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.

1 comment: