WILKES-BARRE — When the legendary Art Garfunkel gives a concert, he’s sure to perform “The Sound of Silence” and other favorites that fans have been humming for more than 50 years.
“I never tire of any of them,” Garfunkel, 76, said last week during a telephone interview with the Times Leader. “‘Scarborough Fair’ is still running through me, and I’m forever refining the life of a song and finding a new way to do it better. My next ‘Homeward Bound’ will be better than my last ‘Homeward Bound.’”
The golden-voiced performer, set to appear at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on May 8, estimates he spends 70 percent of a concert singing and 30 percent talking to his audience.
“It’s not so much reminiscing,” he said. “Just chatting. I’ve become a writer now.”
Garfunkel’s 2017 memoir, “What Is It All but Luminous,” describes a fascinating life, starting with a New York City boyhood that seems both rambunctious and sublime.
“I was a scrappy kid,” he said, explaining that, because he was one of the youngest of the 13 boys in his neighborhood who regularly played ball in the street, he’d be the one sent down a manhole to retrieve a ball that got away.
The sublime part was his singing, which made grown men cry and attracted a standing-room-only crowd to his bar mitzvah. “I had the blond curls and the voice and I had the gumption to get up on stage and show it, which made me kind of popular,” he said.
His voice also caught the attention of his schoolmate, Paul Simon, whom he met during their grade-school graduation play, “Alice in Wonderland,” which featured Simon as the White Rabbit and Garfunkel as the Cheshire Cat.
They recorded their first song, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” in 1957, when they were still teenagers and eventually became one of the most successful folk duos of the 1960s.
“Paul has always been a very different fellow from me,” Garfunkel said, declining to say more about his one-time partner.
An easier topic to discuss is Garfunkel’s zest for walking, 15 to 20 miles a day, which gives him “time to think, time to write, time to empty myself.”
Describing a system that has enabled him to walk “from eastern Ireland to Istanbul” as well as from the East Coast of the United States to the West Coast, Garfunkel said he and a friend will fly to a city and rent a car. Garfunkel will spend the day walking, anonymously, along rural roads and side streets that run parallel to Main Streets, until he meets up with his friend and gets a ride to the night’s lodgings.
The next day, he’ll start walking where he stopped the day before.
“After a week and a half of this, I’ll go home and my wife (Kathryn, also known as Kim) will say, ‘You look so refreshed.’”
Walking as much as he does has given Garfunkel a feel for the land, helping him realize as he ventured from St. Louis toward Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, that the Great Plains aren’t exactly flat.
“When you leave the Mississippi there is a very slow rising of the grade,” he said. “You slowly feel the rise until you reach the Rockies.
“When I’m walking out there, I get a spiritual flush,” he added. “I start tearing up a little over how wonderful it is to be alive. My eyes are a little blurry as I look around.”
Now in his mid-70s, Garfunkel is keenly aware of mortality.
“Stuff happens to all of us,” he said, suggesting that “the smart man embraces the arc of life.”
Still, he said, he recognizes his friend Jack Nicholson had a point when he recently told Garfunkel, “Arthur, you must not accommodate the end. If death has another plan, let it catch you by the feet while you’re busy with something else.”
Garfunkel does keep busy. He said he’s enjoying life with his wife, “my beautiful Kim,” and is very proud of their sons, Arthur Jr., “who’s 27 and is a magnificent singer” and Beau, who is in sixth grade, “at an age when you just explode in your personhood.”
He’s also enjoying his stage appearances.
“I’m finally able to really love my audiences like never before,” he said. “It seems to me we burn with the enthusiasm of what we do as we get older. Maybe it’s mortality, whispering behind our shoulder: ‘Get it on now. If not now, when?’”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.