From The Archives: Art Garfunkel – The Rolling Stone Interview
Simon and Garfunkel’s tall one on his childhood, Paul’s lyrics and, of course, LSD
“Pop music is the most vibrant force in music today. It’s like dope – so heady, so alive.”
Art Garfunkel, talking in 1966, sounded like a cheerleader for the school of soft rock. Now, nearly three years since the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel, he’s nothing less than the graduate, a married, wealthy 32-year-old man looking back with some amusement at his own headiness and with disappointment at his audience and his own generation. People are still, as he’d sung in his first million-seller, talking without speaking; hearing without listening.
During a short stop in San Francisco two weeks ago, he sat down for a total of eight hours over one weekend to do the Rolling Stone Interview. He had recorded the album here over a period of nearly two years, supported in the studio by a wide range of local and favorite musicians, the sessionmen who’d backed up Simon & Garfunkel, and Roy Halee, the engineer who’d been there when he and Paul first auditioned for Columbia nine years ago. The album, called ‘Angel Clare,’ adheres to the image of Art Garfunkel as the choirboy of pop music. It is churchy, with its echoes achieved inside the nearby Grace Cathedral, and with Garfunkel’s own multilayered vocals at one point backed by a platoon of ten-year-old Chinese kids from the St. Mary’s Choir. Much of it is as full and beautiful as the best of S&G, and as meticulous and artful as the man himself.
At the album-hearing (if not listening) party at Columbia, Garfunkel stood around, looking, as he often does, like a student teacher, and told how he spent 80% of his efforts on the instrumental tracks. “For me, the recorded sound is the record.” The lyrics are clearly secondary; there are no Paul Simon compositions in ‘Angel Clare.’
Garfunkel treated the interview with the same care – and caution – he has given his records. It was that meticulousness, in part, that had led to the dissolution of Simon & Garfunkel; now, he was being almost impossibly guarded in his responses to questions concerning his former partner and oldest friend. Over three days, we compiled some 60,000 words together, and few of them weren’t thought out – and re-thought, and rephrased to Garfunkel’s own sense of inoffensive perfection. At one point, he said: “I don’t want to tell the whole story on my personal life because my personal life is more important than a full story.”
We began with the kind of question we knew he’d love: about his “reunion” last year with Simon for a McGovern benefit. Garfunkel had been described, in reviews, as less than casual in performance.
What hat motivated you to do the reunion with Paul on behalf of McGovern? There were also the reunions of Peter, Paul and Mary and of Nichols and May.
That’s why I did it, I loved the show. It appealed to my showmanship. Much more than McGovern ever could to my politics. It’s selfish, I suppose. I loved the idea of those three acts, I thought it would be a terrific show.
Who approached you?
I do believe in the lesser of two evils, and in that spirit I became a McGovern supporter.
How’d you feel onstage?
It was a strange, non-experience. It was the first time I had sung with Paul onstage in quite a while. We had ostensibly broken up and here we were doing this thing together. And I did think beforehand that it would be a kick, some kind of novel experience, and yet after about three bars into the first song I had a very strong feeling, “Well, here we are again. This is where I left off.”
How was the relationship between you at that time? Were you cordial, anxious to see each other after two or three months?
Yes. We’re anxious to see each other when we see each other.
How did the decision come for Paul to sing a verse of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”?
[Swirling his gin and tonic] Interesting question, [long pause] He said that was an idea he wanted to do. He thought that would be good. I don’t know what you want me to say. Cut me open and look at all my contradictory reactions to uh, do I think that’s a good idea? Do I trust? Do I sense an ego trying to subtract from my ego? It’s the kind of thing I don’t want to get into, really. Things work in relationships and things don’t work. I don’t know how much I want to get into R STONE as far as examinations of things that don’t work, because they’re usually petty shit.
Examinations of why things don’t work, negative things, can be lessons, or, enlightenment to people who were carried along on the strength of your feelings about the unity of people through the unity of Simon & Garfunkel.
Beyond the words of the songs, I felt that S&G projected the hopefulness of an ongoing friendship as a sort of a public message. I liked that about S&G. But then there are even deeper needs.
In his interview with us, Simon said that he kept up the partnership partly out of lack of confidence to go it alone. Was that true, and if so, did that apply to you as well?
No. We kept it up because it was a thrill to make music. We had a lot of highs in the control room.
He said that during the producing of ‘Bridge,’ there were more tensions than highs. Were things strained during that period?
Based on frustration over the album – you were gone for parts of it because of the film – or on a feeling that you’d gone as far as you could with Simon & Garfunkel?
Relationships often wear themselves down over the years. And I think that with terrific intelligence and motivation you can keep, at best, one relationship going in spite of the separate changes. Usually a marriage situation. For me it was natural and inevitable, that Paul and Artie would come to feel more different than similar. And also, you come to want to be more specific about your taste, you want to express the thing that is uniquely you.
