Last Thursday night, while waiting in line to be swiped by the metal detector, I met a slightly older woman who must have predated me as a Simon and Garfunkel fan by twenty years. She had heard them live in the Sixties. On a below zero night she had made her way to downtown Minneapolis by herself to see the concert. She spoke with a bright smile and friendly eyes about her determination to hear Art Garfunkel sing again just after his 75th birthday.
The concert audience definitely presented a super majority of people with grey and white hair. Nostalgia for the music of the sixties was palpable and Garfunkel repeatedly referenced this link to the past. He mentioned 1968 as a high a point in the creativity of music. He shared his and Paul Simon’s creative process that begat their recording of Scarborough Fair and read prose-poems that he wrote at different times during his career.
Art Garfunkel lost his singing voice several years ago, but with therapy it returned to him and he continues to do concerts in an effort to retain his voice. But his voice limitations were apparent: he was not up to hitting or sustaining the high notes of some of his famous song and on a couple of songs he skipped lyric lines in favor of having the guitar or keyboard complete the melody. He played a reworked version of Bridge Over Troubled Waters where he left out the third verse in favor of a guitar solo, rendering it into an entirely different song.
Garfunkel carefully chose several songs from his vast repertoire, picking pieces that perfectly fit what remains of his vocal range. The beautiful resonance of his high falsetto shone brightly with his rendition of Simon’s Kathy’s Song and April Come She Will.
In the heyday of Simon and Garfunkel, Garfunkel’s vocal range seemed to float in an existential space above the emotional flow of the song, giving the listener a slight feeling of distance. As becomes a true artist, Garfunkel took the opportunity to approach old songs in a new manner. Thursday night, however, his renditions of Sounds of Silence and The Boxer did not sound like the old days. Instead, he projected an emotional drama based on heightened articulation, varied emphasis and syncopated vocal rhythms.
“Bright Eyes” and Watership Down
I especially appreciated hearing Garfunkel singing the solo Bright Eyes, a hit from 1979. I remember hearing it on the radio and thinking how the beautiful melody, pure sounding vocals, and poetic lyrics did not seem to fit the contemporary pop charts. It’s the kind of song you seek out, like a collector of fine artistry and you listen for what you can learn from it.
Garfunkel showed himself to be an artist of note, a singer whose voice can still resonate extraordinary songs and a human being reflecting on the rather unique and intense experiences that make up his life. His fifty-plus-years’ perspective of his work provided an imagined non-mainstream performance. The audience was enthralled with the intimate evening and I am certain the slightly older woman I met prior to the concert was delighted.