“What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man” by Art Garfunkle— A Nice Jewish Guy

Garfunkle, Art. “What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man”, Knopf, 2017.

A Nice Jewish Guy

Amos Lassen

Art Garfunkle (in case you do not remember, he is the guy with blonde curly hair who sang with Paul Simon) gives us a “kind of” memoir in which he shares “the making of a musician; the evolution of a man, a portrait of a life-long friendship and collaboration that became one of the most successful singing duos of their time”. Art Garfunkle writers like he sings, lyrically.

We go back to before Simon and Garfunkle to the 1940s and ’50s when Art (son of a traveling salesman) was a middle class Jewish boy, living in a red brick semi-attached house in Kew Gardens, Queens. He tells us that he was a kid who was different and that from the age of five he felt his vocal cords “vibrating with the love of sound”. Later he met Paul Simon at school and describes him as the funny guy who made him laugh. Paul and Art (who were not yet Simon and Garfunkle) went through junior high school together and how they both reacted to the that captivated them totally. We learn that they went to a recording studio in Manhattan and spent $71 to make a demo of their song, “Hey Schoolgirl”. That recording was the beginning. It became number 40 on the charts and sold 150,000 copies (Simon’s father played bass on the recording). They are evolving into Simon and Garfunkle and from the ages of 16, they were regulars on the pop charts and we loved them.

Now what we did not know is that Garfunkle sees himself a thinker more than anything else. He says that he was never a natural performer and that when the duo toured, he became one who enjoyed

sex-for-thrills on the road and that in order to calm down, he read or walked (he actually walked across the USA and Europe). Garfunkle tried his skill as an actor and worked with legendary Mike Nichols (“the greatest of them all”). He got a masters in mathematics at Columbia but chose music over a PhD. The split with Simon came slowly and when the two were no longer making music together, Garfunkle learned to perform on his own and actually gave thousands of concerts.

Garfunkle shares a lot here and his story kept me spellbound. It is a show business biography that is also a very human story.

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