved.


Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel
Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection


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