Thursday, May 27, 2010

I’m So Tired of Being Lonely

When the world lost George Harrison to brain cancer on November 29, 2001, it lost the rarest of things: a rock superstar who believed in what he sang about – love, God, peace. I often bemoan the void created by the absence of his music and spirit in these trying times. It was a brisk March day in 1987 when I sat down with “The Quiet One” on a frigid wrought iron chair beside a lake, his Friar Park manse looming behind us. George was enthusiastic about Cloud Nine, his first album in five years. It was an unforgettable afternoon and my journalistic integrity was cast aside. I was a fan, nothing more, nothing less. It was all I could do not to scream.

JK: Can I ask you about Dark Horse?

GH: That’s going back a bit. Not sure what I could tell you about it now.

JK: I’ve wanted to ask you this for years. Did you ever think of redoing that whole album? Your voice was pretty ragged and the critics savaged you for it – Dark “Hoarse,” for one.

GH: Do you like those songs?

JK: Very much. I always thought they didn’t get their due because of the vocals.

GH: I was quite surprised by the savagery of the rock press at the time, but I was a target fit to be brought down, I suppose. We did make an alternate once my voice had healed, but it was too late. The songs had passed, like all things, as someone once said. (laughs)

JK: I’d love to hear it. Tell me about Cloud Nine. You’ve been gone for a while.

GH: For the last few years I’ve been writing, playing, occasionally dropping in on a concert or two. I haven’t really been gone, I just haven’t been recording. Didn’t have the desire to make product.

JK: And now?

GH: Well, two years ago I started thinking I needed to get the songs out of my head and out on an album. I began thinking of producers and Jeff immediately came to mind.

JK: Jeff Lynne.

GH: Right, Jeff Lynne. Not Jeff Beck. Good to clear that up. I knew Jeff from his days with The Move and it was clear from his ELO records that he’s something of a Beatlemaniac. I figured he would relate to me pretty well. I had Dave Edmunds, a friend of both of ours who was working with Jeff at the time, pass the word on. Which he did, and Jeff called me right away and took me up on it.

JK: Did it work out the way you hoped?

GH: Yeah, it was quite relaxed and Jeff gets the credit for that. It didn’t hurt to have some friends play on it as well – Eric Clapton, Elton, Ringo.

JK: Sounds like a pretty good band.

GH: It felt very much like a band and made me, for the first time in 20 years, remember the joy of being in a group, sharing ideas, sharing responsibilities.

JK: I figured I wouldn’t ask any Beatles questions, but, clearly, the last few years of The Beatles were pretty unpleasant for you.

GH: Definitely, and it soured me on the whole band thing. But Cloud Nine was very different in that it felt like a band, but wasn’t. Having Ringo around helped for sure. Plus, no one really cares whether I make a record or not anymore, which removes the “mania.” We just played music, had fun – no pressure on our nervous system at all.

JK: Would you be up for a group again?

GH: Ah, funny you should mention that. I was at a Dave Edmunds concert in Hollywood last month. Dave’s great. I loved his playing in Love Sculpture and am quite partial to rock and roll, which he does beautifully. Dave and I played together on Carl Perkins’ television special and we hit it off well. Singing harmonies on “Your True Love” with Dave was very enjoyable. And he produced my version of Dylan’s “I Don’t Want to Do It.” So I know Dave quite well.

JK: So you and Dave are thinking of working together.

GH: Yeah, but, wait, there’s more. After the show, I went backstage with Jeff, Lynne, not Beck. We had gone together and sat in the balcony. Well, it was like a guitar convention back there.

JK: Who else?

GH: Brian Setzer of The Stray Cats was there, who Dave had produced. Brian had joined Dave for the encore. He’s a great player, the kind of guy, like Carl, that I would have idolized back in the day. I didn’t know Brian, but I have a weakness for that rockabilly sound.

JK: Wait, wait. Are you hinting that a group may include you, Dave Edmunds, Jeff Lynne and Brian Setzer?

GH: Sort of. Do you remember Duane Eddy?

JK: Of course. Wasn’t he a big influence on you?

GH: Huge. Do you know the story of “Raunchy”? No? It was a Duane tune that Paul made me play for John on the bus. That got me in, you know, because I knew the whole thing. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is filled with Duane Eddy riffs in the verses. Give it another listen. Jeff and I worked with Duane on his new album.

JK: That is an unbelievable lineup. Five of the greatest guitarists in one band.

GH: Six, actually.

JK: Dave, Brian, Jeff, Duane and you. Did I miss someone?

GH: Dylan was there too.

JK: What?

GH: True. Bob and I have always been friends; at least I think we are. Bob is tough to read sometimes. We were hanging out in Hollywood together last month, even joined Jesse Ed Davis on stage at The Palomino Club about a week before Dave’s show.

JK: I’m almost speechless. Bob has never really played in a group, though obviously with a group, The Band.

GH: True, but he’s quite keen on it. It all fun, laid back, no hassles. I think we’ll do it well.

JK: Do you have a name?

GH: I was thinking “The Dinosaurs” or maybe “The Grandfathers.” We’re all very clean. How about “The Relics?”

JK: (laughs) All good. Will you tour?

GH: The difficult part is going to get everyone together in one room to record, let alone tour. I’m not keen on touring. Traveling will bury you.

Cloud Nine, released in November 1987, was a towering return to form by George Harrison. The sessions, produced by Jeff Lynne, sparked George’s interest in playing with a group. George, and the ersatz Traveling Wilburys above, met after a February 27, 1987 Dave Edmunds show, in which Brian Setzer appeared during the encore. A CREEM magazine photographer suggested a band of all guitar players and George seemed interested. The real Traveling Wilburys (George, Bob, Jeff, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison) would come together a few months later to record a B-Side for George. That song was “Handle with Care.”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Tune for the Taking

I hated calling Artie in Mexico. The connection was terrible; he seemed even farther away from New York than he actually was. Truth is, I didn’t want to talk to him at all. The nerve of him to take off and leave me with all the work. And to become an actor? A betrayal, that’s what it was.

