In Defence of Art Garfunkel
Let’s get something straight – without Art Garfunkel, some of Paul Simon’s best work would have failed to deliver. It was Garfunkel, with his soaring, angelic tenor, who allowed songs like the stunning “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to ascend to the heights that they are worthy of.
Garfunkel is not primarily a songwriter, and it’s only in the last decade that he has begun penning songs for his own solo career. When it came to Simon & Garfunkel, the majority of the writing was done by Simon, but Garfunkel’s contributions were not insignificant – it was he who reworked Simon’s “The Side of a Hill” to become the poem “Canticle” (more on that here); he composed the famous instrumental opening of their classic song “The Boxer”; and, most crucially, he played a huge part in arranging and delivering the group’s world famous harmonies.
It’s a misconception, anyway, that artists who don’t write their own music are less worthy than those who do. Performance and vocal skill is an art within itself, and some of the most classically revered stars, including Elvis Presley, Diana Ross and Frank Sinatra, had very little to do with the writing of their famous songs. On the flip side, oft-disparaged modern pop stars like Ke$ha, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber all have a hand in the composition of their huge singles. There are so many facets to what makes a great musical performer, whether their specialty is folk, pop or rock – composition is only one aspect to consider.
Garfunkel was always the more subdued of the pair, leading one newspaper to compare him to a “frightened gazelle”. His relationship with his musical partner became so acrimonious in part because of the fact that many perceived him as coasting on Simon’s talent, while Simon was simultaneously aware of and came to resent Garfunkel’s formidable vocal aptitude. While they were together, Simon penned songs aimed at Garfunkel, like “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”:
Garfunkel has admitted that he didn’t even realise the song was about him until much later, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear their producer, Roy Halee, shout “So long already, Artie!” in the background at 2:57.
The tension was bubbling away beneath the pair’s friendship, coming to a head when they split in 1970.
Following the breakup, Simon’s solo career achieved incredible heights, peaking with his 1986 magnum opus Graceland. Today, he still fills huge stadiums around the world when he tours and continues to release critically praised albums, most recently 2011’s So Beautiful Or So What.
Comparatively, Garfunkel’s solo efforts have been rather modest, released to little fanfare. His voice, always more delicate than Simon’s, has slightly weathered over the years. He himself has admitted that he feels “slightly unappreciated as a solo guy” and that his glory days are over - his biggest single, the Watership Down soundtracking “Bright Eyes”, was released in 1979.
Rarely touring, Garfunkel spends his time these days out of the limelight, preferring a quiet existence doing things like making meticulously maintained lists of every book he’s read since 1968. (What an utterly adorable person - even if 50 Shades of Grey is one of his favourites.) He also occasionally revisits his acting ambitions, having most recently appeared in 2010’s The Rebound.
If there’s any resentment on Garfunkel’s part when it comes to how things panned out in terms of his music career, it’s probably justifiable – but his frequent reduction to a punch line as a pop culture gag is unnecessarily callous, an easy joke to make that’s hardly clever, fair or even accurate.
In the 2012 film This Is 40, Paul Rudd’s character compares his relationship with his wife to Simon & Garfunkel’s. He tells her, “We’re like Simon & Garfunkel, and somehow you turned me into Garfunkel”, assigning her the role of Paul Simon for being too controlling.
Simon himself had something to say about that – taking to Facebook, he praised the film but voiced his displeasure at the joke about his former musical partner.
To appropriate the immortal words of one Chris Crocker, leave Garfunkel alone. Without his contributions, Simon & Garfunkel would hardly have made as lasting an impact.