What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man

What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man

by Art Garfunkel

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Overview

"Poetic musings on a life well-livedone that is still moving forward, always creating, always luminous. This isn't your typical autobiography. Garfunkel's history is told in flowing prose, bounding from present to past, far from a linear rags-to-riches story."
—Bookreporter


"It's hard to imagine any single word that would accurately describe this book . . . an entertaining volume that's more fun to read than a conventional memoir might have been."
—The Wall Street Journal


 "A charming book of prose and poetry printed in a digitalized version of his handwriting . . . witty, candid, and wildly imaginative . . . A highly intelligent man trying to make sense of his extraordinary life."
—Associated Press

From the golden-haired, curly-headed half of Simon & Garfunkel, a memoir (of sorts)—moving, lyrical impressions, interspersed throughout a narrative, punctuated by poetry, musings, lists of resonant books loved and admired, revealing a life and the making of a musician, that show us, as well, the evolution of a man, a portrait of a life-long friendship and of a collaboration that became the most successful singing duo in the roiling age that embraced, and was defined by, their pathfinding folk-rock music.

In What Is It All but Luminous, Art Garfunkel writes about growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s (son of a traveling salesman, listening as his father played Enrico Caruso records), a middle-class Jewish boy, living in a redbrick semi-attached house on Jewel Avenue in Kew Gardens, Queens.

He writes of meeting Paul Simon, the kid who made Art laugh (they met at their graduation play, Alice in Wonderland; Paul was the White Rabbit; Art, the Cheshire Cat). Of their being twelve at the birth of rock’n’roll (“it was rhythm and blues. It was black. I was captured and so was Paul”), of a demo of their song, Hey Schoolgirl for seven dollars and the actual record (with Paul’s father on bass) going to #40 on the charts.

He writes about their becoming Simon & Garfunkel, ruling the pop charts from the age of sixteen, about not being a natural performer but more a thinker, an underground man.

He writes of the hit songs; touring; about being an actor working with directors Mike Nichols (“the greatest of them all”), about choosing music over a PhD in mathematics.

And he writes about his long-unfolding split with Paul, and how and why it evolved, and after; learning to perform on his own . . . and about being a husband, a father and much more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525564393
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/29/2019
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 455,791
Product dimensions: 4.80(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

ART GARFUNKEL attended Columbia University, where he earned a master's degree in mathematics. He performed with Paul Simon as Simon & Garfunkel from 1963 to 1970. Garfunkel, with Paul Simon, has been the recipient of six Grammys, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1990 was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Garfunkel lives in New York with his wife and two children. He continues to travel around the world giving concert performances, and since 1973 has produced twelve solo albums.

Read an Excerpt

On Saturday mornings, in 1953, in Keds sneakers, white on white, I took my basketball to P.S. 164. We played half-court ball, three on three. Or else I listened to Martin Block’s Make-Believe Ballroom on the radio. I loved to chart the top thirty songs. It was the numbers that got me. I kept meticulous lists — when a new singer like Tony Bennett came onto the charts with “Rags to Riches.” I watched the record jump from, say, #23 to #14 in a week. The mathematics of the jumps went to my sense of fun. I was commercially aware through the Hit Parade, as well as involved in the music. Johnny Ray’s “Cry,” the Crewcuts’ “Sha-boom,” Roy Hamilton ballads, “Unchained Melody” reached me. Soon the Everly Brothers would take me for The Big Ride.

As I entered Parsons Junior High where the tough kids are, Paul Simon became my one and only friend. We saw each other’s uniqueness. We smoked our first cigarettes. We had retreated from all other kids. And we laughed. I opened my school desk one day in 1954 and saw a note from Ira Green to a friend: “Listen to the radio tonight, I have a dedication to you.” I became aware that Alan Freed had taken this subversive music from Cleveland to New York City. He read dedications from teenage overs before playing “Earth Angel,” “Sincerely.” When he played Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” he left the studio mic open enough to hear him pounding a stack of telephone books to the backbeat. This was no Martin Block.

Maybe I was in the land of payola, of “back alley enterprise” and pill-head disc jockeying, but what I felt was that Alan Freed loved us kids to dance, romance, and fall in love, and the music would send us. It sent me for life. It was rhythm and blues. It was black. It was from New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia. It was dirty music (read sexual). One night Alan Freed called it “rock ’n’ roll.” Hip was born for me. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis. Bobby Freeman asked, “Do you wanna dance, squeeze and hug me all through the night?” and you knew she did.
I was captured. So was Paul. We followed WINS radio. Paul bought a guitar. We used my father’s wire recorder, then Paul’s Webcor tape machine. Holding rehearsals in our basements, we were little perfectionists. We put sound on sound (stacking two layers of our singing). With the courage to listen and cringe about how not right it was yet, we began to record.

We were guitar-based little rockers. Paul had the guitar. We wrote streamlined harmonies whose intervals were thirds, as I learned it from the Andrews Sisters to Don and Phil and floated it over Paul’s chugging hammering-on-guitar technique. It was bluesy, it was rockabilly, it was rock ’n’ roll. We took “woo-bop-a-loo-chi-ba” from Gene Vincent’s “Be-bop-a-lula.” We stole Buddy Holly’s country flavor (“Oh Boy”), the Everlys’ harmony (“Wake Up Little Susie”). Paul took Elvis’s everything (“Mystery Train”). As Paul drove the rhythm, I brought us into a vocal blend. We were the closest of chums, making out with our girls across the basement floor. We showed each other our versions of masturbation (mine used a hand). “The Girl for Me” was the first song we wrote — innocent, a pathetic “Earth Angel.” In junior high we added Stu Kutcher and Angel and Ida Pellagrini.

All the while, I did a lot of homework, the shy kid’s retreat. My geometry page was a model of perfection. Anything worth doing is worth doing extraordinarily well — why not best in the world?

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