What is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man by Art Garfunkel

Sometimes we can discover a weird but special relationship a person can have to certain music that affects us on levels that maybe we were never consciously aware.  Sometimes those lines of connections make the songs even more special than they were before.

I grew up on early rock and roll.  I was raised on Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Everly Brothers.  I was often surrounded by the music of Simon and Garfunkel, who were inspired by those greats.  Later on, I forged an immediate and special connection with the music of Sarah McLachlan, who was in turn similarly inspired by the likes of Simon and Garfunkel.  It’s all part of the tapestry of sound and that somehow invades our hearts and our imaginations.  With the possible exception of my tone deaf father who is immune by his own admission, music has an effect on us, and it’s inevitable that sooner or later we’ll want to discover the people behind the music.

In 2004, I got to see Simon and Garfunkel in their Old Friends tour, which featured Don and Phil Everly.  All four were in top form, as though time had spared them vocally.  It’s an experience I’ll not forget.  But time marches on.  In 2010, Art Garfunkel had throat problems that could have potentially ended his career.  I can’t personally fathom that kind of soul crushing heartbreak, nor the fight it took to reclaim his voice against all odds.  But he did it.  Rolling Stone featured an interview on Feb 19, 2014, that discusses this.  Only weeks before, the world lost Phil Everly, so even among triumph, there is still some tragedy.  Later that year, I would see a very different Garfunkel performing solo in a much more intimate venue.  As described in the above article, the show consisted of himself and a lone guitarist.  He sang very nearly in top form, though you could feel the struggle to do so.  In between sets, he waxed poetic in a mix of spoken word free verse, nostalgia, and stream of consciousness.  It was the sort of thing that proved just how much of his heart went into his vocals.  It was a brutal reminder that time marches on, but at the same time, it was a quiet testament to the triumph of the human spirit.  That’s why I remember it as vividly as I do.

When surfing through the advance pages of preorders on Audible, I came across this memoir, read by the author.  I dropped my credit without thinking twice about it.  When it finally became available in my queue, I found myself wondering if it would be a straight up memoir of the kind written by so many celebrities, or if it would be akin to what I heard on that stage in 2014.  Within minutes of pushing play, I learned it was decidedly the latter.  You see, what’s in this isn’t so much a memoir as a collection of poetry with the central theme of a life well lived, with some prose notes inserted to add some context.  It’s simply how Art Garfunkel expresses himself, in terms of lyrical verse, perhaps on a plane more connected to something that the rest of us may or may not readily understand.  For those with ears to hear, this is the core of music: the soul of an artist who has taken full stock his life, his friendships, his influences, the music he loves, the books he’s read, the ups and downs of his world, the diversity of his career, and all else that comprises who he is.  The result comes across less like the kind of folk rock he’s most associated with and more like jazz heavily influenced by the great authors of literature.  For those with poetry in their souls and a willingness to engage with it, this one is as luminous as the title suggests.

5 stars

2 thoughts on “What is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man by Art Garfunkel

  1. I love such artists so much! Those who put their heart and soul into their music, and you feel it through their songs. They might not be the biggest artists out there but over years I’ve noticed that I’m more drawn to those rather small-scale bands who play intimate shows as their audience is small and who make albums showing their personalities, struggles, feelings. They never aim for radio coverage or glossy magazines, but remain genuine and true to themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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