“Hello?” I could barely hear him on the other end of the line.

“Hi Artie, it’s Paul.”

“Paul, how are things in New York?”

“Well, things are standing still. Roy and I are at Studio B working on the mixes. Are you coming back soon or not?”

I can tell you it was difficult to keep my anger under control. Artie had promised me, absolutely promised me, that the film shoot would take him away for only two months, three tops. Then, Mike Nichols kept him on the Catch-22 set for over four months. It was frustrating. We’d been working on the new album since, when was it, late ’68, and here I was with our engineer almost a full year later, still waiting on Art.

“Paul, I’ve already told you, I’ll stay here as long as Mike needs me. He’s the director and he calls the shots. And I’ve told you before, my acting career is good for us. It provides a balance to the partnership.”

Oh, man, I hated that superior attitude of his. It was completely unjustified. His acting career? Come on. He gets one cameo in a movie and now he’s a Hollywood star. Please.

“Are you coming back, yes or no?”

“Paul, don’t beg.”

“I’m not begging, I just want to know, one way or the other.”

“It sounds like begging, it really does.” He gave one of those sighs that always came before he was going to lecture me. He was like that when we were thirteen. I’ve hated that sound since I first heard it back in 1955.

“Paul, listen to me.” Oh boy, here it comes. “I’ll say it again. My acting is good for the identity of the group. It’s a perfect balance. On stage, you play guitar and I fiddle with my hands. Now I do something, too. You’re sounding very dependent and threatened.”

That was all I could take without yelling. So I yelled.

“Threatened? Are you joking? Threatened by you? By your acting career? Man, you’re losing it.”

I’d lost my cool and, like usual, when that happened, Artie got even more arrogant.

“Paul, I’ll be back soon and give you the help you need to finish the record.”

As if I needed his input, you know. As if he was such an important part of the music.

“For chrissakes, Artie, you’re not even on half the record because you haven’t been around. I don’t need you to help me. I just want to know if you’re coming back. If you’re not, then I’ll move forward without you.”

Silence. There, it was out. I knew I could do this alone and now he knew it too. I’ll hand it to Artie, he was unflappable, confident. “I don’t agree. You need my opinion and my voice. Yes, the songs are important but they wouldn’t be as popular without my singing and my arranging.”

“Look, Artie, people like my songs - and they are my songs. I’ll accept that the harmonies get more people to buy the records, but the songs matter most. And to be honest, I don’t care how many people listen.”

I was pretty sure I was being honest. Didn’t matter, really. This was really happening and I wasn’t about to stop it now.

“Paul, Paul, that’s not so.” Was he calling my bluff? Did he know me that well, or not at all? “As to ‘your’ songs, you know I’ve never taken a writing credit when I could have. I can write seven counter melodies an hour. It’s like breathing, Paul, very easy for me.”

“Really, Art, you think it’s that easy? As a matter of fact, I think I could do quite well without you, although I will grant you that I don’t think of myself as a singer, but as a writer.”

“You need my input, Paul, we both know that. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ you’re wrong on that one. It’s not a good song, but I have some ideas on a very grand orchestrated flourish I want to share with you and Roy when I get back.”

Typical, just typical. “That’s your taste, Artie, not mine. I don’t want it to sound like some orchestra piece. It’s a gospel song, plain and simple. As to waiting for you to get back, I’ve been trying to involve you Artie, but you’re too distracted.”

“That’s fine, I don’t want to do that song any way,” a little pout appeared in Artie’s voice.

“Yeah, well you know, that’s fine. You don’t have to do it. In fact, you don’t have to do any of them.”

You could cut the silence with a knife. I knew he didn’t see that coming, but, you know what, I was very angry. Artie had fucked me over. It’s not that he was doing movies, but that he saw doing movies as an opportunity to fuck me over. I know him. He thinks ‘Hey, I’ve always felt like a nobody. Now you’re going to be the nobody’.” We’ll see.

“I am not having a good time anymore and I don’t want to continue doing this. I’m having more fun in Mexico than I have with you. I want a rest from Paul Simon.” As if I hadn’t made that decision already. Usual Artie, thinking he was the big shot in control.

“Absolutely. This isn’t making it. That same old lie, ‘I write the songs, Artie arranges them,’ it’s bullshit and I’m not doing it anymore.”

So, that was it, really. I was free of Art Garfunkel. That much was clear. Just one more thing.

“So long Artie.” With that I hung up.

I have to say I’d forgotten Roy Halee was still sitting there, waiting for me to get off the phone. When I turned to him he was a bit shaken, seeing that Simon & Garfunkel were no longer together. Here we were, with most of the album done and Artie on a big chunk of the songs. I put my arm on Roy’s shoulder.

“Roy, show me how to wipe Artie’s vocals from these tracks.”

Despite Art Garfunkel’s demurral, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” proved to be the greatest success of Simon and Garfunkel’s career. It also was the finale, as the duo began a break from each other in 1970 following two sold out appearances at Forest Hills Stadium. There was never an official announcement of a breakup but, for nearly 40 years they have worked apart, their separation interrupted by sporadic reunions. After their 1982 reunion, a new Simon & Garfunkel album tentatively titled Think Too Much became a Simon solo effort, Hearts and Bones. Paul decided he “didn’t want Artie to paint on my painting.” In the summer of 1983, Paul called Artie on the phone to break the news that he had decided to erase all of Garfunkel’s harmonies from the tape.