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Garfunkel Defends His Art

Art Garfunkel performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2010.
Barry Brecheisen
Art Garfunkel performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2010.

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."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff