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Garfunkel Defends His Art

Art Garfunkel performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2010. (WireImage)

Art Garfunkel is best known as half of the legendary duo Simon & Garfunkel. The harmonies he created with Paul Simon left an indelible mark on American music, but less remembered is his string of Top 40 hits as a solo artist.

Now, at 70, Art Garfunkel is releasing a retrospective titled The Singer, which provides a new look at his vast body of work, ranging from Simon & Garfunkel classics to new and previously unreleased songs. Garfunkel has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but says he put the package together because he felt like he wasn't being "recognized." Here, he discusses what he's learned over his long career with NPR's Guy Raz.


Interview Highlights

On getting credit as a vocalist

"Sometimes I look at Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison — artists that win their respect after years and decades of hanging in, and then you finally say, 'Well, this is a devoted guy. Joe Cocker is a musician through the ages.' I wondered if I was being seen that way. I know I'm half of Simon & Garfunkel ... but I wanted to be a virtuoso singer. I wanted to be a singer in the same way that Bill Evans is a piano player, [where] the instrument that you play has a chance to stretch out and be very good. My instrument is the vocal, and it's tough to name many singers who are treating their vocals as a virtuoso instrument. But I want people to go from song to song and listen to the sequencing of the songs, and end up going, 'The singer can sing.' "

On working with Paul Simon

"When you sing with a partner and he has a very pleasing sound, and he's your friend and you laugh a lot, you soon start making music with the heads very close to each other, with the noses almost touching. You study the diction, and you create over your two heads a little bubble of reality and sound. When I work with Paul, I go into that dome — that invisible, small-circumferenced dome — and revisit that place. And it's apart from life on earth."

On making his first solo album, 1973's Angel Clare

"I remember my thinking there, in San Francisco, 'Let's see if we can have the audience. People who buy Simon & Garfunkel records understand how much of the sound of our records, the producer's role, fell in my lap, and how much I was the one who stroked and tinkered with "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" and all these various songs. So I hoped, in my solo work, to produce my records with grooves, the backing tracks that make you feel it's the same lovely, crafted thing that we know from Simon & Garfunkel. ... Of course, you miss these great songs of Paul Simon's. You miss his brilliant guitar playing — what a great rhythm-guitar player Paul is. You miss the electricity that lights up the recording session and makes it all fun and games, and makes the night go on for many extra hours because partnership is juicy."

On how he'd like to be remembered

"What do I want [people] to remember? That we were good. That we were the real thing. That we recorded as if a record was an important thing. It wasn't digital impulses dreamed past people's consciousness. It was a record: They were four minutes long, they had beginnings, middles and ends, and when they were great, they were like masterpieces. I want to be in that world of a real artist."

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And it's time now for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER")

SIMON & GARFUNKEL: (Singing) And pain is all around, like a bridge...

RAZ: Paul Simon was the writer; Art Garfunkel was the voice. And together, they created songs that could easily be called American classics - like this one...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER")

SIMON & GARFUNKEL: (Singing) ...like a bridge over troubled water...

RAZ: Both men are now 70 years old. They once sang about how terribly strange it would be, to be 70. Their sometimes-difficult relationship has been pretty well-documented, but the two men have now made their peace. So it's fitting that Art Garfunkel has just released a retrospective. It's called "The Singer," and it includes some of his best work as a solo artist, and also as part of Simon & Garfunkel. And oddly - for a man in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - Art Garfunkel says he put this collection together because he felt like his work hadn't been recognized.

ART GARFUNKEL: Because you might have thought, Guy - he is recognized. People know Artie. He's the guy with the singing voice.

RAZ: Yeah.

GARFUNKEL: Sometimes I look at Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison - artists that win their respect after years and - decades of hanging in. I wondered if I was being seen that way. I know I'm half of Simon & Garfunkel and OK, I'm the singer. But I wanted to be a virtuoso singer. I wanted to be a singer in the same way that Bill Evans is a piano player. And it's tough to name many singers who are treating their vocals as a virtuoso instrument. But I want people to go from song to song, and listen to the sequencing of the songs, and end up going: The singer can sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER")

SIMON & GARFUNKEL: (Singing) ...I will ease your mind. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind...

GARFUNKEL: To me, the act of singing is an expression of love. You form it in the vocal cords. When you love your song, and you lose yourself into the song, it's very tough to analyze the act of singing.

