Angelina Fay: Art for Art's Sake

He opens the door wearing leather loafers, a half-buttoned shirt, and a slightly frazzled smile, but welcomes me in anyway. It's about exactly what I'd expect Art Garfunkel's apartment to be; stacks of books, demos, photographs both large and small. Things are housed underneath desks, in the space between chairs, slid into every corner. A large canvas alive with colored signature reads love from West Choir! and we heart Art.

Artie Garfunkel shuffles around the room, eventually situating himself amongst pillows on a pullout couch. He quips about recovering from a recent trip to Switzerland. He was also just in the greatest, deepest sleep when his doorman called him to let him know that I was there (early), just so I'm aware. At 74, the wisps of his signature curls are still visible on either side of his ears, poking through the lenses of thick glasses.

He checks his voicemail, pleased that his former roommate has just called. We chat about the recent march for gun control, about the weather, and about New York. He makes no secret that he wishes he wasn't here.

"I shouldn't have come back to New York." He looks out the window. "I don't want to see anyone." He brings up Zurich again, where his oldest son had just found him a house, and his face comes alive as he details the mountain peaks and the rolling hills. It is strange to picture him, a Queens native, anywhere but here. But when he talks about the new, "cold" New York, I can tell that he feels out of place.

In a conversation I had with a coworker, he said that he thought Garfunkel had "retreated from fame." I realized that this is a commonly-held perception of Art, no matter how many locations are listed on his website as upcoming tour performances. Little about Art is this simple; his story is not just one that he shares with Paul Simon. His story is intricately woven through different art forms, each equally in his limelight; the tale of Art Garfunkel is one of dark pockets of mental struggle, bright sunspots of celebration and life, and the crippling reality of what it means to be isolated. To reduce him to those two decades of Simon & Garfunkel is doing him a great disservice; while the duo's ship has long since sailed, Artie has cast his line out in many different seas, discovering new loves, passions, homes, and reasons to smile.

"We have a way of denying ourselves..." he trails off, and then begins again, choosing his words carefully. "Everyone is wildly in love with being alive - but on the inside."

He laments that we can converse without ever truly understanding each other, that nothing he says will translate correctly into print. I assure him that it will.

Once half of an Everly Brothers-emulating duo called Tom and Jerry, then Simon & Garfunkel, Art experienced the most charmed years a person could have, traveling the world doing what he loves most - singing. By the time he was a senior in high school, he had already been on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. He and Paul were inseparable as friends and eventually as performers. Though they took many hiatuses throughout their colorful careers, they seemed to always find each other again.

"We fall into things," Art says. I can certainly understand; I fell into his music quite randomly. My mother owned the Concert in the Park on CD, and we would often hear "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and "Sound of Silence" on the classic rock station Q104.3.

This is how we encounter most celebrities; they are what goes on in the background while life is happening, and before we realize it, they become a part of us. A song that I once knew some words to became something that felt like my mother's car, like a backyard in Long Island, like a younger me with fewer thoughts.

Art and Paul have always fallen back together. Every few years, they reunite for a performance or two, or, if we're on a lucky decade, for a tour. In 2004, they held a free concert at the Colosseum in Rome. Over 600,000 people attended a true testament to the everlasting and international significance of their music. They are a place of respite for many.

Artie calls it luck, and insanity, that students worldwide are still singing "Feelin' Groovy" and "Scarborough Fair" in their annual choir concerts.

"If you eat something that tastes delicious, that's great," he says. "If it stays delicious for 45 years, that's just an extra treat." A pause. Then: "That was good. I'd write that down if I were you."

I do.

A piece of paper taped to his lamp, emblazoned with the Hershey Lodge logo, reads, love is all there is - Art, Kim, Arthur Jr., Beau.

"I'm hooked on Snapple, Angelina," Art says as he offers me one of the two "best" flavors - lemon and peach - and lauds America for this one great achievement of bottled iced tea. After some reflection, he decides that caffeine is a good addiction to have after all, especially since ditching his Marlboros years ago, but not before the damage was done on his vocal cords. He lost his voice in 2010, canceled a tour with Paul, and spent the subsequent four years yelling into empty theaters, trying to force his range to resurface.

