Art Garfunkel Launches Tour and CD at the Clark
Poignant Performance Combined Old and New Songs
By: Charles Giuliano - 08/12/2012
Art Garfukel today enduring the test of time with a new CD release and 18 city tour.
Last night, at the Clark Art Institute before a patient, attentive, and supportive capacity audience, a solo Art Garfunkel minus his former partner Paul Simon, with a shard of his former voice led us down the rocky and harrowing path of ravished memory. The concert launched an 18 city tour (including U.S. and Sweden that ends on December 1) in support of a new collection on two CDs.
Holding up a copy of the new release he informed us that it represents “My life work” including his own compositions as well as those performed with Simon.
The Singer – a retrospective of songs selected by Garfunkel will be released by SONY on August 28, 2012. It has 34 songs on two CDs including two new cuts, "Long Way Home" and "Lena" which he recently recorded in Los Angeles with Maia Sharp. Matt Craig, a "brilliant engineer," according to Garfunkel "should be credited with helping put it together (cross fades, etc.). The selections are deep favorites of mine, like; ‘The Promise,’ ‘All I Know,’ stripped down to just Jimmy Webb and me, ‘Perfect Moment,’ Jobim's ‘Waters of March,’ a stage recording of ‘Kathy's Song’ from the Old Friends tour 8 years ago, ‘Skywriter’ my bio from Jimmy Webb, ‘The Decree,’ from ‘The Animal's Christmas,’ ‘The Thread’ which I co-wrote."
Stepping on stage he stated “You probably don’t recognize me.” The native of Queens, New York was born on November 5, 1941. Once rail thin and lanky, with a signature frizz of wispy hair, he is now bald and a bit paunchy. Dressed in a white shirt, solid red tie, black dress pants and sensible shoes he resembled a business man more than a rock star. Surprisingly, with a self conscious nod to the audience implying, see this is the real me, at the start of the second set he returned with a frizzy wig looking more like his familiar persona.
While his physical appearance shocked the audience that paled by comparison to hearing just a fragment of the once so distinguished voice that has been described as angelic. It was an integral aspect of the duo of Simon and Garfunkel which disbanded in 1970 following the release of Bridge Over Troubled Water their most successful and critically acclaimed album. They have, from time to time, reunited over the years while pursuing solo projects. Garfunkel appeared in some classic films.
A couple of years ago Simon and Garfunkel were scheduled to perform at Tanglewood. That tour was cancelled when Garfunkel was announced to suffer from vocal chord paresis. He has since given up smoking.
Quite upfront with the audience he stated that “A couple of years ago I lost my voice.” Adding that he is struggling to get it back. During a high point of the second and stronger set, following "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" he admitted that he has sung it better and thanked the audience for their patience.
You had to wonder why an artist whose instrument has been so compromised would still want to perform and tour. Consider the current Bob Dylan or the late phase of Frank Sinatra. Even after the voice is mostly gone there is still the persona and ambition to perform before willing audiences.
For me, as perhaps it was for many in the audience, it was a reminder of mortality. The voice was not there but the poetry remains and perhaps deepened through its gravitas and compelling life experience. It provided a thread and time line for our own experiences.
At first, shocked and put off as he struggled to hit the notes of “Perfect Moment” we opted to grant him poetic license and be drawn in. He later commented about a life of giving to the audience reading a poem about the ambivalence of touring. From time to time he put on glasses to read to us and convey anecdotes about growing up in Queens, listening to Alan Freed on the radio, singing in the synagogue, and busking with Simon in London for spare change.
We warmed to the lines of “If I Could” from “Condor Pasa.” It’s the kind of song that makes you recall who and what you were when you first heard it. Actually, my younger sister Pip was a fan, which is how I first heard their music.
“I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told” he sang as we recognized “The Boxer.” There was a lump in my throat as he stumbled through the refrain “(Li la li... li la la la li la li) (Li la li... li la la la li la li) (La la la la li...)”. The song originally contained the lyrics “Now the years are rolling by me/ They are rockin' evenly/ I am older than I once was/ And younger than I'll be and that's not unusual./ No it isn't strange/ After changes upon changes/ We are more or less the same/ After changes we are more or less the same” but were deleted from the recording. Last night they conveyed particular significance.
Soldiering on he told us of his efforts to “tease back” his voice which is gradually getting stronger. He informed us of his five favorite composers starting with Sondheim and of course, Paul Simon. He stumbled a bit, saying that “I should know this by now or write it down” then added James Taylor and Jimmy Webb. Before reaching Randy Newman as a way of introducing “Best Little Girl.”
He performed Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters of March (Aquas de Marco)” as well as Garfunkel standards including “Bright Eyes” " Sounds of Silence" and “99 Miles from LA.”
Following “Scarborough Fair” he talked about time in the studio during that recording. He described that Simon could lay down a melody that was so good that anybody would sound good with it. But Garfukel suggested adding a “Canticle” to interweave with it from a song that Simon had written and abandoned. He observed that Simon is not all that prolific and that material tends to be recycled. He then performed “By the Side of a Hill” pulled out from that musical mix.
He recalled singing on the streets of London during his first trip to Europe with Simon. His girlfriend collected the spare change. That led to “Kathy’s Song.” He read from a book that described that time some 21 summers ago. Looking up from reading he added “Now more like 48 years ago.”
It was a full evening of music which started at 8 and ended at 9:45 PM with an intermission. He was accompanied by Cliff Carter on piano and a superb acoustic guitarist whose name I didn’t catch.
Ending the concert he didn’t quite make it off stage. Raising a single finger he announced one more. A chestnut from his teenage years of listening to Alan Freed in the 1950s “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.”