When 1300 people paid to see Art Garfunkel this month at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, presumably, they did so because they admire him. Garfunkel is 75 years old. Many of his fans are close to that age and have adored him since he and Paul Simon recorded “The Sound of Silence” 54 years ago. But at the concert, that long history created a problem.
Garfunkel took a break after four songs, and the crowd turned against him. He said he was distracted by the sight of a few people standing in the rear of the hall, at the top of an aisle and asked them to move. When they didn’t, he walked off the stage and remained offstage for 10 minutes.
Hello, darkness my old friend
His first songs revealed that Garfunkel still has that sweet, high voice for which he’s known. It’s a breathy, rather than resonant, sound and it now has less carrying power. He sang “Homeward Bound,” “April, Come She Will,” and “Scarborough Fair” accompanied by a keyboardist and guitarist.
What changed more than Garfunkel’s voice is his appearance. In his youth he was adorable, his currency, boyish charm. That’s what the audience sought and did not get.
It was fascinating to hear the crowd turn against him. When he returned to the stage, he was greeted with loud boos. A man seated behind me shouted, “Asshole!” People obviously felt betrayed. Most came hoping to recapture their own youth; they associated Garfunkel with innocence and juvenescence, and now they saw an elderly and crotchety man. Perhaps it was a bit too much like looking in a mirror.
Garfunkel compounded the situation when he told a story about a man who attended one of his concerts in Nyack, New York. The guy sat in the second row and was texting while Garfunkel sang. “I stopped the concert,” Garfunkel said. “I told him, ‘Do you honestly think I’m not able to see how incredibly rude you are?’”
I’m with him on that point, but the audience didn’t sympathize.
“Sometimes I wonder why I’m still doing this,” he said. “But I’m a singer. That’s what I do. That’s my life.” Between songs, Garfunkel read excerpts from journal entries he wrote throughout his career. Some were interesting, such as his description of recording sessions with Paul Simon. Others were prose poems about his states of mind.
He used to sing, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” Garfunkel and his audience had changed. On her way out, one woman said, “This proves you can’t go home anymore.”
Garfunkel once summed up the meaning of “The Sound of Silence” lyrics as "the inability of people to communicate with each other.” That’s exactly what I witnessed at the Keswick.
It’s hard for me to write about this, as I’m a part of that generation and none of us likes to contemplate our aging. On the other hand, I’ve seen Garfunkel in the intervening years, and his transformation didn’t come as a shock. He sounded decent in his solo appearance at the Valley Forge Music Fair in 1996. Then, in 2003, Simon and Garfunkel appeared with the Everly Brothers at the Spectrum, and their harmonies sounded almost as good as they did in their prime years. Now, 13 years further on, I came out of curiosity and with fewer expectations than the folks who sat alongside me.
It’s doubtful if Garfunkel will be welcomed back to Glenside, but don’t cry for him. He’s on his way to engagements this month in Fayetteville, Arkansas and Minneapolis, Minnesota, then France and Germany.