Last night Art Garfunkel had what he calls “a rehearsal” in an intimate (300 sold-out seats) performance space in West Hartford, Connecticut. The first few moments after he walked onstage and sat down next to his guitarist/accompaniment were tense. The hush betrayed our expectation of the worst, considering his terrifying loss of voice and recent struggle to regain it. He launched into an almost whispered delivery of “April Come She Will” and suddenly the entire room was in his hands and remained there throughout the evening, as he delivered some classic Simon and Garfunkel songs, read us some of his soon to be published poetry, talked about the good fortune of his musical life, the joys of his married life and parenthood, and graciously took questions from the audience.
He described the loss of his voice by calling it mysterious and beyond the explanation of doctors who are now encouraging him to exercise his singing voice as the best way to retrieve it. Hence a series of “rehearsals” in front of small groups. He said that a few years ago, he had gone to Nairobi to perform at one of those private parties thrown by someone wealthy enough to fly in a singing legend for the evening. Upon returning to New York City, he had dinner at The Palm where he ordered the lobster, a shred of which became lodged in his vocal chords. He managed to cough it out, but a couple of weeks later he realized that his singing voice was gone. It seems that the medical explanation is that the two sides of the vocal chord are not matching up correctly. He is on the mend, but the mechanical limitations of his voice were heart-breaking at those moments when it was clear that he couldn’t hit the note he wanted to hit. His second song of the night, For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her, proved that once he is in gear, he can still do justice to his classic material. From that moment on, we knew that with practice and courage (something he has heaps of) he will get his voice back. Meanwhile, you could read the constant rapture on the faces of the audience as he guided us through the songs of our life. (Yes, this was an audience of a certain age. Art Garfunkel is 71!)
A word about his poetry. It is very good. He admitted to having been writing little snippets of things for quite a while. He wasn’t sure how they might be received but is encouraged by Knopf’s desire to publish them. I especially loved his description of his young son Beau rolling a globe around the house while Art embraces his wife in bed. Each poem was packed like a good lunch assembled for a knapsack and a day trip with just enough clean, strong imagery and wisdom to make exactly one point beautifully.
During the Q&A, my husband asked Art Garfunkel who his earliest vocal influences were. Without hesitation he put Chet Baker on the top of his list. He added Johnny Mathis and James Taylor.
Before the performance, we speculated about how Art Garfunkel would deliver material that is inextricable from Paul Simon. He took apart what he says is his favorite of their hits, Scarborough Fair, singing first that root song and then the song woven into it, Canticle, the second song Paul Simon ever wrote and one that was never released on its own.
In the space between songs, he fascinated his audience with reminiscences of being in the studio and laying down the tracks of some of their hits. He makes the very wise distinction between his talent and that of Paul Simon. Paul is a song-writer and Art is a record-maker. Their collaboration was a perfect fusion of those talents. They remain friends. Art Garfunkel is open to the possibility of performing with Paul Simon again someday. I will be there when they do. Meanwhile, the most painful part of listening to Art Garfunkel perform live is the need to politely refrain from singing along with him. It was obvious that this pain was shared by everyone attending his dazzling “rehearsal.’