Not too long after Art Garfunkel last performed in the Spokane area – in February 2010 at Northern Quest – something bad happened.
He lost his voice.
The man whose singing with Paul Simon helped define a generation suffered from vocal paresis, which causes vocal cord weakness.
“Since then I’ve had to deal with recovery and humility and God’s mercy and prayer and patience,” Garfunkel said in a recent telephone interview.“I started by never accepting that the voice is gone. But it was horrible. It crapped out with everything I said and sang. Just a froggy thing. Disaster.”
He had to believe that the voice would come back, he said, and do what was needed to get it back. “I can’t live a life where I accept I’m no longer a singer.” he said. “So I invented what I thought I needed to do to get it back. Over a two-and-half year period, the voice is there.”
It would be understandable for an aging vocalist who has struggled with their instrument to hide flaws in the singing behind a big band. Garfunkel did the opposite.
“The thing we designed when the voice started coming back is ‘less is more,’ taken to the extreme. It’s very spare,” Garfunkel said. “I had vocal trouble and I did the most perverse thing: Showcased the voice, up front in the mic with very little backing. How odd! As if to say I’m going to be truthful, warts and all.”
Garfunkel’s voice blended beautifully with Simon’s. The two Queens boys met in elementary school and began singing together almost immediately. They had their first minor hit at age 15, with “Hey, Schoolgirl,” recorded under the name Tom and Jerry. As Simon and Garfunkel, they would go on to win eight Grammy Awards together, be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sell more than 38 million albums.
This current show Garfunkel calls “old mannish” in the best sense of the word. “What I mean is I’m not avid. I’m not trying to get on the charts. I’m not trying to do anything. I’m opening myself up for people’s curiosity,” he said. “You know when Simon and Garfunkel hit it big, it was really big. It’s fun to open up about all this stuff and be candid and down to earth. So that’s very much a part of this presentation.”
The show is called “In Close-Up.” He’s backed only by Paul Beard on keyboards and Tab Laven on guitar. And it appears he’s earnest about wanting the title to match the content.
“I reconstructed a show that is very autobiographical. As if at my age, I’m getting very tired. I’m allowed to sit down, and I’m allowed to present myself as an interesting human being who has had years in this business and who has good taste.”
With a career that includes not just Simon and Garfunkel, but film acting and solo recordings, “I feel like I’m an interesting guy who had done these different things and I want to open up.”
He’s also an author. His latest “What Is It All But Luminous,” released in 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf, is a memoir of sorts, formatted in a series of narrative poems. He writes about his wife, Kathryn, and sons James Arthur (who now goes by Arthur Jr.) and Beau. About the books he’s read, the concerts he’s performed, world events.
And Paul Simon:
Before there was Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid, there was Simon and Garfunkel–
an extraordinary, a singular love affair. There is
no gay component in the two of us that I am
aware of, but the way these two lives wrapped
around each other is poetically stunning. From
age eleven to today, a span of sixty-four years,
Art and Paul have been at work to entertain, win
the respect of, and dazzle one another. It worked
so well that the whole world pulled up chairs to
watch and listen.
At the Fox next week, Garfunkel’s set list will include 17 songs – and half will be Simon and Garfunkel tunes. “The Boxer,” of course. “The Sound of Silence” too.
“Simon and Garfunkel is a thing to be proud of,” he said. “I come as if I am proud of it, as I am proud of my whole life since I did that.”
He also has a “go” at “Bridge Over Trouble Water.”
“I’ll do a different, very exciting version of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ ” he said.
There are songs he recorded as a solo artist, such as “Bright Eyes,” “Things We’ve Handed Down,” and “All I Know.” It will also include snippets from the poems woven throughout.
“I’m trying to be a nice, accessible, interesting poet who sings, who’s had an interesting life, who acts,” he said. “I’m having fun being myself.”
(Interesting, by the way, is a key word in the Art Garfunkel lexicon. “I hatched this notion at a very young age,” he said. “The game of life is to stay interesting to yourself. Whichever way they’re swimming, don’t swim that way. It’s not interesting. Go the other way. It’s much more interesting.”)
One thing that’s really interesting him these days is getting to share the stage with his firstborn son. Arthur Jr., 28, is coming along as a special guest. Judging from the reviews of their recent concerts in the U.K., the younger Garfunkel inherited dad’s vocal abilities, with “angelic vocals which reached incredible heights and worked beautifully with the voice of his father.”
“This is really the big deal for me,” Garfunkel said. “You don’t look to indulge your private life at the expense of an audience. What is it, nepotism? You only do these kinds of things if your kid is a marvelous entertainer and he earns the spotlight. Watch. You’ll see. … The two of us have fallen into a terrific thing here.”
And while his former partner retired from touring last year, Garfunkel is not ready to stop performing. He still burns with the love of what he does.
“Retiring means you turn off your motor. No! We need our motor to stay alive,” he said. “The healthiest thing I do is getting on stage and getting scared. You’re always nervous and there’s always fear when you face an audience. What if it doesn’t happen tonight? What if by the third song they’re silent and it’s a disaster? … This sends the blood circulating and you feel quite alive.
“When I hit the stage and the show starts, I get very happy now.”
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