By Tammy Scileppi
“When Paul and I were first friends, starting in the sixth grade and seventh grade, we would sing a little together and we would make up radio shows and become disc jockeys on our home wire recorder. And then came rock ’n’ roll.” – Art Garfunkel
Most people don’t realize that solo artist Art Garfunkel seems to possess what has been described as the voice and soul of a true poet. But his longtime fans, who probably have a deeper understanding of the five-time Grammy Award-winning musician’s methodology and uniqueness, may tell you that he is, in fact, a poet. If you’d like to find out for yourself, you should check out his 1987 collection of prose poetry entitled “Still Water.”
These days the singer is making his mark in the literary world in a big way, and stepping out of the shadows with his newest project – his soon-to-be-released memoir, “What Is It All but Luminous” (Sept. 26 by Alfred A. Knopf).
Along with other interesting stories and nuggets that he shares with readers, the 75-year-old musician from Queens writes about his exciting travels with popular singer-songwriter Paul Simon, as well as their tense and troubled, roller coaster relationship. Garfunkel also delves into his personal life as a family guy; he is married and has two sons: Arthur, Jr., 26, and Beau, 11.
The book’s subtitle, “Notes from an underground man on tour,” speaks volumes.
“I have been living below the radar all these years, accommodating the engine that is Paul Simon. I have been quiet and unknown. That’s why I wrote this book. Now I want to step out,” Garfunkel said in an interview with the Cape Cod Times in October.
The mellow tenor with a soaring voice, has spent five decades in the spotlight – first, as that unassuming half of the 14 Grammy® Award-winning folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel – and later, trying to make a name for himself as a solo artist. Many people remember Garfunkel as the taller guy with the curly blond ’fro, singing alongside the shorter, but more dynamic Simon.
Disappointed fans witnessed their unexpected parting of ways in the mid-’60s. It was like a marriage that had gone sour. But their iconic songs never lost their spark, and a new generation of listeners still enjoy those classic hits today: “The Sound of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (the album sold more than 25 million copies worldwide), “Homeward Bound,” and so many others.
Garfunkel explores the duo’s on again, off again relationship, in his memoir. Though they had separated and remained apart for a while, their fans were thrilled when the two got back together over the years for special appearances and reunion tours; the last one took place in 2013.
He described his take on what made Simon & Garfunkel tick in that 2016 interview: “…He (Simon) was always the engine and I was always the singer and record producer, but he’s more the hustler and the deal-maker,” said Garfunkel.
In his memoir, he recalls his family’s red brick, semi-attached house in Kew Gardens, and talks about growing up in a middle-class Jewish household, as the son of a traveling salesman.
Perhaps catching a brief glimpse into the future, a musically inclined young Arthur had already felt the power of singing at age 5, and looking back, the singer recalls his vocal cords “vibrating with the love of sound.”
Eventually, his destiny would be fulfilled; he met his future singing partner Paul Simon, in the sixth grade at PS 164. Eventually, the neighborhood buddies would attend Forest Hills High School together in the ’50s. Rock ‘n’ roll’s groovy beat inspired the budding musicians when the boys were 12, and Garfunkel writes that the new sound “captured” their hearts.
Influenced by The Everly Brothers, the teens performed as Tom & Jerry in 1956, at age 16, and recorded their first hit together, “Hey Schoolgirl.” They released their debut album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m.” (1964), as Simon and Garfunkel, eight years later. It featured a special song that propelled them to the top of the pop charts – “The Sound of Silence.” After six more top 10 singles, their names became a household phrase.
Garfunkel’s diehard fans stood by him throughout his much under-valued solo career, and have likely followed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s work from the first Simon & Garfunkel album, and his subsequent six albums as a solo artist starting in 1973, through 2007’s Great American Songbook album (“Some Enchanted Evening”).
Few people know that the musician had done some acting as well. In “What Is It All but Luminous,” he writes about his experiences working with directors Nicolas Roeg (“Bad Timing”) and Mike Nichols (“Carnal Knowledge”), who he describes as “the greatest of them all.”
Garfunkel also talks about his love of reading and walking. Remarkably, the adventurer has actually trekked across the United States and Europe.
“What is the singing voice to me? A name, a skill, or a flag I see? A certain thrill the gift of glide, the ride on the cusp of emotion, uplift from the heart to the cords, love for the song, for the sound.” — Art Garfunkel.