For the better part of the last four years, one of pop's great vocalists, Art Garfunkel, had been silenced by a mysterious and debilitating ailment called vocal paresis. Now, however, the famed singer says he's regained "96 percent" of his vocal ability.
"I'm in a state of ecstasy," the 72-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer tells Rolling Stone in a new interview. "The voice has come back, slowly, slowly. I did 49 shows through 2013 and the audiences have grown in size…For the last two dozen shows I can say I'm pretty much there."
Garfunkel explains that his problems began in January 2010 after he choked on a piece of lobster while dining out with his son. He noticed some muscle strain in his neck, and his speaking voice was hoarse, and then he discovered that his singing range was affected. A trip to the doctor revealed that one of his vocal cords was larger and stiffer than the other. His physician used the term "paresis" to describe the condition.
Garfunkel's vocal problems led to the cancellation of a U.S. tour that he and his old singing partner, Paul Simon, had planned for the summer of 2010. Art says his recovery was extremely slow and frustrating. While trying to regain his voice he would do vocal exercises given to him by singer/songwriter Stephen Bishop, and would sing along to recordings by James Taylor, J.J. Cale, The Everly Brothers, Chet Baker as well as to his own material.
"These singers are perfect training wheels if you unison to them," he explains.
Garfunkel also began booking gigs at very small venues with little or no advertising, and he developed a show that combined Q&A sessions and recital of his prose poems with some musical performances.
By last year he noticed that his voice had gained most of its former strength, which led him to book a wide variety of shows this year at U.S. theaters. His current itinerary runs through a March 22 appearance in Chicago.
About regaining his voice, Art says he feels "grateful to God," adding, "I really didn't know if I'd ever sing again. I don't know who I am if I can't sing."
He's now hopeful that he and Paul Simon will eventually schedule a new tour, but admits that the ball is in Simon's court.
"It takes two to tango," he tells Rolling Stone. "I don't want to be the blushing bride waiting for Paul Simon to walk down the aisle."
Art admits that he felt "really happy" at the end of the 2009 Simon and Garfunkel's tour of the Far East that took place before his vocal troubles started. He adds that another outing with Simon "sits there as a potential thrill" for him.
"I know that audiences all over the world like Simon and Garfunkel," he declares. "I'm with them. But I don't think Paul Simon's with them."
Of his complicated relationship with Simon, which dates back 60 years, Garfunkel says, "We are indescribable. You'll never capture it. It's an ingrown, deep friendship. Yes, there is deep love in there. But there's also s**t."
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