Did you feel you were fixed to the relationship of Simon & Garfunkel?
I had the feeling I could do more than there was room for me to do in this group.
How far back had you been thinking about doing your own album? Did it ever enter your mind while you were still with Paul?
I started the album in spring of ’72 and I started thinking about it about a year earlier.
I’m wondering, also, whether or not you were forced to do it, by either a company, Paul’s work, or yourself?
“Forced to do it” is close – by – I don’t know – the circumstances. I like to make music, I have some experience doing it, I have a large audience available to me, I felt it behooved me to relate to all of this. I had to put it all together and try an album.
Why’s it called ‘Angel Clare’?
It’s a name I like. Comes from literature. The English majors will know. In a sense I wanted to play right into, rather than back off of, this description of me as sweet.
What were the first thoughts you had about selection of songs?
Any songs that I could get off on.
Is there any special reason you didn’t have any Paul Simon songs?
Well, I didn’t see much of Paul Simon during the year I was hatching this album. We were working on different coasts, and I didn’t think there were any free-floating Paul Simon songs that were available.
How much do you miss Simon’s lyrics, if at all?
I don’t really miss Paul Simon in any way. I can appreciate his writing and feel how much I would dig to sing some of the songs, but pretty much the way I would feel about any writer. Paul sure is strong lyrically, not too many around as strong.
Why did you agree to do the show at the Columbia Records convention?
I wanted to help my album. It seemed like a lucky coincidence that this year’s convention was in the city where I was working on my album, that I was very high on the album, and it was just a skip across town. And for future reference, I thought it’d be interesting to see how I felt onstage.
And how’d you feel you did?
I did four songs; the first three I didn’t enjoy. I felt stiff. But I tried to say, “That’s cool, it’s been a long time, it’ll take a couple of shows.” And by “Bridge” I got into it. I felt good. It’s that encore thing, it’s after the fact.
Did the fact that Paul was in the audience affect you much?
What was his response? “Good, but there was something missing”?
[Laughter] Paul always gives you a critical run-down. I respect his opinion. He said, “You really have to work on your speaking, Artie. Gotta think what you’re gonna say and prepare your sentences.”
How do you feel now about going on tour?
Well, you do what you feel like doing. Sometimes I feel like being onstage and singing, when the mikes are good and the sound is right. But I think I’d rather make another album.
You’ve been considered “away” and now you’re opening up to the public. There seems to be a feeling that during this time you’d been developing your album that you’ve been in a kind of a semi-retirement and that you’d been nervous about your emergence as a solo artist. Is that true?
Sure. I was full of fear at the beginning of this project.
Was there a turning point?
Yeah, about a month after I began, I was into it.
And did you begin with the most stability possible by having pretty much the S&G session people around you, and Roy Halee
. . .
That was my first instinct, to see if I could pick up where I left off. But that was very painful the first month or two. I’d record in the morning and then we’d go out and have lunch in the afternoon for a break and I’d look at the clock and I’d want to stretch out the lunch break. I really felt I had to force myself to go through this very difficult beginning period. ‘Cause, you know, everything is wide open. You know, infinite possibilities . . . in terms of what record you want to make. I had no budget restrictions, no time restrictions, I could do whatever I pleased. And when you’re swimming around in this tremendous sense of possibility, you’re apt to be most fearful.
Have you ever been in group therapy?
About a year. Very interesting experience. Have you tried it?
I’m perfect; I don’t need it.
I’m sure you’re right. [Laughter] I’m thinking of going back.
Why did you think you needed it?
It was a hard time for me. I didn’t understand why certain things weren’t working.
When was this?
Two years ago. I had not begun my album yet. I didn’t know if I was going to do it. I had shaky confidence about my ability now to do my own thing. Didn’t know what my own thing was. I felt I had a minimal degree of insight into what is really going on with me and why I’m doing the things that I’m doing. And I felt that I was probably, although I didn’t feel any pain or anything, I felt I probably don’t even know what I really feel.
Were you cynical about psychoanalysis?
Not at all. On the most obvious level I immediately found that there’s a tremendous value in verbalizing the issue. There are things I was in conflict over for years. But when I had to state the bottom line, I suddenly understood: Never underestimate people’s ability to not know when they’re in pain.
Is there a similarity for you to be going from a subordinate relationship with Simon to a subordinate relationship with Nichols as director of a movie? Haven’t both aspects of your career placed you in a relationship dependent on someone else’s creative instincts?
Yes. I operate from an underdog role. Or I have in the past until now. That’s over. They’re very similar. I’d like to have been the one who had the freedom of obscurity that sort of behind the scenes a little bit. It’s worked for me.
You’d much rather be a vice president than a president?
Not any more. No. Now I’ve tested myself with more power and I like it.
