Art Garfunkel is just as important as Paul Simon.
That’s a bold statement, given that Simon wrote all the classics like “The Sound of Silence,” “The Boxer” and “Mrs. Robinson.” But imagine “Bridge Over Troubled Water” without Garfunkel’s angelic tenor and instrumentation ideas. The sounds on those classic 1960s recordings in an era that included seminal works from the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were often bolstered by Garfunkel’s arranging contributions.
Garfunkel will perform songs from those years as well as solo tunes like “All I Know,” “A Heart in New York” and “Bright Eyes” and covers, such as Randy Newman’s “Real Emotional Girl,” on Friday at The Seminole Theatre in Homestead.
Intelligence in a lyric and a melody that calls to me.
Art Garfunkel on how he picks the songs he sings.
The 90-minute performance taps into the role he had in the studio. Garfunkel co-produced Simon & Garfunkel albums with Simon and their studio partner Roy Halee. As he still does on the concert stage, he arranges and sequences the material.
For him, making music is always about finding the right sounds. On the phone from his room in a hotel in Mason City, Iowa, he then revisits an old musical debate over “Bridge Over Troubled Water” he had with Simon. In 1969, Garfunkel was inspired when he first heard Simon’s proposal for the ballad in New York City.
“When Paul showed it to me at his apartment on 90th Street, the first time I heard it I said, ‘That’s magnificent writing, Paul. You sing it beautifully and use your falsetto so effectively. We never used that pretty falsetto sound of yours.’ It was a humbled stance. He said he wanted me to do it. He gave it back to me. It was like two guys fighting over the check. It shows that Simon & Garfunkel were rational, kind gentlemen. There’s no other way to work together. I offered it back to him, and he said, ‘No. I wrote it specifically with your voice in mind.’ And I said, ‘Cool. I’ll take it.’ ”
It was a thrill to hit those high notes. I didn’t know I could do it. When I did, I wanted to say, ‘F--- me! I can do this!’
Art Garfunkel on finally nailing his vocal for “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in the studio in 1969 after several attempts. He likened the feeling to sticking a landing in pole-vaulting.
The discussion over the award-winning song has led to much frustration for Garfunkel over the years because he has been painted as ungrateful or worse.
“Ever since those days, there has been the misunderstanding, ‘How come you rejected the song? I think back to Paul’s apartment, and I didn’t reject the song,” Garfunkel says. “It was a gentleman taking a gift and offering it back before it was a done deal. I’ll never stamp out the story. It created a false notion. It doesn’t matter that I’m the real guy telling you this.”
Tracking the disagreements, real or imagined, between these two men who met in Queens in 1953, when they were in the sixth grade and appeared on stage together in a school play adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland,” remains a pop-culture fascination.
Harmony, however, reigns on Garfunkel’s solo tour, which is dubbed “Art Garfunkel: In Close-Up.” For this endeavor, Garfunkel has written his autobiography using the language of poetry (a word he finds scary and intimidating). “Luminous (Notes From An Underground Man),” scheduled for a Sept. 26, 2017 release, tells of his life, his enduring passion for singing that he discovered at 5, his relationship with Simon, show business and his two children. These poetic pieces will also serve as bridges between songs during his Homestead concert.
I’m finally a man on stage showing his heart and mind.
Art Garfunkel on his current tour, ‘Art Garfunkel: In Close-Up’
They “float through the show, weave in and out of the songs,” Garfunkel says. “When I finish one of these prose poems, it kind of sets up the next song I’m going to do.”
Structuring his concert in this fashion is not that different from artfully sequencing the songs on an album. On Garfunkel’s career compilation, “The Singer,” for instance, he placed the bleak accounting of his childhood in New York, “My Little Town,” directly after “Disney Girls,” the sweetest, most nostalgic of tunes. It’s an effective aural contrast.
This skill taps into a talent Garfunkel says originated in his childhood love of baseball. As a boy, he keenly eyed the batting order of players.
“Sending the shortstop to be the first batter. Shortstops are scrappy. Who should come next? And why have your long ball hitter be third? There’s an aesthetic to all of that,” Garfunkel explains. “I began to love the order of ball players in the lineup, and somehow that led to musical sequencing. What will get the interest right away, what will hold it and extend it.”
For Garfunkel, that sort-of successful pairing parallels his home life. He’s “a happily married guy” to second wife Kathryn Cermak. They have two sons, Arthur Jr., 26, and Beau, 11.
But it’s his longest and most public relationship that continues to bedevil the singer. In an interview Garfunkel gave to the British Telegraph in May 2015, he called Simon “a jerk” and “an idiot” for walking away from Simon & Garfunkel at the height of the pair’s fame together. After the split, in 1971, Garfunkel briefly became a preparatory school mathematics professor in Connecticut before embarking on a solo career with his “Angel Clare” album in 1973. His recent comments effectively killed any chances at one last reunion tour — something Garfunkel told the paper he would like to undertake. In April 2016, Simon responded in Rolling Stone, “No, out of the question. We don’t even talk.”
Garfunkel won’t go there now. “There’s nothing I want to say about that,” he says, followed by a brief sound of silence.
So you press on and ask, if, in a perfect world, would he tour with Simon again as Simon & Garfunkel, and Garfunkel bites.
“What’s a ‘perfect world?’”
“One in which you and Paul aren’t mad at one another.”
“I can’t imagine that world,” Garfunkel says.