Art Garfunkel was devastated when he lost his ability to sing in 2010 because of something called vocal cord paresis. Fortunately, for his legion of fans and for Garfunkel himself, the voice has returned.
“I am overjoyed and grateful to God that it came back, and that it came back fully a couple of years ago,” said Garfunkel, the vocal half of what has to be on anyone’s list of the most popular performing duos in American pop music history, Simon and Garfunkel. “I am so thankful I can enjoy singing again, and making that sound.”
Garfunkel, who will perform at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall at 8 p.m. Friday, celebrated his 77th birthday earlier this month. He grew up in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens and went to the same elementary school as his musical partner, Paul Simon. The pair started doing Everly Brothers songs in their early teens, and in 1957 were performing in public as Tom and Jerry. Later that year, they performed as high school seniors on “American Bandstand” after their single “Hey, Schoolgirl,” made it to the U.S. Billboard Charts.
After some stops and restarts while Garfunkel was getting his college education (an art history major who got his master’s in mathematics, all at Columbia College), Simon and Garfunkel hit it big in 1965. “The Sound of Silence,” written by Simon in 1963 and 1964, was released as a single in September of 1965 and by January of 1966 was No. 1 on the Billboard Charts.
On their way to winning nine Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, Simon and Garfunkel followed up “The Sound of Silence” with three other No. 1 singles: “Mrs. Robinson” in 1968, “The Boxer” in 1969 and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in 1970, all written by Simon.
The pair broke up in 1970 over artistic disagreements but have put together reunion concerts from time to time. They joined forces at New York’s Central Park in September 1981 to play in front of a crowd of 500,000, and in 1990 they performed together again for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
They continued to perform together on occasion, but their last joint effort will very likely be a concert at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2010. Garfunkel’s voice problems prevented any kind of reunion, and in February of this year Simon announced he was retiring.
Garfunkel’s solo singing career produced 12 albums, including “Angel Clare” and the hit single, “All I Know.” Garfunkel also enjoyed some success in the movie industry as an actor. He starred alongside Jack Nicholson in “Carnal Knowledge” in 1971 and his his first big feature role was in 1969’s “Catch-22.”
Garfunkel spoke to the Gazette last week from his home in New York.
Q: When did you realize you had a very good instrument in your voice?
A: By the time I was 5, I realized I had something a little bit special. I would listen to the radio and sing right along with everyone, and I figured I could sing just as good as them. Then I was sitting in the back of the car one day, and I heard Nat King Cole. “Well, he was pretty good,” I said to myself. He had this great rich baritone, and I realized maybe I couldn’t sing as good as he did.
And then later I realized, and forgive me if this sounds a bit inflated, that I had this beautiful sound in the upper register that maybe Nat King Cole couldn’t do. And then when I was 12, I heard Johnny Mathis. He had this great libretto, a sensitive and fabulous voice. But I knew when I was young I had something special.
Q: Did you have a favorite artist growing up?
A: I think the great voice that really influenced my life was Joan Baez. She’s a very important singer in the history of singers. She had this flutey voice, so beautiful. There was a lot of beauty in her singing.
Q: Did you ever think about picking up a guitar and becoming a rock ‘n’ roll star?
A: I like slow better than fast, and this is where my comfort zone took me. I think there’s something phony about up-tempo music. The best music is written when you’re sad and moody. If you’re happy, you should go for a run or make love. I know that sounds a little weird, but there’s some truth in there somewhere. I always wanted to be a soft rocker, and that’s what I felt like I could get away with. I also look at life kind of funny. Why didn’t I take up keyboards? Oh, I don’t know, maybe I’ll get to that. I feel like I’ve got another 77 years and I’ll get to it. I’ve just always wanted to wrap the arrangement around my singing.
Q: What’s your favorite Simon and Garfunkel song?
A: Well, my favorite is “Scarborough Fair,” and that’s not a Paul Simon song. But the song flows so nicely, and it’s a 300-year-old Scottish folk song. Now, you might ask me, “How can I not say a Paul Simon song,” and it’s true, Paul Simon was brilliant.
Q: When did you realize your childhood friend was a great songwriter?
A: When we were 22 and in college, I knew he was a terrific songwriter. I knew he had a real gift. Listen to “Bookends” and the beautiful sadness in just the first few lines, the first seconds of the song, capture you. His lyrics, his touch. He is amazing. What more can you say about him?
Q: What about your film career are you most proud of?
A: When I was doing “Carnal Knowledge” with Jack Nicholson, I had some scenes with Candice Bergen that I thought were very cute and worked real well. I was playing a little bit younger, and I was supposed to be this shy, self-conscious freshman, and Candice was the Vassar girl. I walk over and try to make some conversation but I end up stopping about 6 feet away from her and say nothing. The scene was about social behavior and how my character was just unable to get things off the ground. He couldn’t say anything.
So I walk away and Candice’s character throws a line at me. I had asked the director, Mike Nichols, if I could improvise a bit and he had said, “Yeah, go for it.” I loved that he had that trust in me. So I was able to play this bumbling, self-conscious college freshman. I thought the scene really turned out well. Everybody liked it so I was very proud of that.
Q: How much longer do you see yourself performing?
A: I am doing about 60 shows a year, and the thing to know about me is that when it comes to showtime, I am a kid. I’m 77, that’s pretty advanced, but I’ve never been so relaxed and so willing to show my love for some wonderful songs. Songs like “The Boxer,” “The Sound of Silence.” Like a beautiful flower, I pick the petals of the flower and move them aside so the center can emerge. As we get older, we remove our boundaries. You become purer. As long as I can find venues that want me and the people keep on coming, as long as it all still works and I can get away with it, I’ll keep singing.
Q: I’ve heard you say the free concert at Central Park in 1981 was the “biggest night of your professional life.” Why?
A: It was Central Park, we were full of joy, and I can tell you a singer gets very happy when he performs in front of 500,000 people. It was thrilling to be in front of an enormous crowd of that size. It tells you that they’re saying, ‘we love you, big time,’ and that made us very, very happy.
WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St., Troy
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
HOW MUCH: $68.50-$38.50
MORE INFO: www.troymusichall.org or 518-273-0038