Over those four years, before he reported to the Rolling Stone that his voice was back in business, Art let his music take the backseat. He turned to his writing, something that never had the full soil in which to take root and blossom, always overshadowed by his first love. For thirty years, Art had traveled with a notebook in his back pocket, walking with no direction, writing for no audience. He compiled these writings into his book.

"That thing that I've been thinking about, where does it take me?" he says of his writing process. "Where does the rhythm take me? What does it demand?" He calls these micro poems "bits", and integrates them into his new shows. He sings ten songs ("April Come She May", of course) and speaks eight of his poetic bits. And he still writes by hand, even today; he succumbed to a smartphone a few years ago, but still refuses a laptop.

"It excited me," Art says of his new type of performance. While the travel is taxing, he admits his deep reverence for his own performances, claiming that it is all worth it at show time. He does three shows per weekend and spends the rest of the week at home with his family, "being a Papa."

He takes his role as a father very seriously and always has. His oldest son, Arthur, or just "Junior", is 29, and Beau is 12. On the couch is a sixth-grade summer math packet, a reminder of just how young Beau really is. Junior, who now resides in Hamburg, is releasing a new album soon, and the pride is evident in every line of Artie's face. "He's not overplayed with life," he says, and I wonder if that means that he considers himself to be the opposite. He then ponders what name his son will go by since his is already taken.

The doorbell interrupts us; it's the Silver Star deliveryman with Art's coffee (two extra shots of espresso).

            "How is your day?" he asks the man.

            "Good, how's yours?"

            "I am Scorpio rising."

            I ask him if he believes in astrology. He does not.                                                     )

On the set of Catch-22 in Mexico, 1968, Art began to read, starting with War and Peace. In his apartment, he pulls down a folder of laminated sheets, all with perfect penmanship - "My friend Artie, the human typewriter!" Paul would say -  that list every book he has read since then, with red dots next to the ones he especially loves. One thousand, two hundred and seventy-one books. Saint Augustine's Confessions and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own are dotted, and he raves about From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun.  He has one hundred and seventy favorites. His most recent favorite: How to Grow Old by Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Opening up his own book, What is All But Luminous, Artie reads from the middle.

                        Jacques Barzun or anyone

                        who talks to me like him

                           wins my sympathy in this decadent age.

                        What has "learn to earn" meant

                        but a fight against civilized discernment?

                        Is it that "time thins out things"?

                        Does the quality of life lessen

                           with human increase?

                        If it all dilutes through the centuries,

                           then from Rembrandt's soulful portrayals

                                 to Chartres Cathedral

                                       to Aquinas

                                            to Arete

                                                people have seen their better day.

As he reads, he makes sure I'm paying attention, not taking notes or wandering off. He asks me many times if I'm following, if I understand. He says, "nothing is profound, Angelina."

I wonder if he truly believes this, or, as he did often during my time with him, was about to laugh at his own cynicism. His book alternates between a chronological tale of his time with Paul Simon and poems, some only one line. One of my favorites is, you can’t discover fuchsia twice, page eight.

We talk deeply about this Barzun allusion in his own writing, and he tells me that he feels we must go back in time. Civilization is not improving but decaying. We must go back in time to find what matters, and what counts, and what was great.  Forward motion is destruction.

It wasn’t Monet, it was France;

It’s not what we say but the dance we’re in

Therein lies the mysterious glue

And the printed page I paint for you.

May 14, 1998.

“For Kim.”

Art reads this from page ninety.

When he’s done, he shows me an illustrated children’s book titled When Paul Met Artie, by Gregory Neri, which had been released a few days before we met. On the inside cover, Artie had written a message to his youngest son Beau, with all his love.

            We avoid the topic of Paul, for the most part, which was very much my plan. We gripe about the drama of it all - the 2015 Telegraph article claiming Art "created a monster" out of Paul Simon, which is very much not what he said - and rolled our eyes considerably about the need for the mainstream media to find something "juicy" enough to publish.

