Art Gar­funkel won’t be si­lenced

The Nation - - FRESH INK -

THE SUB­TI­TLE of Art Gar­funkel’s new mem­oir echoes Dos­toyevsky’s “Notes From Un­der­ground” and Richard Wright’s story “The Man Who Lived Un­der­ground”– both se­ri­ous works of lit­er­a­ture.

Gar­funkel’s book, how­ever, is a splat­ter­ing of 30-plus years of hand­writ­ten thoughts, lists, travel notes, bad po­etry, con­fes­sions, snarky digs, plat­i­tudes and prayers gussied up for pub­li­ca­tion in dif­fer­ent fonts and sizes.

Read­ing it is like rum­mag­ing through a huge junk drawer of the mind. You might find some­thing use­ful. Gar­funkel him­self seems doubt­ful of his en­deav­our: “Maybe my un­usual book does com­mu­ni­cate.” Or maybe it doesn’t, which is sad be­cause Gar­funkel, the an­gelvoiced half of Si­mon and Gar­funkel, and a suc­cess­ful solo act, is a ta­lented, ed­u­cated and seem­ingly lov­ing man. Un­for­tu­nately, the singer – who at age 75 con­tin­ues to tour – is more suc­cess­ful be­hind the mi­cro­phone than he is on the page.

Rock mem­oirs are of­ten full of sex and snark. Gar­funkel’s is no ex­cep­tion. “Paul [Si­mon] won the writer’s roy­al­ties. I got the girls ... Fab­u­lous foxes, slimhipped, B-cup, lit­tle Natalie Woods.” His boast­ing is matched by innuendo. When he and Si­mon were younger, “We showed each other our ver­sions of mas­tur­ba­tions ... (mine used a hand).” Imag­ine that! When Gar­funkel was in Ge­orge Har­ri­son’s “cas­tle ... the space in the tur­ret was tight. Ge­orge and I were very close. Dis­turb­ing? Thrilling?” What are we to make of such dec­la­ra­tions?

The book is also filled with such gnomic state­ments as: “You can’t dis­cover fuch­sia twice.” “Moral­ity played to win is a/plate of tin.” “My po­etry bits are or­gans. What is the least con­nec­tive tis­sue that sets them in a body?”

Whether as po­etry, or as lines pop­ping up willy-nilly to fill empty space or to dis­play another type­face, sen­tences like these ap­pear with ag­gra­vat­ing fre­quency. Un­for­tu­nately, some of Gar­funkel’s longer pas­sages are also ag­gra­vat­ing. In a poem to his wife, Kathryn, he calls him­self her “love pest”, the “fun­gus un­der­neath her nail”, “her old bed linen” and “her un­der­wear”. Later, in prose, he is “moved to speak of Jan­ice Zwail, the colonics queen. A Chelsea chick, she cleans your colon for cash or check.” Here you might be beg­ging for the sound of si­lence.

Gar­funkel’s writ­ing isn’t all bad, though it hardly fol­lows a chronol­ogy. Dates are of­ten vague or non-ex­is­tent. Some­times his use of pro­nouns is con­fus­ing, and we never get one sus­tained take on his decades-long and wa­ver­ing re­la­tion­ship with Paul Si­mon, though one run­ning joke seems to con­cern who will speak at the other’s funeral, so even dy­ing is a com­pe­ti­tion. An avid walker, Gar­funkel’s de­scrip­tions of his trav­els through the United States and abroad some­times give read­ers a sense of place, both ge­o­graphic and psy­cho­log­i­cal. We’re moved as he spo­rad­i­cally rec­ol­lects the dif­fi­cul­ties of los­ing and re­gain­ing his voice. In an un­dated poem he writes that “These days I sing ‘Bridge Over Trou­bled/Wa­ter’/for a full arena with fear of her­nia.”

Read­ers might get a bet­ter sense of Gar­funkel through his long and var­ied read­ing lists, which in­clude Mon­taigne, Edith Whar­ton and EL James. Gar­funkel has given sev­eral can­did me­dia in­ter­views about his strug­gles with vo­cal cord dam­age and made con­tro­ver­sial com­ments about Paul Si­mon, but here he ad­dresses these sub­jects fleet­ingly, obliquely – or not at all.

Fi­nally, what can one say of a man who an­nounces that first he was Achilles and now he’s Odysseus? For a fan, this might be a forth­right as­sess­ment. For some­one else, it’s one more silly pro­nounce­ment from a man who’s any­thing but un­der­ground. –

Re­viewed by Sib­bie O’Sul­li­van

What Is It All But Lu­mi­nous: Notes from an Un­der­ground Man By Art Gar­funkel Pub­lished by Knopf Avail­able at ma­jor book­shops, Bt891 (hard­back)

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