* * *
Do you agree with people who say that in your films you’ve pretty much played yourself?
In a way, yes.
Why is that?
Well, you’re offered a script, you read it, and you recognize a large part of yourself in it. So you get into it, reject those parts of you that don’t relate to the character and take those parts that do and try and make that all of you. If you’re cast well, it works.
In ‘Carnal Knowledge,’ did you think of Paul while you played a character that was a close personal friend of another man, the two of them growing up together?
Somewhat. I know Mike did. I think Mike picked up on his knowledge of my friendship with Paul Simon as far as his choice of me in this role and why he thought I could play this half of a friendship. He knows certain things about us. He’d met Paul a few times. He was going to cast Paul in Catch-22. He was going to be Dunbar. I was to be Natley and Paul was going to be Dunbar. But Buck Henry had too many characters, and one of the ones that was cut was Paul.
How did Paul feel?
Like there wasn’t enough candy to go around and he was left out, I think. He would have enjoyed a gumdrop.
Was music a part of you at an early age?
I got into it at four. Singing to myself, thinking I could sing.
Hilltoppers. Crewcuts. I was a singer in thè Forties. I guess I identified with whoever was singing – the Four Aces.
So far you’ve named three groups. How about singers–Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Eddie Fisher
. . .
No. Never liked those guys. It was always the groups. Isn’t that strange. I could hear that my pitch was fairly good. I can remember singing to myself going to school, singing to the rhythm of walking while I was stepping over cracks in the sidewalk, singing and sort of practicing.
Would you sing along with records?
Well, I listened to Martin Block’s Make Believe Ballroom, but I didn’t really feel like singing along with the McGuire Sisters. In 1954, with Alan Freed and rock ‘n’ roll, hipness began for me. Then you could turn yourself on.
When Freed came on, did you feel you were still leaning towards the ballads, or did you like bop, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry?
I liked it all: Little Richard, Fats Domino, records that cooked. I liked the flavor those sounds had. “Earth Angel” had a terrific flavor. So did Johnny Ace’s “Pledging My Love.”
Did you think of writing songs at that point?
Yeah. I wrote some rock ‘n’ roll songs in the late Fifties with Paul. We wrote half a dozen songs together.
What stopped you?
Uh, my writing skill, I thought, didn’t really keep pace with my growing-up. I wrote some banal rock ‘n’ roll songs in the mid-Fifties and then I wrote things of a more folky sensitive nature later on, but I rated myself as weak. I never felt comfortable with it. I do think in the case of poetry I sometimes really feel this tremendous inspiration to say a certain idea or to examine one moment that I think everyone can relate to and fashion it into a poem in this very rich ten-hour period in which everything will stop while I pace around until I polish it off. But even there I won’t rewrite, I won’t go back to it, I don’t really feel like that’s my thing.
Was there any time earlier on when Simon was writing “Wednesday Morning” and into “Sounds Of Silence” and “Parsley/Sage” when you actually help-write a line or a chorus?
Very little. I wrote an occasional line for some of Paul’s songs.
What was your contribution to “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”? I wrote the counter-melody that wove in and out of the lines of that folk song, “Scarborough Fair.”
How did that happen?
It came out of my ability to sing along to records and harmonize spontaneously. See, for me the first singers were the Everly Brothers. I sang along with them. Finally I heard notes held and harmonies and great articulation and diction and a very interesting sound in two voices. I had a musical background that taught me a little about chord structure so I could feel the chordal underpinning that makes up a song. If I knew the song from having heard it once I could feel the next coming chord, I’d know where I was as if I could graphically see the note. I was singing in relation to the melody whether it was a third higher or a fourth below. I’d feel the new chord coming up and know what my choices were, what would blend in. Then the next step was shaping the line, parallel movement, counter-movement. By the time Paul and I were recording in the Sixties I could do all that.
Why wouldn’t you do that with more songs?
I mean, it’s really ASCAP or BMI that labels that as the one song I did it on. When you do it for three lines’ worth you’re not a songwriter. You do it 16 lines’ worth, you’re a songwriter.
So in your estimation, it was accurate when you were credited specifically in many press accounts as arranger of the group.
Well, now, I think Paul objected to the idea of being left out. Coming up with the line that a string player would play is something that Paul did as well. I might be the one [in more cases] to pin down the specific line and show the musicians what to play, note for note.
Paul said [in his Rolling Stone interview, July 20th, 1972] that you shared responsibility but not creativity, that you were credited as arranger, but that “Anybody who knows anything would know that was a fabrication – how can one guy write the songs and the other guy do the arranging?”
I don’t know what people think arranging means. I think of myself as a record-maker. When I’m in the studio, I take the song and try to fill out tracks: the instrumental and vocal tracks.
* * *
You and Paul were Tom & Jerry as teenagers and had a hit. What was it like being on ‘American Bandstand’?
