Sunday, November 6, 2011
Every morning I check out the celebrity birthdays in the newspaper. Yesterday was Art Garfunkel's 70th. My thoughts have lingered upon him.
Although Art has released some fine albums and acted in at least one great film, he is mostly a sad and slightly comic figure in mind--and it's not just the hair that prompts this comment. (The hair was indirectly memorialized in So I Married an Axe Murderer. Check out Mike Myers telling his kid to put his noggin down.)
I'm also thinking about Art Garfunkel claiming that he's read over a thousand books. (They're dutifully cataloged on his website.) Or perhaps it's the image of him walking across America, or across Europe (as he's currently doing, apparently). Here's a famous guy who has always struggled to assert himself as an artist.
In regards to his acting, Garfunkel's best was his first: Mike Nichols's Carnal Knowledge. Sharing the screen with Jack Nicholson is definitely a career highlight, even though his departure from the studio to work on this film led directly to the breakup with Paul Simon. (Think again about the song "The Only Living Boy in New York" from Bridge Over Troubled Water and the lines "Tom, get your plane right on time/I know you're eager to fly now". (Tom was Garfunkel's name when he and Paul first started out as the duo Tom and Jerry.)
Garfunkel's acting career fizzled after the 1970s. His performances weren't embarrassing and his films were well-received: witness Catch 22 and Bad Timing.) But it seems he simply dropped out in the 1980s. That's when the walking and the writing poetry began in earnest.
His departure from the pop scene was spurred not only by the dismal sales of his solo releases in this period, but also by the suicide of his long-time girlfriend. His thoughts during this period are captured in Still Water, a collection of poetry that you can enjoy on his website. (It's pretty good, although there are some embarrassing moments.)
There's no middle ground in regards to liking his music. You either think it's unbelievably wimpy and begin immediately to ridicule it, or you fall into it because you're a sucker for soft sentimental sounds. I fall into the latter camp.
My favorite albums are 1975's Breakaway and his collection of Jimmy Webb songs that followed it, Watermark.
The former features outstanding versions of "I Believe When I Fall in Love" (by Stevie Wonder) and "Rag Doll" (by Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys--who would later pen Barry Manilow's immortal classic, "I Write the Songs").
Breakaway was initially a commercial flop. Columbia pulled it from the market and fortified it with a single ("What a Wonderful World" with Paul Simon and James Taylor providing backup vocals) before rereleasing it and enjoying a better outcome. I simply love Jimmy Webb, and there are great versions of his songs on this album, especially "Crying in My Sleep", "All My Love's Laughter" and "Marionette".
Art Garfunkel has always worked with people that I admire. Kenny Rankin provided vocal backup for him on 1988's Lefty. Richard Perry, whose name as a producer appears on many albums in my collection (since he worked with Carly Simon and Ray Charles), has produced Art Garfunkel. Why, even when Art chose to try his hand at songwriting in 2003, he selected a contemporary singer I adore, Maia Sharp, to work with him.
I've been a faithful follower of Art Garfunkel (although I declined purchasing his latest collection of standards, thinking such a sleep aid is unnecessary for me these days). I hope that he recovers from his vocal problems that may be partly due to smoking. I urge you to spend time checking out his work, as I've done for the past couple of hours it took me to put this entry together!