Written by John Arthur Levering
Art Garfunkel is a man of diverse interests and talents. He’s walked across three continents. He’s played in Central Park to a crowd of 500,000. He’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, a six-time Grammy winner, and a Golden Globe Nominated actor.
Now he’s a Brooklyn Arts Center alumnus.
On Sunday, June 29, the BAC welcomed Art Garfunkel, one of the most accomplished and celebrated singers of any era, for an “Intimate Evening,” featuring selections from both his solo career and his time with Simon & Garfunkel, as well as anecdotes, readings of his poems, and a Q&A with the crowd.
The concert sold-out weeks in advance, and before the doors opened, the line in front of the BAC stretched from Campbell to Red Cross. The excitement carried over to the show, where Garfunkel received a thunderous standing ovation upon walking on the stage.
“Be seated,” he said after taking a bow, “and turn your books to page 23.” Everyone laughed at Garfunkel’s witty opening remarks before he turned toward a more serious tone. “You seem excited. I’m thrilled. I lost my voice a few years ago, but now it’s coming back. It feels like I’m in flight again, and it’s great.”
This year marked Garfunkel’s return to the stage, following a battle with vocal cord paresis, which left him unable to find his middle range and unsure if he’d be able to perform again. The ailment, however, was not able to silence the iconic voice, and after a nearly four-year hiatus, his voice is back.
Though no one in the audience appeared to hold contrary opinions, the health of Garfunkel’s voice was made very clear following the opening pair of songs, “April Come She Will” and “The Boxer.” The familiar Simon & Garfunkel tunes, from Sounds of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water, respectively, were a showcase of Garfunkel’s angelic voice, and both garnered standing ovations.
In particular, “The Boxer” was a haunting rendition in which the guitar dropped out momentarily for the closing lines, “In the clearing stands a boxer / And a fighter by his trade.” Art Garfunkel’s powerful, energetic voice rang throughout the BAC as though it were a declaration of “I’m back.”
Despite having published a poignant collection of prose poems, Still Water, in 1989, all the poems Art Garfunkel read throughout the evening were new. His understated ability to blur the lines between personal stories and powerful, poetic images was present at almost every turn. There were two poems, however, that stood above the fold.
The first was a letter written to his younger self, which originally aired on CBS: This Morning, and gives a glimpse into Garfunkel’s relationship with singing and with Paul Simon.
“Singing brings joy, such a tickle in the throat,” he read. “Singing was my silent companion as I stepped over the threshold into a room of strangers. If you can embrace the differentness of another, tightly fused in beautiful dissonance, you give power to music, to the musicianship, to the partner.”
The second poem was written to Garfunkel’s father as a thank you for his dad being the author of his voice and talent. “It was you,” he read, “who brought home the Victrola, which led to ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’ You were a beautiful musical soul as the author of mine.”
As opposed to simply playing his famous songs, Art Garfunkel took them as an opportunity to give a behind-the-scenes look at their recording. “Scarborough Fair,” from Simon & Garfunkel’s 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, was recorded over several days, and after the guitar, vocals, harpsichord, and the doubling of the vocals had been laid down, it was still missing something. That’s when Art Garfunkel used “Side of the Hill,” from Paul Simon’s first solo record, to create a countermelody and complete the song. After hearing the two back-to-back, one can hear the similarities and how “Side of the Hill” was able to complement “Scarborough Fair.”
Before playing crowd favorite “The Sound of Silence,” Garfunkel recalled a conversation he and Paul Simon had after Mr. Simon had penned the now-immortalized track. “I was living in New York on Amsterdam Avenue,” he said. “This was pre-fame, and Paul had written a couple of songs, including ‘Bleaker Street,’ and he calls me up one day and says, ‘Artie, I think I just wrote my best song.’”
If time is any testament, Paul Simon’s analysis may have been correct. “The Sound of Silence” was the most emotional Garfunkel performance of the night. The artist stood and moved across the stage, using the room’s reverb as a third instrument. The rendition at the BAC followed close to the original version, which was recorded without the electric guitar and drum overdubs.
The audience leaped to their feet, cheering, after Garfunkel used his incredible vocals to illuminate Paul Simon’s songwriting abilities. “I’ll take it,” he said after bowing.
Following another famous Simon & Garfunkel tune, “Kathy’s Song,” the BAC was treated to a unique experience of a Q&A. Putting the crowd at ease, Art Garfunkel opened it by saying, “I’ll start, ‘Artie, have you ever met the Beatles?’”
During the session, the audience learned about Garfunkel’s favorite moment as a musician. “The concert in Central Park,” he said. “If you watch the tape, we are blissed out—our cheeks are flushed with joy. To play to 500,000 people in Central Park sends you to the moon.”
One of the most powerful answers came from a statement rather than a question. “Sir,” a man in the audience said, “I hope you realize how much you mean to all of us.” Everyone stood and applauded, and Garfunkel genuinely appreciated the comment, thanking the crowd before offering a glimpse into the artist’s mind.
“I’ve been chasing after truth and beauty through the microphone,” he said. “I’ve always thought that if I was a sincere artist that it would reverberate. I’m in the eye of this charmed circle.”
For the encore, Garfunkel choose to play his most recognizable song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” from Simon & Garfunkel’s final album of the same name. Though the rendition didn’t have an accompanying piano, it was a strong performance and display of Art Garfunkel’s incredible vocal range.
The iconic and inimitable voice echoed throughout the BAC while the legendary singer cruised through the middle notes and hit the high ones perfectly. “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down” rang loudly through the historic St. Andrews Church, capping an all-around special evening.
The crowd gave an outpour of emotion, rising and vigorously applauding the encore and the concert as a whole. It was one audience member who captured the evening spectacularly in the final remark of the Q&A.
“Thank you for the soundtrack to our lives,” she said. Everyone in Brooklyn agreed.