It was a thrill for me. I had been watching in high school and saw that the kids – not only was I getting to know the kids, but they were carrying stacks of fan mail in their pockets and they were stars, and here I was down there, feeling like a nobody with the stars, walking into this building in Philadelphia seeing huge stacks of US mail bags in the hallways. I went to the john a half hour before we went on the air, and there were two of the kids I knew from TV in the urinals next to me. One was saying, “Who do we have today?” “Oh, somebody named Tom & Jerry?” The guy says, “Who are those jerks?” It was hard for me to be the “star.”
On the basis of your hit song?
“Hey School Girl.”
Was that a hit song? How big?
In the country! It got up to Number 40 in the country, Ben. Don’t take it away from us.
We did that Bandstand on Thanksgiving of 1956 and proceeded to go to Cincinnati for four days of record hops. Then played the Hartford State Theater, Hartford’s equivalent to the Apollo. There were nine acts on the hill: LaVerne Baker, Little Joe and the Thrillers, and we were the white group, sort of the comic relief.
Did you want to stay as a rock star for a few years, or did you think there was something else in music you knew you’d move on to? I never thought I was seriously going to make my living this way, I thought sooner or later I would do something more – reputable. But I sure did always want to be famous.
Was it a big rush when you were Tom & Jerry and had the big record?
Then how was it to go back into relative obscurity – was it depressing?
Easy. I was the kid who was going to go to college and find some way to make a decent living.
How did your parents feel about you entering showbiz?
They had a real sense of the thrill of show business. They had no showbiz background themselves, but my parents could sing. The main reason why I started singing at four is that we bought a wire recorder in the Forties and my folks would harmonize “When the Red Red Robin” and they’d sing in thirds. Pleasing sound. That really got me into this business more than anything in the world. Singing and being able to record it. Because after tape machines came out we got one right away. And after I started singing to the tape recorder myself I said to my father, “I want to harmonize to it; let’s get a second recorder.” When we got two recorders I was off and running. Then I could overdub. Paul lived three blocks away, and he would come around the house on a Sunday afternoon, it would be raining and we’d fool around with the recorders . . . . We did a disk jockey show once. Paul was Ted Howard and I was Art Michaels.
Eleven. We were both in sixth grade at PS 164. In June at the end of our graduation from grade school there was to be a production of Alice In Wonderland. The teachers picked who they thought were best onstage. Paul got the part of Peter Rabbit and I was the Cheshire Cat. So in May and June every day after school there’d be rehearsal and there was this very, very funny person named Paul Simon.
Once we started singing together we looked for outlets to sing in places. We’d sing after school. We used to do a lot of Crewcuts songs. “Shaboom” and “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby” were big hits.
Did you sing acapella or did you always have somebody back you up?
I think Paul started playing guitar right away. Bought his first guitar in the seventh grade or something. So we’d sing in a lot of these shows and they liked us. Now rock ‘n’ roll began – to my way of thinking – in around 1954 when Alan Freed came from Cleveland to New York and started playing all these far-out records. One day in the ninth grade in ’54 I opened my desk and saw a note that one of the kids in the class was passing to a girl. It said, “Listen to Alan Freed’s rock ‘n’ roll show tonight. I have a dedication for you.” That got me very curious and I listened and was hooked in right away and so was Paul. I started listening every night. So, I think from the earliest time we listened I think we sort of saw ourselves competitively. I did, anyway. I listened and I said, “I can do all that stuff too.”
Were you the first ones in your school to jump into it that strongly?
In junior high, yeah. We were around age 13 and 14. We started rehearsing in an amazingly professional way at a very early age. We had this tape recorder and this thing of trying to sound like the real people . . . . The next thing to do was to get real good in singing so we’d sing and harmonize and hold very serious long rehearsals in his basement and he’d strum and we’d work on a song. We’d be sitting nose-to-nose looking right at each other’s mouths to copy diction. I’d want to know exactly where his tongue would hit the top of his palate when he’d say a “T,” to know exactly how to get that “T” right. And I could see that you could be almost right or even better than almost right and that all of that really was the difference between whether or not it sounded professional. Then once you had it very precise you cooled it out and made it seem effortless. So we tried writing our own songs and we’d take them into Manhattan; I used to remember those really scary subway rides: Paul’s got his guitar. We’re sitting on this dingy subway train going into Manhattan. We had seen the record companies’ addresses right on the label and we had certain favorite records we liked so we figured, “Well they’ll be receptive to us because they make good records.”
It turned out that a lot of companies were in the Brill Building, 50th Street and Broadway. You’d go up and knock on the door and there would be this weird freaked-out black guy or this very fat cigar-smoking Jewish businessman and they’d be gruff and you knew it was really a hard thing to get into. If it weren’t for Paul . . . Paul was a lot of the drive in those days . . . I probably would have never done that myself.
