Feb. 20, 2014 at 10:32 AM ET
Simon and Garfunkel's headlining set at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was one of the most difficult two hours of Art Garfunkel's life. A couple of months earlier, he started to experience major vocal problems, and when he launched into the opening of "A Hazy Shade of Winter" he was barely able to squeeze out a note. "It was just terrible," he says on the phone from his New York apartment. "I was terrible, and crazy nervous. I leaned on Paul Simon and the affection of the crowd. It was the beginning of bravery."
It was also the beginning of a four year struggle to regain one of the most beautiful voices in rock history. For a couple of years it seemed like Garfunkel would never sing again, let alone hit the high notes on "Bridge Over Troubled Water." But Art spent the last few years workshopping in a Harlem theater and playing underground gigs where the crowd was instructed to not take a photo or send out a single tweet. Slowly, his voice came back and Garfunkel now says he's 96 percent recovered — and he even sings a few bars of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to prove it. He's booked an extensive American theater tour this year, and he hopes that Paul Simon will agree to another Simon and Garfunkel tour at some point in the future.
Do you remember when you first noticed problems with your singing voice?
The end of January 2010. Things were going along great at the time. I had done 15 years worth of live shows with my band. I had moved my singing basically to the stage instead of the recording studio. At the end of January I did a show in Nicaragua. I brought my son. We did what you call a "private." That means they pay you well so do you a show at Mr. Gomez's poolside.
The show was great and everything seemed fine. I hit the high notes on "Bridge" real good. I don't think there was trouble. I came home and a few days later I went to the Palm restaurant, where they have great lobsters. I was with my son and I choked on one of the larger strands of lobster. That can send you into a near-panic state if it's bad enough. All seemed to be okay, but a couple of days later I started to find that the swallowing muscle was numb. For the rest of the week I was speaking real hoarse and I couldn't quite swallow properly.
When I went to a doctor, they put a snake down my throat with a camera to check things out. They said, "Yeah, one of your two vocal chords is stiffer and fatter than the other one." So I had to assume that therein lies the issue because it was in approximately the same time period (as the two incidents). That says it all to me.
That must have been terrifying.
Tragic. As the weeks ensued, I saw that I couldn't finesse my singing in the mid-range. I could do the high notes and the low notes. High notes are my stock in trade, thank God. But I couldn't sing, "When you're weary, feeling small." I couldn't do anything in the middle where you need that finesse. It's indescribable. I was crude instead of fine.
And you had a tour booked that summer with Simon and Garfunkel.
Did I? You would know better than I would. We had come back half a year earlier from the Far East. It was a glorious success. I was into it. I just loved that two-hours-and-seven-minute set. It was the same one we did in America, but this time without the Everly Brothers. And we did a few of my own songs within the Simon and Garfunkel set like "Bright Eyes" and "A Heart in New York," songs that I love. I had big eyes to do more and more and more. And we started talking about doing that in America in 2010.
What happened after Jazz Fest when it was clear you couldn't play a show?
I don't know. Did we have a pizza that night?
I mean, the rest of the tour dates were postponed indefinitely. What plan of action did you put into place to try and recover?
Put that part about the pizza in the article. After that, I don't remember exactly. I remember that plans were in suspension. I was working with manager John Scher in those days. John was very keen to get me on my feet sooner rather than later. People love to make their quarterly profits in this quarter, not the next. So the pressure of, "I think you're ready, let's book you," was a goad that was not fair to proper healing.
Read the rest of the interview on RollingStone.com.
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