Book Reviews

What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man (Knopf)

Art Garfunkel's train of thought

Perhaps instead of “The Singer,” vocal legend Art Garfunkel should be henceforth known as “The Wordsmith.” Garfunkel is clearly enamored with and by words, and in his unorthodox new semi-memoir, likes to manipulate language in ways designed to interpret his implications about life, love, career, and existence.

I love Art Garfunkel and always will. He is one of the few artists whom I can take completely out of a band context (i.e. Simon & Garfunkel) and still hold in high esteem, given his golden voice and rich solo work. But for being so great at molding words into descriptive thought, I am left wanting too much more. I wanted a lifetime spilled out and spelled out between 1973 and 1983; sadly this didn’t happen, even though this is the period that cements Garfunkel as one of the undeniable best at his craft.

His all-too-succinct work is the written equivalent of his modern-day live performances: a complete lyrical tale, followed by deviations into poetry and reflections and ruminations on whatever stands out in his mind. Garfunkel has stream-of-consciousness worthy of Marcel Proust or Karl Ove Knausgaard but is unfortunately too reliant on platitudes and non-sequiturs to help us better understand his life and the events that define it. But that is likely Garfunkel’s intention all along. The mysteries of his life aren’t explicitly spelled out because it proves more fruitful for us to peel back the onion layers on our own instead, to see what cooks and what stinks.

If you regard Luminous as a book of poetry or song lyrics, you’re apt to enjoy it more. While it’s fun to read Garfunkel’s reflections on standout books, James Taylor, his walks across the world, and the seemingly endless tributes to his wife and children, his content quits on us while it’s ahead. For example, his remembrances (and standout photo) of former girlfriend Laurie Bird are beautifully poignant but appear and disappear within a matter of paragraphs. Paul Simon makes occasional appearances but for anyone looking for a straightforward dramatic account of their public falling-out, you will be sorely disappointed.

Still, as Garfunkel works his way fully back to the stage after fighting vocal paresis for years, this is an optimistic testament to a life both richly lived and still impacting others, both within and outside the world of music. He may dub himself an “underground man” but even Garfunkel still brings imaginative and original thought to the literary surface at times. Perhaps, I just need to give it a second read (and chance).

—Ira Kantor

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