I heard that in high school you shared a music class and spent a lot of time in detention.
Well, we’d been friends for years. Once we were playing some game. We were imagining they were going to give awards to the fattest person in the school or something. And some very fat girl came into the class to deliver a message to the teacher and Paul jumped up and shouted: “You win! You’re the winner!” It was a crazy kind of thing to do because nobody could understand what Paul was doing except me, and yet he was doing it in public, and so I was in hysterics and the teacher threw us both out. [Laughter]
And they never found out that there was a contest?
No. Nobody knew. Just a private joke. We were always doing that.
How long was it before you got to Big Records?
Quite a while. About three years of that kind of shit. Getting nowhere. Nobody realizing that we were good. They were businessmen who were a generation away from the kids who were making the hits so they just didn’t trust. After three years and about six songs and a lot of knocking on doors – including one contract for about nine months – we never recorded, and it just tied us up. We were frustrated and we were going to give up.
We decided to make a demo of this one song we wrote, “Hey Schoolgirl in the Second Row,” to see what happened – and then we’d give up. We cut the demo at Sanders Recording Studio on 7th Avenue and we had two tunes we had prepared. Between this first and second song a businessman named Sid Prosen was in the waiting room with his act because he had studio time booked the hour after we had it. Between songs he said, “When you’re finished I want to talk to you guys.” And afterwards he came on real heavy. “Greatest thing since the Everly Brothers. I’m going to make stars out of you.” And at that point we had enough experience to separate the real offer from the phony. We didn’t want to get tied up again and not record. We said we’ll sign up if you’ll record us and release us within 60 days. He said for sure. We signed, did it, recorded, released it and it was this medium hit.
What year was that?
You were only 15 each? Yes.
And you were still in high school?
Seniors in high school already at age 15? Yeah. I turned 16 in November. Both of us had skipped a year.
* * *
Then you went your own way for a few years, going to school, doing music on your own
. . .
’61 and ’62, I recorded some singles for a couple of record companies.
Under your own name?
A little-known fact.
What companies were these?
Jack Gold’s company, Octavia. He had that hit [singing], “You’re my baby blue . . .” He had a small record company and I wandered in one day around 1960, as a soloist. I played guitar and I sang the song that I wrote. And he recorded me. I also recorded for Warwick records, a single.
So then when I met up again with Paul in ’61 or ’62 he was starting to get into this new style. When Dylan came along it really got interesting. We could really connect with that. So Dylan got Paul onto this singer-songwriter-poet kind of thing, and I was fascinated by Dylan. The first night that we got back together we started singing these songs. We did it in the A E Pi Fraternity House in Queens and the echo was right. The rooms were bare plaster walls with no furniture and the sound was a lot of fun. So I think both of us were very stimulated by it.
And then you got to Columbia Records.
Paul was working for a music publishing company. His job was to take the company’s catalog and peddle it around to the various labels, trying to interest these labels into having their artists record these particular songs. Consequently he had connections with the major labels. In ’64, I was going to school uptown. We had been singing together for about a year. After a certain point, Paul told Tom Wilson at Columbia Records, “Well, I have some songs of my own that I never showed you. Would you be interested in hearing them? My friend’s uptown; he sings them with me.”
He liked us right away and set up an audition. We recorded four tunes, and at that recording session, the engineer in the booth was somebody named Roy Halee. Roy came out and adjusted the mikes very carefully. Roy later said, “As soon as you guys started singing, I was very concerned that everything go right with this act.” From the beginning we sensed that he was very much on our side. And the next time we had to come back and sing more, the next week, we requested that that guy with the yellow button-down oxford shirt be the engineer again. And he’s always been there.
The first album had been out for about a year before Tom Wilson added the rock backing to “Sounds Of Silence.” How did that happen?
There were stations in Florida around Cocoa Beach that started getting requests from kids for “Sounds Of Silence,” and Florida was starting to call New York. And that’s when they over-dubbed, and electric instruments went on “Sounds Of Silence.”
Did Wilson tell you about it before he did it?
He never called to ask. We were in England.
You were reachable by telephone or telegram.
Less so in those days. But he never called to ask. You could do pretty much what you wanted with Paul and Artie in those days.
So in a way, I suppose you do give Wilson a huge credit for being
. . .
Being the midwife yeah.
And also turning you around from straight folk into pop, or rock
. . .
Yes. I definitely give him credit.
Who selected the musicians to back you on the next album, ‘Sounds Of Silence’? There were mentions of Glen Campbell and some other prominent session people in the Los Angeles scene around that time.
We went to Hollywood into a pre-existing scene. We also went to Nashville, at Bob Johnston’s suggestion. We did “I Am a Rock” in Nashville but we didn’t use that.
You also recorded in New York. Wasn’t that quite unusual for that time, to be moving around to so many studios, rather than just using whatever one you had available?
