An intimate evening with Art Garfunkel at Symphony Hall



ATLANTA – If you only think of Art Garfunkel as Paul Simon's other half, there's a lot you're missing. I'll have to admit that I was in that camp for a while, but after listening to a fascinating radio interview I realized he's got a lot more going on than I had thought.

While he has been almost as prolific as Simon, putting out 10 solo studio albums to Paul's 12, he has not enjoyed quite the critical and popular success as his former partner, but still has a lot to offer. While Paul has gone on to record and tour to sold-out venues, things have not been quite as busy for Art.

Paul Simon was his first friend in life -- they met in first grade. He describes their relationship as like that of brothers -- sometimes people just need a little space. It is apparent that Garfunkel would love to do another reunion, even claiming that it was the most-anticipated reunion today, then chuckling at his hubris, and admitting that might not exactly be true.

One of the most unusual things he has done with his life is to walk across Japan and our own U.S. of A. It took 40 segments from 1983 to 1997 to walk across "America." I wonder how many times that song ran through his mind. He would fly back home and then return to where he had left off, and pick back up again.

He used the time to compose poetry and even sing to some cows along the way. He loves the appreciation it has given him for the undulating landscape between New York City and the Pacific Coast of Washington.

In 1998, he began a walk across Europe -- starting in Ireland and last leaving off at the Turkish border. He'll end up in the city that straddles two continents: Istanbul.

A major bookworm, he has compiled a list of every book he's read since 1968, presumably the point at which he realized that he had securely made it, and others might take an interest in the minor details of his life. He passed the 1000th book years ago, rereading Rousseau's "The Confessions."

He is an interesting subspecies of Luddite, eschewing cell phones and computers, but loving his iPod and Blackberry, which he is quick to point out that he never uses as a phone. He's an old-fashioned guy who chooses to handwrite letters, yet fax them.

Unlike most artists today who appreciate the crowd's recording and posting their concerts on various social media, the house manager enjoined us to turn our phones completely off, not just silence or airplane mode them -- completely turn them off. We were fortunate that the music was loud enough to cover the two times someone's phone was heard. He became so angered in a show in New York during the "Sounds of Silence" that he walked off the stage.

He sang to an appreciative crowd Saturday, July 26th. The show started and ended strangely, however. Guitarist Tab Laven walked over to the two stools, a music stand, and table placed within a small, dimly lit spot center stage. He began playing, and then tentative words of "And So It Goes" came from offstage.

When Garfunkel finally stepped cautiously into another soft spotlight, the acclamation seemed to discomfit him, and he stopped singing altogether, like a teacher who just stares at the class until they quieten. Laven started the phrase over again, and he began to sing again in a soft, tremulous voice.

At one point, he turned and sang to the heavy rear curtains. After a warm ovation, he sat on his stool and confided that "stage nerves never go away, but the thrill of the stage never goes away, either."

Between decades of smoking and choking on a piece of lobster four years ago, he experienced a total loss of his voice, and it has been a slow slog to regain its former delicacy. Some thickening and paralysis of the vocal chords have weakened his formerly angelic timbre, but it was still wonderful to hear him sing all these lovely songs that are so dear to the heart.

He endowed us with a platter of some of S&G's greatest hits, with "Scarborough Fair," "All I Know" and "The Boxer" being the clear favorites. But "Homeward Bound," "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her," "April Come She Will," and "A Heart in New York" also received standing ovations.

One unique moment was his singing of an ancient song of his people that he had sung as a boy in a temple in Queens. He noted that "the songbird in my throat" had garnered him admiration before, but to see the old men of his synagogue wipe tears from their eyes drove home the fact that he had been blessed with a gift.

He also sang "Bright Eyes," which he bemoaned was a hit in most countries of the world -- except America. The little stories he recounted enhanced our appreciation of the songs. He told of how

Paul had called him and said, "I think I've just written my best song!" And he came over and played "Sounds of Silence." Art was studying architecture at Columbia and made the decision to drop out and cast in his lot to join his buddy.

He also read poems between the songs, the most amusing of which was about his then three-year old son and a huge globe on the floor of their bedroom. The kicker was having to "save the world from Beau." Hard to imagine being 72 with a 5-year old, but they wanted him so badly they retained a surrogate.

He sang "Kathy's Song," which he expressed gratitude that Paul had written such a great song, and he briefly bowed, and then just walked off the stage.

He had seemed to be taking the lighting anomalies in stride, at one point joking that he was getting signals as the lights flashed through all the colors, and another time making a motion with both arms to bring the house lights down after they had inexplicably been brought up three different times.

The audience stood, most of us hoping for "Bridge Over Troubled Water," clapping in unison, for more than five minutes, to no avail. He had had some difficulty hitting some notes, but we expected him to come out, if only to say thank you, but I've got to preserve my voice. As wonderful as the evening had been, the lighting troubles and odd ending were topic #1 as we made our way to the parking lot. We never saw him again.

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