When I bring up Paul Simon's recent announcement of his farewell tour, I mention that the social media stratosphere is electrified with the idea that a second Concert in the Park could happen. He says, "Again? This is the third time, right?" - alluding to the two previous times that Paul Simon has "quit."

I remember an interview that I read in which Art mentions something that George Harrison had said to him a party, forever ago. "My Paul to me is what your Paul is to you." I bite my tongue as I try to find the right words with which to bring this up, the tiniest of phrases that carry a world of weight. He smiles, makes a comment about how I had obviously done my research, and offers nothing else.

But they are still old friends, which he sings as he walks around the apartment, claiming that it is his favorite song. "Old friends...sat on their park bench like bookends," I ask him what else there is to do for a man who has done everything. What next for Artie Garfunkel?

"I haven't done everything, but what a great thought." He looks off, and I let him. "I don't know how to record now. I'm afraid I'll get lost. Do I make a YouTube? Where do I even begin?" He is wistful, and I am sad.

"When I made Bridge Over Troubled Water, I made it for people. But I made it for art's sake. Capital A." L'art pour l'art. How fitting.

To turn back time, back to 1981, back to the decadence of Simon & Garfunkel. This time without the criminal New York or Ed Koch. This time with a much older crowd, now parents, even grandparents, holding onto these drips of nostalgia that escape their eyes at the opening notes of "Sound of Silence." We cannot just let these memories dance —we want it back, something that was never ours, to begin with: a facade of harmony, deeply cracked in the fragments of a lifelong friendship.

We want it back. This is the way we escape reality through music; that if we can immortalize ourselves in a September rain in the middle of Central Park, things don't have to change. We don't have to change.

Maybe, moonlit in the park with a half million people, Paul and Artie will emerge anyway, just over a half million heads, luminous in memory. But even then, in 1981, that harmonious front was cracking as Art struggled to learn Paul's guitar bits, as he realized that his partner had rewritten the lyrics they had penned together, as he found himself desperately clinging to the 60s-style concerts that had fled his grasp before he could realize.

We claim ownership over those that have carried us through our own phases. In letting go of our rose-colored heroes, as fans and as people, acknowledge that time has passed and that we, too, are not the same as we were. This is not to say that the pedestals we carve for our icons are wholly dangerous to us. But to recognize that our heroes are also in flux, are also fluid, are not the people that we make them out to be, is a heavy thought. To humanize our heroes past what they meant to us means shedding our own selfishness, means knowing that they do not belong to us - that they never did.

Even then, in a perfect 1981, those angelic sounds were recorded onto tapes that would end up in landfills; the songs that would dissipate into the tabloid drama that, unbeknownst to us, is layered with discord and distrust. And would it even matter, would it even really, truly make a difference, for the two to perform in a feigned lust for their music? What would we gain?

On the one hundred and forty-first page of Art's book, of which he is so proud, he wrote:

To Paul, from Art: We're out under the stars now, the harbor we came from is gone from view.

Amidst the books, demos, tapes, papers, photographs of his children, other people's handwriting, and vases upon vases of freshly-cut tulips, I think of one of the first things he said. "That is all a woman or a man wants - to be whole, balanced, full." Out among the stars, a writer Art, a father Art, perceiving his past as the light of an ocean liner far on the horizon. Dim, but still there. Still alive and beating with the pulse of a thousand moments of love.

There are other selves that inherently live in our favorite heroes. Letting them live in harmony with our pedestalled love is an acknowledgment that time is passing, that we cannot stop it, that we never could, and we never will. I, then, discover Art twice. This is the least I can give him; the favorite voice that has always been in my ears, embodied: a writer on a page, a poem spoken into a crowd, a delicate frame in a soft chair reading to me like the sage I knew he would be.

I watch him move around the apartment. A man that, in his fragile frame, embodies generations of art, of transformation, and of love. But still just a man. He sings scat and whispers about old friends.


Angelina Fay is a writer at New York University in the final year of her journalism and creative writing undergrad. This private interview with musician, Art Garfunkel, was under the direction of author and professor, Ta-Nehisi Coates.