Well, we were trying to make an album in very quick time, within a month, so that studios followed wherever we were. We had commitments to do certain shows and so we had to be on the West Coast, we squeezed in recording there.
Why was there such a hurry to do an album?
We were under the influence of big business, you know? We had this Number One single and it was a case of business trying to make the music conform to the situation.
* * *
The next album was ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.’ How would you describe that album in terms of progress?
In many ways I thought that was the beginning of our record career. After the three weeks it took us to make the Sounds Of Silence album, and getting together with Mort Lewis as a manager, early ’66, and beginning to do some road work that fall, we then started to make our next album the way we wanted to make it. From that point on it became Roy and Paul and me.
On “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” you originally didn’t want to sing the lead vocal in that song? True?
False. Paul showed me “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and he felt it was his best song. I felt it was something less than his best song, but a great song. I knew that the way he was singing it was terrific, he had a lot of feeling for it, he sang it in a high range and he got into falsetto and I thought it was a very interesting sound for him. And my first instinct was that Paul could do a bitch on that vocal. I knew I could too.
How did he take your suggestion that he do it . . .
when he apparently had it in his mind that you do it?
Well wrongly. I think he picked up mostly on the fact that he thought it was his best song, and I didn’t give him full credit. I think that right after I said, “Ah . . . I think you could do a great job on that song,” he said, “No, you should do it. I wrote it so that you would do it,” and I said, “Crazy, I’ll do it.”
What was your part in the arrangement of “Bridge”? Especially the ending?
We were inspired by a Phil Spector production of the Righteous Brothers singing “Old Man River,” many years ago on a forgotten album, on which they sang with spare production throughout until the very last line of the song . . . “Tired of living and feared of dying but Old Man River . . . ” and on that line, they threw in everything. The studio sound quadrupled in size and the Spector girls’ chorus entered, and they vamped out with a very hard driving fade, repeating “Old Man River . . . ” and then just wailed on out. Well, that killed me. Saving the production for the last line of a song seemed like all of that potential energy running through the whole record until it exploded. It was a lovely production idea. When we did “Bridge,” it was a two-verse song, and once I got into the vocal I felt it should be personal and simple and sort of unproduced. But we said, “Let’s use that Spector idea.” And then we said, “Well . . . we need a third verse, quick,” and it was really just that kind of thing. We began to hear the record you could make and all that was missing was some more song, and because we were driven by the concept of the record, everything fell into place, in a very natural way. It took Paul just a couple of hours to write the last verse in the studio. That’s when it goes good. It sort of makes itself. That’s what “Bridge” was for us.
Who came up with the vocal background track for “Only Living Boy”?
Me. I started getting into open-mouth harmony, in a very loud, strident way. We were screaming at the top of our lungs and inside an echo chamber. I remember that day that Dylan dropped by to visit. We came out of the booth after all this screaming, and there he was. Anyway, we got a very foreign sound.
All those voices are just you two overdubbed?
It’s us around eight times, screaming, and we mixed it down very softly. I think it helps that record.
Along the same lines, I loved the sound on “Cecilia.” At one point there was the sound of some guy playing bottles or something like that. What was that?
It’s one of my favorite sounds. It’s a heavily limited electrified xylophone. We thought of making “Cecilia” a very earthy, homemade record, full of the sound of hands clapping and sticks dropping . . .
Which Paul said was recorded on a portable Sony?
Yeah, we took my sound-on-sound Sony machine, the TC-124, it had a reverb unit on it, so that you got a kickback on every sound, and he started getting into the rhythm of that particular time delay, and me and Paul and Paul’s brother Eddie, who was playing piano bench, and our friend Stewy Scharf who was playing choked guitar with no tonal quality, were all fooling around in our house on Blue Jay Way in L.A. – where I was living that summer, because I was doing interiors for Catch-22 – and we put down a basic track and brought it to Roy and we used that as our core. Then we overdubbed; a lot of fooling-around sound. We dropped a batch of 15 drumsticks on the parquet studio floor, because we liked that wood-crashing sound, and we started doing that in rhythm. And there was a xylophone in the studio and Paul said, “Let’s get a xylophone into it for the percussion of it, not for the tonal quality.” And none of us could play xylophone. So Paul went out and did a great job. One of my favorite overdubs is this one: Roy limited the sound which is compressing it and taking just the electric, ticky-tacky of it, eliminating the musical tone of it, so that it didn’t matter that Paul was going to play the wrong notes, all that mattered was the feel of it. I rode the dial in the mix.
What’s your favorite thing on any of your records?
