Bridging the silence 

Art Garfunkel, singer, actor, poet and proud father to 8-year-old James, doesn't devote long hours to reflecting on the monumental success achieved in collaboration with Paul Simon three decades ago.

He's too busy touring in support of his Grammy-nominated 1997 album "Songs From a Parent to a Child," working on material for his 12th solo album, reading screenplays, walking miles and miles across America and Europe, and spending as much time as possible with wife Kim and their son.

Every once in a while, though, he sits still long enough to reminisce about the tremendous impact made on the world by the two childhood pals from Queens. Inspired by the Everly Brothers, the pair called themselves Tom and Jerry in the late '50s when they scored hit single "Hey Schoolgirl" and appeared on television's "American Bandstand" while they were still high-school seniors.

"The Sound of Silence," with its original acoustic setting overlaid with electric guitars and drums, topped the charts, and its accompanying album, with "I Am a Rock," became a transatlantic hit in 1966. The next year, the duo released "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme," a critically acclaimed album that featured the title track and "Homeward Bound."

The soundtrack for 1968's "The Graduate" pushed Simon & Garfunkel into international superstardom, and the same year saw the release of "Bookends," which contained "America" and the hit version of "Mrs. Robinson." "Bridge Over Troubled Water," released in 1970, was their biggest release, rocketing to No. 1 in the United States and Britain, gaining a Grammy for album of the year and spawning three hit singles, including the title track, "The Boxer" and "Cecilia." Simon & Garfunkel albums have sold to the tune of more than 21 million copies.

"It's a reverberating phenomenon," Garfunkel says. "It's about one performance that I put into a microphone one evening in 1967, and years later some girl at some dormitory is listening ... and she's getting it."

Garfunkel was swamped with fond memories of his old creative partnership when listening to material intended for inclusion on 1997's "Old Friends," a three-CD box packed with Simon & Garfunkel hits, album tracks, unreleased live performances and rarities.

"I didn't tell them (album producers) how much I fell in love with what we did all over again," he says. "I heard the two voices blending so tight and breathing together. I could feel the tremendous affection between Paul and Artie. Two people can almost fuse together if they really become close."

The near-perfect alliance of Simon's thoughtful songwriting and Garfunkel's ethereal vocals fell apart in 1971, when Garfunkel reportedly became incensed at the control his partner wielded during the making of "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

Why'd they divorce? "I don't know," Garfunkel says. "Ask Paul. Yes, I miss it. I didn't want Simon & Garfunkel to split." The two reunited in 1981 for a ballyhooed concert in Central Park, which attracted 500,000 fans and yielded a concert album and tour, and in 1993 they played 21 sold-out shows at New York's Paramount Theater.

Garfunkel's solo career, although overshadowed by that of his former partner, started with a bang with 1973's "Angel Clare," a platinum-selling disc with a hit single, "All I Know." Three subsequent albums released that decade launched notable singles, including "My Little Town," with Simon; "I Only Have Eyes For You"; and "What a Wonderful World," with Simon and James Taylor.

The late '80s brought "Still Water," a collection of poetry, and four more albums.

In 1996, he completed a 40-installment walk across America and celebrated his journey's end with a concert at Ellis Island, recorded for the "Across America" album and filmed for a Disney Channel documentary.

"I'm full of how much it (America) nourishes me in so many ways. Now, in my memory bank, there's a 600-page book. Every time you turn the page, there's a new scene. I can really see the Pennsylvania hills, Amish country, the Mississippi, and the foothills of the Rockies."

Next up, he says, is a walk across Europe, begun in May with a trip through Ireland.

"When I was a kid, my dad was a traveling salesman, so I've always had kind of a romance with the road. The real thrust is the physical. It's good for the heart. When I do my work, I get very intense, and sometimes I'm a real pain in the ass to others. When I walk, I carry my Sony Walkman, and I downshift."

Garfunkel has spent much of his free time engaged in acting. He met Mike Nichols during the making of "The Graduate," appeared in the director's "Catch 22" in 1969 and nabbed a major role opposite Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen and Ann-Margret in 1971's then-controversial "Carnal Knowledge."

The singer continued his big-screen work with 1980's "Bad Timing," 1988's "Short Fuse," 1990's "Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme" and 1993's "Boxing Helena." He recently auditioned for a role in "50 Violins," a Meryl Streep vehicle.

Garfunkel views acting and concert performance as related arts. "It's more similar than different," he says. "They're both nuancey games. The camera reads things very loud and clear. I have worked successfully by paying close attention to very small degrees of understatement."

His latest album, "Songs From a Parent to a Child," was intended as a valentine to his son James, guest vocalist on a bouncy rendition of Elvis Presley hit "Good Luck Charm." The disc also features covers of Cat Stevens' "Morning Has Broken," the Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream," James Taylor's "Secret O' Life," the Beatles' "I Will," Jimmy Webb's "Lasso the Moon" and Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Dreamland." The mix includes interpretations of "Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?," "The Lord's Prayer" and "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep."

Garfunkel, who contributed a song and played a character on an episode of this season's animated "Arthur" series, says "Songs ..." isn't necessarily just for kids.

"'Children's album' is a phrase that's useful, I guess," he says. "The reality is I tried to make it a very appealing album to human beings. There's no love gone wrong on the album."

The singer, during the past decade, has conquered some old fears about performing on stage alone, apart from the safety net of the old familiar setting with Simon. His concerts, often featuring contributions from his wife and son, mix solo material with Simon & Garfunkel favorites.

"After doing hundreds of shows in the '90s, I know how to approach a mistake now," he says. "The blood doesn't drain from me anymore. That's information that I use to do it better the next time. I laugh at it, and just go on. I'm enjoying the elbow room. I always was very autonomous, and I had to subvert that to the very talented Paul Simon."

More by Philip Booth


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