RAZ: The two of you recorded your first record, "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M" - it was released in 1964. And, of course, the song off that record that is still with us more than any other, "Sounds of Silence."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SOUND OF SILENCE")

SIMON & GARFUNKEL: (Singing) Hello, darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping...

RAZ: That's remarkable - not just lyrically, but the sound of that song is so much more mature than the ages of the singers and the - of the singer and the writer, at the time.

GARFUNKEL: How about the very mentality of Paul Simon? This is a very interesting Paul Simon, with a mind that can reach into the future. And I am a spiritual partner. When you sing with a partner and he has a very pleasing sound - and he's your friend, and you laugh a lot - you soon start making music with the heads very close to each other, the noses almost touching. And you study the diction. And you create, over your two heads, a little bubble of reality and sound. When I work with Paul, I go into that dome; that invisible, small-circumference dome. And when you visit that place - and it's apart from life on Earth. It's its own, very pleasing soundscape.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SOUND OF SILENCE")

SIMON & GARFUNKEL: (Singing) People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening, people writing songs that voices never share. No one dared disturb the sound of silence...

RAZ: That song didn't get a lot of attention immediately - which is hard to imagine today. It took - what, about a year and a half before people started to notice it, and then it became a hit.

GARFUNKEL: There was a Sony - Columbia Records, in those days - promotion man who worked the Florida coast, and who said: There's a cult forming around "The Sound of Silence." And in New York, they overdubbed electric 12-string - the sound of the time - and bass and drums, and they turned it into a - from a folky thing with one guitar, they made a rock 'n' roll record with a nice twang, a la The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man." It fit the sound of that season. It slowly changed my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SOUND OF SILENCE")

SIMON & GARFUNKEL: (Singing) And the sign flashed out its warning, in the words that it was forming. And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls; whispered in the sounds of silence.

RAZ: I'm speaking with Art Garfunkel. He just released a record, called "The Singer." It's a retrospective album covering music from Simon & Garfunkel and also, from his solo career. After the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel, you - of course - went on to your own, very successful solo career. What was your hope, when you went out on your own? Did you feel like, now I need to prove something?

GARFUNKEL: Well, basically, yes. I started in the early '70s, making "Angel Clare" - my first solo album - with Roy Halee. And I remember my thinking there, in San Francisco. The producer's role fell in my lap. I was the one who stroked and tinkered with the - "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright," and all these various songs. So I hoped, in my solo work, to produce my records with grooves - the backing tracks - that made you feel it's the same lovely, crafted thing that we know from Simon & Garfunkel. And now, I'll put the vocal in without the harmony, and try and show that I can sing good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO LONG, FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT)

GARFUNKEL: (Singing) When I run dry, I stop awhile and think of you...

GARFUNKEL: Of course, you miss these great songs of Paul Simon's. You miss his brilliant guitar playing; what a great rhythm guitar player, Paul is. And you miss these elements. You miss the electricity that lights up the recording session; and makes it all fun and games; and makes the night go on for many extra hours because partnership is juicy.

RAZ: Let's say in 40 or 50 years from now, when people are talking about the Great American Songbook and...

GARFUNKEL: Will I be there? Am I in there? Am I in this scenario?

RAZ: ...and somebody says: Art Garfunkel, what do you want people to remember you for? What do you want them to say?

GARFUNKEL: I want them to say: There he is! He's rocking on his chair - see? - at the end of the veranda.

(LAUGHTER)

GARFUNKEL: How old must this guy be? I don't know, but he's still with us.

What do I want them to remember? That we were good. We were the real thing. We recorded as if a record was an important thing. It wasn't digital impulses dreamed past people's consciousness. It was a record. They were four minutes long. They had beginning, middles and ends. And when they were great, they were like masterpieces. I want to be in that world of a real artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MRS. ROBINSON")

RAZ: That's Art Garfunkel. He just released a new retrospective collection, called "The Singer." It includes songs from Simon & Garfunkel, all the way up to recently recorded tracks from his solo career. Art Garfunkel, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure having you on.

GARFUNKEL: It was very nice sitting here and talking with you, Guy. Thanks for your interest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MRS. ROBINSON")

SIMON & GARFUNKEL: (Singing) And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson. Jesus loves you more than you will know, whoa, whoa, whoa...

RAZ: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes, or go to npr.org/weekendatc. We're back with a whole new hour of radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening - and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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