Four years after losing part of his vocal range, Art Garfunkel returned to the stage recently with a fresh approach to performing. At 72, he combines his solo work and Simon & Garfunkel material with prose, storytelling and a Q&A session. He spoke to The Observer recently about his struggle to regain his voice and where things stand now.
Q. What happened with your voice?
A. In late January of 2010 I lost my ability to finesse the mid-range. Finesse is where the art comes in (he sings). I got crude, where I used to be fine.
Q. How did you get it back?
A. I stopped singing and rested it. I started singing along with my iPod in unison with James Taylor. I saw doctors. I finally got on stage (at a friend’s art gallery). You face the folks knowing your voice is going to crap out, knowing it’s imperfect. Adrenaline and fear are very helpful in mending. Since then I’ve done 83 shows and it’s coming along great. The last couple of dozen it has moved from getting there to there.
Q. Do you think others singers just carry on and pretend the audience doesn’t notice?
A. It is part of the aging process. I’m getting up in years.
Q. How much of your identity was tied to singing?
A. You’re on the money. I could be a little weird, a little introverted because I was a special singer. It became a big part of who I am. When you lose the singing it’s very identity-shaking. You carry on. I have a loving wife and two kids I love. Family is great solace. I’m a creative cat. I turned to writing. I write these prose poem things.
Q. You just signed a book deal. What do you write about? Is it poetry?
A. I hate the word poetry and yet my stuff is poetic. They’re prose poems. Minute and a half bits. I read some of them on stage. I write about the wonder of being alive. About Paul Simon and Jack Nicholson. I write about what show biz really feels like. I write about walking across America and Europe. About mortality. I’m a Renaissance man. I’m entranced with the wonder of it all.
Q. Why did you decide to cap the show with a Q&A?
A. It’s time to open up. I’m not just that quiet guy who sang with Paul Simon. I’ve made films. I’m an actor. It’s time to come across. The road map of life is to stay interesting to yourself so you move on and try to be interesting.
Q. You’ve kept track of every book you’ve ever read, all your favorite music, and post it on your website. Is there anything others are doing that you’re excited about today?
A. I’m having a hard time with today. I’m open to what’s going on and I have tons of blind spots. I spend a lot of time with the past and the recent past. I go to whatever is good and I’m having a hard time today. Bruce Hornsby? Who puts rock and jazz together?
I turn on my TV and there’s Pharrell Williams, the man with the hat that look like Smokey the Bear. He’s good. There’s some things that are happening. Bruno Mars sings great. I’m cynical about today. I don’t want to come across that way in print. I do think the culture we live in is partially dead. Auto-tuning means you don’t have to sing in tune. Do your best! Machines will cover you! Society doesn’t evolve, it goes down.
Now, I guess when I came along in the ’60s and I loved my rock ’n’ roll, Buddy Holly, Elvis and the Beatles, the generation before mine said, “How can you love these songs with only three chords?” (It wasn’t) big band, Tommy Dorsey. Maybe the culture is thinning out. The further back you go the richer things were. Maybe the Romans knew real honor amongst men.
Q. So you haven’t embraced technology?
A. I never bought a computer. I don’t have a cellphone. The sonics through a cellphone make me feel I’m getting a version of my friend on the phone that’s so thin and cheap. I’m getting no warmth.
I’m out of touch with today. I’m still having a fine time.