Age has not mellowed Art Garfunkel. It has not tempered his wit or softened his biting intellect. Six decades into a monumental career, the erstwhile Simon and Garfunkel tenor is still sharp as a tack when he speaks on any number of topics, but it is music of which he speaks most fondly.
“A musician goes to that music world, which is another thing,” says Garfunkel. “I come up from the dressing room, my musicians, my cohorts are thinking, 'Oh, he's ornery.' And my left leg is starting to hurt me a little bit, and I shamble on out, and I hit the stage, and I just get a joyous feeling. I know they're going to like me. I've earned their respect. I've earned my own self-respect over six damn decades, and I hit the stage with that feeling. I have given you a good amount of gifts for decades, you folks. And then they applaud right away. They get it! Like, 'Ahh.' They love you for it. The whole thing is magical immediately. I'm in heaven! It's very nice.”
Garfunkel brings his “In Close-Up” tour — an intimate show with only the singer, guitarist Tad Laven, pianist Paul Beard and sound engineer Colin Walker — to the Paramount Theatre on November 19. It’s an evening of hand-picked Simon and Garfunkel tunes and favorite covers, but no original Garfunkel tunes, because as devotees may already know, he doesn’t write music.
“It was Paul Simon who wrote the Simon and Garfunkel songs,” he says. “‘Art, where is your songwriting gift?' I've always said, 'I don't seem to have one.'”
Garfunkel, it seems, is at peace with being a performer rather than an idea man. It’s not something he’s particularly interested in.
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“I don't do circus performing,” he says. “I'm not much of an acrobat. I get scared when I think of swinging on the trapeze. Is that bad of me? Am I missing something?”
That’s not to say that Garfunkel doesn’t write. On the contrary, his book, What Is It All but Luminous, a memoir published in 2017, was released in a paperback edition in October. And, at least for now, he’s all done.
“If you’re saying, ‘Are you continuing to write?’ No, I’m not,” he says. “So what? I hit a stoppage point for the last six months or so. I turned to the fun of my show and stroking it the way I want it — the set list, the right musicians, the fun of bringing my son. I have two kids; the 28-year old is a magnificent singer. I've been trying to figure out: How does he work in the shows? So there's my focus, and it seems to have turned away from literature.”
So no writing, but always plenty of reading. Garfunkel is a notoriously ravenous reader who documents the books he consumes on his website. He’s consumed nearly 1,300 since 1968. He says it was fame, in part, that made him so hungry for the written word.
“I came out of Queens and went to Columbia College,” says Garfunkel. “It was a good college. They made us read the humanities, and I got a feeling of curiosity about Darwin and history, philosophy, all the thinkers, the people that had bigger ideas, not trivialities.”
After getting famous in his twenties and running around the country playing music, he says, he finally started to truly digest and appreciate the books he’d been made to read in college.
“These notions that they gave us when I was in college are really worth slowing down, thinking about,” says Garfunkel. “And that became a lot of my agenda, day after day, book after book. Take that past syllabus they gave us at this good school, and take it seriously, and now re-read them. There is no exam. You're 26 years old, you've had fame. You've been chasing after many a girl. Now slow down and re-read and be an intelligent fellow. So that has filled up many years, and I kind of never stopped. From nonfiction to fiction, I read two books a month, and I never stop.”
Outside of the arts, whatever opinions Garfunkel has remain his own. He hints at what he thinks of the news of the day, of the odd place we find ourselves as a country, but is diplomatic and intentionally vague when political subjects arise.
“I say to myself, at this point in the interview, 'Be careful!’ You don't want to spout,” he says. “It's too easy to have notions about the very colorful White House we now have. Very colorful. That word I can use. It's an adjective that won't get me in trouble. Anything else, I'm not sure I want to. I have to resist temptation. It's extremely tempting to spout off about my notions.”
In the end, it seems, Garfunkel has made a decision to side with art over rhetoric.
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“I got famous because I sing good, period,” says Garfunkel. “They have a right to say 'Mr. Garfunkel, we come to your concerts to hear you sing. If you want to tell us your political ideas, we all have political ideas. We don't want to hear them.’ You'd be baiting and switching. You baited us by singing nicely, and now you're switching to your political punditry. Nonsense! Bait and switch. Not nice.”
But, of course, he does have strong opinions when the subject of our current political condition arises.
“I have a lot to say,” he allows. “I do feel I'm an intelligent, worthy voice in America, yes. I'm more sympathetic to what you're saying than I'm letting on. I have stuff to say. It's thoughtful and worthy. But I will just shut up if you don't mind.”
Listen to Art Garfunkel and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.