Funny you should ask that, I heard the Bridge Over Troubled Water album for the first time in a while recently and at the end of side one, in “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright,” I realized that one of the things I liked most in our records was mixed down too softly. We were always very cautious about jokes, even though we were always fooling around. We’d almost never keep anything that was lighthearted in our records. Who knows why. And I realized we mixed down one of the things I really enjoyed because nobody has ever told me they heard it. It occurs at the end of “Frank Lloyd Wright” in the fade-out ending as I’m repeating “so long, so long” and vamping again and again . . . And I think it’s like on the fourth repeat of the vamp. In the background Paul and Roy scream out: “SO LONG ALREADY, ARTIE.” I loved it. I said we’d have to have it big and they were very cautious.
Did you know there’s an ocean liner in my album? We took our portable tape recorder, me and Linda, and went down to the San Francisco Bay and arranged with the harbor master to tell us when they were going to have a big liner that was sailing to Japan or something, and we went out on a tugboat, everybody quieted their engines, we had stereo recording and it was prearranged that the captain of the big ship would blow his whistle, ’cause I love that tubby size of that sound and we recorded it and snuck it into “Feuilles-Oh.”
Linda and I went to visit Paul at his house in New York six months ago, he showed me some of the songs he was working on, and his dog, Carolina, was panting like crazy on the couch next to Linda’s left ear. When the song was over, Linda said, “I not only love the song that you just sang, but I love the dog which was panting right in rhythm to the song.” So that night I said there’s an idea I can use.
There’s a lot of things all over the album. Didn’t Orson Welles say that a child’s best toy is a movie studio? That’s what it’s like.
You studied architecture for a couple of years. Are you still interested in it?
No, I hate it. I had an unpleasant experience with architecture. I’m angry at that whole field. It’s a deception. People who go into architecture feel they’re going to be artists, and they don’t know that they’re going to be businessmen. Now I was attracted to architecture for the sound of the word, “architect.” I think I like the “a” and the “r,” you know . . . I liked the crispness of “tect” at the end. It sounded respectable. “Architect.” You could smoke a pipe, wear corduroy pants, gum-bottomed shoes.
What makes you think that being in music puts you into a world in which business does not dominate art?
My particular experience in the music business is dominated by the experience of being in the studio and making musical decisions. That’s what it’s about for me.
People thought of the things S&G said – about youth and alienation – as important. Are “messages” still a primary function of music today?
I never thought they were. I thought the lyric content was an amusing juxtaposition, which is a little strange at best. I was amused that critics should add all those overtones to it. I wonder what they thought, that they should add all those overtones to it. I wondered what they thought was really meaningful about it. Did they think we were really changing anybody? I don’t think so.
Music is important to a lot of people.
Music is not very important. There’re only a few artists that justify that kind of sensitive . . . that’s worth paying attention to.
But there are many who don’t listen, just hear, or rely on music for entertainment, or to tell them about the world
. . .
This is unfortunate.
. . . And for others, music is more a supportive . . .
. . . teddy bear. Somebody else in the room. Yeah, I’m distrustful of those kinds of energies, they plant seeds that are ultimately frustrating and unfulfilling. A lot of people feel that music represents the good life, the cool world – where they’re at is where I want to be at – and none of that thinking ever crystallizes into anything concrete. It fills people with vague images of some girls walking along the beach with their boyfriends, her hair blowing in the wind – what Clairol is doing, that’s Madison Avenue foolishness. I think it fits 14 years of age just fine.
When you got into the music business – you talk about liking the scene and wanting to be popular – how did money enter into it?
Viscerally. My middle-class background gave me some kind of gut feeling that making money is probably a smart thing to do, money for old age.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars?
No, I never got that specific as to how far I wanted to take it. It’s a trap, though. You know, here’s how I think it works with a lot of people. A person may feel, I don’t know that striving to build up a bank account is a worthwhile endeavor, but it might be. And opportunities have come along that make me able at this point, and only at this point, to satisfy that goal . . . If I should ever want that goal. While I am still not sure about what matters to me in life, and while this opportunity is temporal, it behooves me to relate to it and cover that base, lest I should someday feel, shit, money really makes life more comfortable when it comes to hospitalization, etc., and I passed when I had the choice. Pursuing a lot of money is a foolish waste, though. I have a very strange relationship to money. I don’t know how to spend it. I don’t really feel it leads to much happiness. I can’t develop a real interest in material goods. Money mostly means convenience for me, cabs. I like getting out of a movie if the movie is boring in the middle and not feeling I’ve wasted the rest of the money I spent.
How do you feel being married?
That it suits me.
Who’s your wife?
She’s Linda Grossman from Nashville. She’s four years younger than I am. She came out of architecture school to work as a graphic designer up North some five years ago.
Where’d you meet her?
