"Hello! Who could this be?" The voice -- THAT voice -- at the other end of the line sounds remarkably reassuring, especially considering the fact that it belongs to one of the greatest singers and most revered musical icons of the past fifty years.
"It's Lee," I respond. "And who could this be?
I'm a tenor," Art Garfunkel demures. "I'm a singer who had his vocal problems, but now doesn't have them anymore."
How fortunate. Indeed, a dialogue with Mr. Garfunkel -- he of Simon and Garfunkel and a dozen solo albums -- is one filled with animation, optimism, and enthusiasm, much of it about topics having nothing to do with music. Over the course of our conversation, we chat about his love for reading ("I read a million books. I go from book to book and I've been doing it for 50 years, so I get a little facile in terms of my words and my choices."), his lack of love for social media ("It's all about theft. Napster is the bane of my existence and so is Facebook. They're about stealing people's music and stealing people's faces and making hay while the sun shines at the expense of people like me. Privacy is a forgotten word. And so is discretion."), international tensions ("Anything can get out of hand. We have all these flash points that we think are under control."), and Johnny Carson ("He was a good guy, but like any performer he was cranked up. Performers are actors. They simulate a certain kind of person, but who they are -- to their friends and their wives, is a whole other thing.") before discussing the main reason for our interview -- what's prompted him to go back on tour now in 2014.
"What made me not tour?" he corrects me. After bowing out for most of the '80s due to depression brought on by his previous wife's suicide, he returned to the road a decade later until that aforementioned throat malady in 2010 threatened to halt his singing career forever. "I really did not know what caused it," he recalls. "It came after I ate a lobster at the Palm restaurant. I choked on it, and then right after that I started feeling a sickening of one of my vocal chords. The doctors would show me x-rays and tell me, 'You don't have the sensitivity and the symmetry you had.' I was tragically affected and that was awful. So you take a rest and you stop your work, and then gradually you start singing with your iPod in the street... Singing in unison with James Taylor and Chet Baker, and then you get back to the nerves about being onstage, and all of that. So in 2013, I was at the stage of 'Well, let's try this in front of people. I'm going to be a little 15 year old with nervous energy, because it's an exposed profession, being a singer. You say to folks, 'Come buy my tickets, I'm going to sing for you.' Except I can't sing. And yet you have to go through something. You must take on the adrenalin and the fear and the vulnerability just to mend. And that's a big part of the mending process, just to do it and forge ahead."
Then comes the inevitable question -- the question that likely pops up in every interview -- the one having to do with the possibility he'll again reunited with his old friend Paul Simon. One has to ask, are they even talking nowadays?
"Wouldn't you like to know," he teases.
"Not much," he answers. "I sometimes l say the personalities of Paul and Arthur were too rich. The octane is too heavy and we need air. And the air is avoidance for many months. The last time we spoke he sent me an email and he wanted a favor, and I thought the favor was way out of line. So I had to turn it down, and he didn't take it well. So you try to be a gentleman. We both have a gentleman side to us and we never get cross. So we deal with things with white gloves.
"Still there is self-interest going on. What's good for me? What's good for him? He's the funniest guy I know. Socialising with him is a lot about looking for the jokes. I miss him. We had a lot of great dinners and hanging out in the past where the Lenny Bruce side of both of us came out. But nowadays, he's raising a family in Connecticut, I'm raising a family in New York... What can I say? I heard from Paul the other day. He was talking with my manager about something we might do. I'll call him in the next few days, or send him an email."
Ah! So does that gesture by Paul mean a reunion could actually happen? "It takes two to tango," Artie insists. "You're talking to someone right now who loves Simon and Garfunkel. I'm proud of their career. When I last worked with Paul a few years ago on the Old Friends tour, it was sublime. I loved it. The fact is, Paul Simon is a first rate musician and writer, and to make music with him goes to my musical center in a thrilling way. And the rest is personality and schedules and my vocal troubles. He's having troubles with his hand as well. It's a sign of getting up in years. But somehow we focused on my troubles more. So I thrill to your question as a possibility, but I'll give you Paul Simon's number, and you can call him. In my mind it's very doable. You're talking to the wrong man. It's a tricky subject and it looks so simple. But I won't get into it. Suffice it to say, I'm an easy sell on this. "
One has to wonder then. Does the past remain front and center? Is Garfunkel forever in its grip?
"I don't feel that way at all," he counters. "I feel that everything I'm doing now surpasses everything I've done before on stage by quite a notch. I'm not intimidated by my past. I'm surpassing my past. It excites me to be this larger stage performer than I used to be. It's true I can't give them 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters' with the strings and the brass and that lovely production. But this isn't about the production. This is about a singer and his songs. It's me and a guitarist. It makes me feel like I'm..."
"Yes, evolving, that's the word. I'm getting out into my own world as the years go by. I'm showing my love like never before."
Art Garfunkel with guitarist Tab Laven performs on Friday, February 21 at the Amaturo Theater in the Broward Center of Performing Arts, 201 S.W. 5th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $49.50 - $75.00. Phone 954-462-0222