WHAT IS IT ALL BUT LUMINOUS: NOTES FROM AN UNDERGROUND MAN
2017, 256 pp, S27.95
"I have these vocal cords. Two," the singer Art Garfunkel writes near the start of his intriguing book of impressionistic musings about his life, What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man. "They have vibrated with the love of sound since I was five and began to sing with the sense of God's gift running through me."
In the 70 years since then, Garfunkel (now 76) has been serenading the world with his magically sweet tenor with such grace that he and his music can seem inseparable. And so, too, can his name seem indivisible from that of singer-songwriter Paul Simon, with whom he collaborated in close vocal harmony during their years together, from 1964 through 1970, as the duo Simon & Garfunkel.
But over the decades, the harmony of the relationship itself has been less than seamless, their differences dating even to before the partnership dissolved in 1970. Since then, their many ups and downs have played out in public through periodic concert reunions, rumors of a planned new album together that never materialized, seasons punctuated by what fans could only interpret as sounds of silence, and hints (or wishful thinking) that yet another joint gig is in the offing. It should be no surprise, then, that the push-pull between the power of two and the lonely eloquence of one is a recurring refrain throughout Garfunkel's book. It is the bedrock story--and relationship--to which he keeps returning. He likens it to a "poetically stunning" love affair that has lasted 64 years and counting. But he does not shy away from the emotionally intense rivalry and ambivalent brotherly love that has also defined their friendship.
In the memoir, Garfunkel pushes back against the perception that he was the lesser half of the duo, "merely" the singer, not the songwriter, by pointing out his contributions as the musical arranger, as well as reminding readers of his own vocal gifts. But he is also generous in applauding Simon, asking, "Is there any writer in our time with such beauty and poignancy of heart and mind?" The more I read, the clearer it became to me that rather than argue about which one was the "better" artist, we should instead acknowledge how the blend of their talents together served to create a distinctive, and lasting, body of musical work. It was that recognition, after all, that formed the original basis for their collaboration...