As the publicity machine that's promoting his new album, The Singer, winds into high gear across the United States, Art Garfunkel is walking. And then walking some more. Specifically, he's walking across Europe.
"I'm in northern Greece," he says by phone. "Heading down toward Thessaloniki. It's an unusual choice. There are mountains. Very pretty, but nobody comes here."
Garfunkel is a long-distance walker. Over the course of 10 years beginning around 1995, he walked clear across the United States, one segment at a time. A few years later he began a similar trek in a generally southeastern direction across Europe, starting in Ireland.
"I'm an athlete on a mission!" he says, apologizing for his fatigue, which he seems to believe is more audibly noticeable than it actually is. Those who haven't heard Garfunkel speak in recent years are sometimes surprised by the robust, FM radio announcer quality of his voice. But listen to his two newly recorded songs on The Singer — a double-disc career retrospective — and there's no mistaking the ethereal, lighter-than-air quality that he's brought to his music from the earliest days of Simon & Garfunkel.
It's all the more remarkable when you consider that Garfunkel, who smoked most of his life, has in recent years been battling vocal cord paresis — a condition that forced him to back out of a planned Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunion tour two years ago.
In fact, just three weeks before our chat, Garfunkel says, he'd been fighting the condition while recording those tracks for the new album.
"I was struggling very hard," he says.
At 70, Art Garfunkel has had to face the possibility that his unmistakable voice of an angel is taking flight.
"When I was 5 or 6 years old," he says, "I listened to my own voice and I went, 'Jeez, I have been given a gift here. This is special. I'm sticking with it.'
"So now it's very scary. The notion that it might not come back, that I might have lost my voice, is unacceptable," and you can almost hear his smile as he recognizes the obvious understatement.
"It stares at me like the Grim Reaper, saying 'Well, pal, little pieces of you are gonna go, you'd better get used to it.' Regaining my voice is my obsession."