Art Garfunkel Opens Up, and What Spills Out Is a Fascinating Mess

The subtitle of Art Garfunkel's new memoir "Notes From an Underground Man," 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 angel-voiced 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, slim-hipped, 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 silence.

Garfunkel's writing isn't all bad, though it hardly follows a chronology. Dates are often vague or nonexistent. 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 E.L. 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.

Sibbie O'Sullivan has recently completed a memoir on how the Beatles have influenced her life.

Washington Post

Art Garfunkel Opens Up, and What Spills Out Is a Fascinating Mess 1

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