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This Is Not A Review of Art Garfunkel At The Cedar

8 Jul

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This is not a review of Art Garfunkel at the Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday night. The legend, in bold italics capitals made it clear that attending the show meant writing no reviews, no critiques and no commercial coverage discussion. His manager came out at the beginning to say so and to plead for no cell phones during the event. Garfunkel is certainly not the first performer to have an aversion to the use of cell phones and inattentive crowds (see Ryan Adams, Cat Power) and Garfunkel’s well-documented troubles with his voice and vocal cords put him in a position of needing the attention and support of the audience. As he put it himself in an interview with Spinner, “This business makes you vulnerable. You’re exposed.” So this is not a review of Art Garfunkel at the Cedar, especially because we love the Cedar and want no injury to come to them, Garfunkel and his harmonies formed a critical part of our young musical consciousness and if Garfunkel, or Simon & Garfunkel, were to ever tour back our way, we’d want to be able to buy tickets without cloak-and-dagger second and third identities.

In his final collection, Mortality, Christopher Hitchens gave up a whole chapter in his account of his (lost) battle with esophageal cancer to the indignity and trauma of losing his voice. A result of his intensive chemotherapy, Hitchens’ gruff bellow dissipated to a pubescent squeak, rendering him silent, and in his own way, impotent. “Like health itself,” he wrote, “the loss of such a thing can’t be imagined until it occurs.” He goes on in the same essay, Chapter V;

“In the medical literature, the vocal “cord” is a mere “fold,” a piece of gristle that strives to reach out and touch its twin, thus producing the possibility of sound effects. But I feel there must be a deep relationship with the word “chord”: the resonant vibration that can stir memory, produce music, evoke love, bring tears, move crowds to pity and mobs to passion…To lose this ability is to be deprived of an entire range of faculty: It is assuredly to die more than a little.”

Art Garfunkel is assuredly not dead, he is being seen and heard now, in ways that are both the same and different from when he was a kid tuning in to The Hi Lo’s and Everly Brothers, experimenting and expanding the world with Paul Simon, breaking off on to his own path; the same and different from seeing him in a small Minneapolis club to discovering him on an unmarked bootleg tape that contained most of the famous concert in Central Park, Bookends and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is a personal favorite of all of the Simon & Garfunkel output, a flowing, melodious act of high-minded reinvention. Take the opening three songs: Garfunkel melded two songs to turn the traditional ballad “Scarborough Fair” into the subversively anti-war “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” “Patterns” takes a driving, soft drum line and weds it to an existential meditation (side note – there was a glitch in the childhood tape that led to a terrifying screech just before “My life is made of patterns that can scarcely be controlled,” appropriately enough) and then floats into winking playfulness with a gorgeous harmony line in “Cloudy.” Three songs in and the gamut of emotions from doubt to humor to anger elegantly tied together by ingenious harmonies and production. The presence of the songs has remained the same. The form they take, the associations with them, the context for them, well, those all have changed.

Garfunkel walks – he has walked across the United States, and is currently walking from Shannon, Ireland, to Istanbul, in annual, week-long segments. As he told the Guardian in 2011, “I take a little journal. I don’t look for experiences, I just keep trucking. The physical body takes over. It is the cosmic exhale that I pursue. Eyes and breath.” That notion of cosmic exhale, the connection to universe and the universe’s inspiration and impetus exist in our other elder statesmen, most pointedly in Leonard Cohen’s “Going Home” from 2012’s Old Ideas. Cohen is a man of very different gifts than Garfunkel, but has found himself in his own difficulties, and also responded by getting out in front of the people. The resonant lines from “Going Home”:

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I want him to complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision

That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
That is to SAY what I have told him
To repeat

The universal mandate is there, nervousness and all, to go out and make the music that has to be made, to speak and go out with a certainty and release afforded to those who have lived long enough. Cohen’s pointed “sacrifice recovering” speaks to the intense drain that performing, and creating and being an artist can take on a human being, especially when the identity and drive of being an artist doesn’t allow the performer to stop performing.

When asked by the Guardian if it was strange that he was 70, Garfunkel told them, “To tell you the truth it is extremely unstrange. I am still going from project to project. I look up and notice my age from time to time, but then it is on with the next thing.” Cohen calls himself “the brief elaboration of a tube” but he, like Garfunkel, like Simon, like their old nemesis Dylan, all have proud records and long histories, relative to the lives we lead on this planet. Creativity finds a way to muster itself up and manifest itself, to keep trucking. After all, as Dylan so pithily put it, “He who is not busy being born is busy dying.” The presence of the songs remains, the form and context all change.

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