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Art Garfunkel on Paul, music, and his legacy


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Hari Sreenivasan: Readers and fans won't find earth-shattering details in Art Garfunkel's book: "What Is All But Luminous: Notes From An Underground Man." But in the year since its publication, the singer-songwriter and author, who turned 79 this month, does have some fresh insight on his life as one of the world's most famous duos and his long-time relationship with Paul Simon.

NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker has more.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel: Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again.

Christopher Booker: After so many years and so many shows, and so many questions about his relationship with his on again-off again partner, Art Garfunkel has, in recent years, been working on securing his side of his story. Whether in his 2017 book "What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man" or the occasional interview, Garfunkel is talking. I sat down with him just before his book was released in paperback.

Art Garfunkel: I was very nervous coming here to do this interview. This is all very serious stuff. A lot of people out there. I want them to like me. In my opinion, I've been under the radar all my professional life. It's time to say, who is Art Garfunkel?

Christopher Booker: While seemingly not interested in the complete retelling of his life, Garfunkel is indeed offering notes, that when put together could be considered part memoir and part diary.

Art Garfunkel: When I was 5, I knew I could sing. I sang in the alleyway in our house in Queens. Wherever there was good reverb tiled rooms, hallways, school. When the kids would finish school and leave, I would linger in the hallway to sing, and I discovered I had a nice voice, and I went very private with it and when I found Paul Simon three blocks away, at age 11, I found the same kind of turned on New York kid working on getting better and better at something, the guitar, we were natural mates. We have warmer times and colder times. The fact that he is the Queens fellow who is so damn different than me and that we made a togetherness is a hell of a trick.

Christopher Booker: For those hoping for more about his at times tumultuous relationship with Simon, Garfunkel is not ready to go there… sticking instead to the content of his book.

Christopher Booker: And you yourself say, you know, if you're looking for the big deep biography, that's not this book. That book is coming.

Art Garfunkel: Yes.

Christopher Booker: So is that book coming?

Art Garfunkel: Yeah, I'll get to that. It was great joy to write this. It really suited me. I felt early in the game. I'm a writer. I can do this. So I'll do it again. And, and I'll go into Simon and Garfunkel more.

Christopher Booker: What Garfunkel is offering right now are broad contemplations about his life and how his work may be remembered. Big questions that for Garfunkel started to ring a bit louder in recent years as he struggled with the loss and recovery of his singing voice.

Art Garfunkel: Well, when I couldn't sing, I began to sit at the round table in my place and started working on this thing that became an alternate. So that's a big part of why I wrote it. I can't sing, I'm still creative.

Christopher Booker: And did it change the way you think of your own legacy?

Art Garfunkel: Legacy? I've heard that word. They like that word a lot these days. I don't know what that means. I have a wife and kids. I have a family. I know what that means. What is my legacy? The world and all of its glamorous stars is a hit parade. They come up and then they go down. Except for J.S. Bach. He seems to stay up there, but I'm discouraged by that. How we love certain people and then it fades. I've heard kids say, Sinatra? Who's Sinatra? They never heard that word. I take this very poorly. I want them to think Simon and Garfunkel had it. They were indelible. We did something that has value through the decades.

Christopher Booker: And do you really question if that's going to be the case with those records that you made back then?

Art Garfunkel: Well, you know everything is here and gone. That's why I use the Sinatra example. You mean we forgot that name? It's kind of all here and gone.

Christopher Booker: But isn't that everything anyway?

Art Garfunkel: And isn't it discouraging?

Christopher Booker: I don't. I don't know. I'm of two minds. On one hand, I feel that it is discouraging. On the other hand, I feel like it's freeing.

Art Garfunkel: It's freeing?

Christopher Booker: Because why suffer? We're here to do our work and if the tree falls in the woods, maybe somebody is there to hear it?

Art Garfunkel: We're here to do our work. Is the work worthwhile or worthless? I don't know. Let's say it's worthwhile. Is it good? Is it very good? Is it extraordinary? Is it worth saving amongst civilization? Do we want to save it like we saved Beethoven? Is it really worthwhile? That's the key question, certainly when I'm recording.

Christopher Booker: I contend that, a hundred years from now, people are still listening to "The Sound of Silence."

Art Garfunkel: Well, thank you. We'll see.

Christopher Booker: These questions are of course, impossible to answer..…but they are questions that busy Garfunkel's mind.

Christopher Booker: And do you think that the artistry that comes with singing, does that allow you to quiet these thoughts and feelings?

Art Garfunkel: Yes It does. It's another place when you sing as you're in the very first line of the song, you're in another place. It's peaceful. It's believing that something's worthwhile giving beauty to the line. It's a worthwhile activity. It's another place.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel: Time it was, and what a time it was, it was. A time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph, preserve your memories that's all that left you…

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