On the streets of New York. In the beginning of the spring of ’69, I had a two-week break from Catch-22, and I was on 55th and Park Avenue, going to a restaurant with Mort Lewis for lunch. We were laughing about something, and Linda, who was visiting New York from Boston, passed me in a cab going downtown on Park Avenue and jumped out a block later. She was going to say hello – she had never done anything like this before. (Later on she told me: “You had a nice smile and I felt you were reachable.”) Now I spotted her halfway up the block coming toward me and I thought, there’s a girl I could get serious about. At that point in my life I was looking to stop running around and playing around. And to my tremendous pleasure, she was heading straight toward me. She walked up and said, “You’re Artie, aren’t you?” I, of course, was ready . . . my rhythm was already going. I think I asked her to marry me about the second sentence.
You’d never done it before . . .
No, never had that kind of feeling. She said she was very put off by my being so direct.
What did she say when you asked her?
She said no, and she pulled back a little bit and I said well, there’s a church nearby, I think we could work it out. I invited her to the studio that night . . . we were working on “The Boxer.” She was reluctant, but she thought she’d try it. She came, sat over the engineering console, with her chin on her wrist, staring at me, Paul and Roy for four hours. She was going to know everything. . . . I was impressed and flattered. I like people who third-degree me, who stare at me, I feel they’re interested. And we went out afterwards, and I was very charmed and we dated a lot . . . it took us about three years though before I had the courage to ask her to marry me.
She said she had seen me once in concert at her school, Washington University, years before that. She was interested in me.
Didn’t you find that that was mostly the case during your concert career? That most of the women were probably attracted to you?
No, I wouldn’t say that. I really had no idea what most of the women thought; that’s a consensus kind of question. I always assumed that there was a great deal to be interested in in Paul Simon, certainly anybody who was on to the idea that all these words we’re singing are his words.
But you were the tall handsome figure and when it came down to it, you were the better singer, even by Paul’s opinion. Well, I don’t know how much singing better leads to curiosity about a personality. And I don’t know how much an appearance of detachment, which I think I had more than Paul, makes you curious or frustrates curiousity. I don’t know what they thought.
Was Paul right in calling them poetic groupies? That your groupies were more interested in the words and talking than
. . .
I don’t think that’s too true. Not in my case. But I did sit up a lot of nights talking with kids about their families, aspirations . . .
With a loaf of French bread under your arm?
In just that spirit, yes.
Tell me more about this thing of yours, going around catching people talking with a microphone hidden in a loaf of bread.
I don’t do it as a way of life. I did that device as part of a project to tape old people because we wanted to have their sentiments as part of the theme in Bookends. And I went out to try and record them. I went to old age homes where I brought the mike right out and sat down and talked about things, and I also eavesdropped in Central Park and I would take a long shotgun mike and hide it under my shoulder inside a loaf of French bread and pick up on conversations.
I would just sort of walk in front of old couples, I just wanted to hear what they had to say. Two old ladies, 72-years-old, meeting each other for lunch at two o’clock in the afternoon – what are they talking about? So I’d record, bring it home at night, listen to what they say.
That was for the ‘Bookends’ album. Are you still doing that today?
Well, I did it again last year. Took my Nagra tape recorder when I drove crosscountry to come out here. I did some of that, I set it up and listened. I was particularly interested in the presidential election, see what people thought, if they felt they had a choice or not.
You weren’t satisfied with the Gallup polls?
No. I like to see what they really think. I did it very loosely. I didn’t get into it that much. I just brought it out occasionally at luncheonettes in Wisconsin, various places.
What did you learn? That a lot of Americans are content with things just waiting to buy the second car. In Wisconsin, America works.
What were your trips like?
They were great fun. No bum trips.
Did you ever take it with Paul?
No, never took acid with Paul.
What were your hallucinations?
Couple of funny shadowy things, clouds passing, making that warmth of shadow and light happening things, extra presence of living things, plant life. A lot of that Alan Watts feeling about existence – this is it; this moment is what it always does feel like, so there’s nothing more than this feeling of what it feels like to be alive . . .
How would you guess that LSD might have affected your music?
[Pause] I really don’t think it did. I almost feel they’re a little contradictory. For me, acid was a very humbling experience, but the drive to succeed in show business is achievement-oriented, it’s anti-humility in a way. If you’re humble and you can sing why not sing for friends you can look at and give them pleasure? On a one-to-one basis?
Unless you’re the type who wants to humble yourself in public.
But I suspect some kind of ego strivings there.
But that’s acid for you. Perhaps for others it creates more of a drive to open up.
I can identify with a certain appreciation, but here I have to get very personal, spiritually. My concept of God showed up as if to say, “It’s lucky that you’re able to sing, it’s a sweet gift to be given, and the response to it should be some kind of responsibility. That’s what inspires me to see myself as a potential pleasure-giver. That’s what got me back into making this album.
The insights I got had a lot to do with seeing the real from the not-real, and the real pushed me on to concentrate on what I can do and try to see noise for noise’s sake. Because what you can do, you should do. What else are you supposed to do with your time on earth?