This probably doesn't place me in a supermajority, but the news that Art Garfunkel had written a memoir struck me as thrilling. Finally, I thought, we'll get to read a thorough account of just how intensely he and Paul Simon loved and hated and needed and rejected each other, and why, and when, and how much, and how often.
We'd get a firsthand account of what happened when Mike Nichols cast both Simon and Garfunkel in Catch-22, and then changed his mind and fired Simon, thus hastening the duo's first breakup. Perhaps we'd even get some insight into the necrophiliac climax of Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession, the Central Park reunion, the condition of having lived long enough to stand astride multiple generations of pop culture relevance.
But Garfunkel had a different kind of memoir in mind. Actually, it's difficult to know what he had in mind, because What Is It All but Luminous is an unprecedentedly bizarre book. It's more akin to F. Scott Fitzgerald's posthumous The Crack-Up—a compilation of disconnected epigraphs, partially related thoughts, and (Garfunkel's term) "poetic bits"—than to, say, Keith Richards's Life.
Luminous lies somewhere between a mischievous subversion of rock star autobiographies and an "Oh, shit! My book's due tomorrow!" notebook scraper. There's no shortage of poem fragments, sexual braggadocio, and reading lists, but every time he gets close to being fully interested in a perspective, he digresses. Also, it's a bit hard to read because the font is a digital version of his handwriting.
He's now touring the country reading aloud from it. He tantalizes with lots of Simon, but the stories always stop short of a meaningful analysis. Maybe he can't or won't reduce their complex dynamic. When he gives voice to their mutual frustrations and eternal interdependence, he does so with rhetorical questions and enigmatic lines like "The falcon cannot hear the falconer."
It is one of those books that you want to be about one thing, only to find it insists on being about something else. A short note on page 35 makes you wonder if perhaps Luminous is more like a test balloon than a tell-all. Having described his life thus far as a two-act play, with Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970), his last album with Simon, as the act break, he finally asks and answers the question that will have been troubling any discerning reader thus far: "What is this book? It is Act II." Oh. Right. Okay.
"Someday," Garfunkel muses, "I'll write the show-off book." Which makes this one, what, exactly, one wonders? A prelude? A throat clearing? A descant? Frankly, if that's what it takes to make Garfunkel feel like singing, I am there for it. I wouldn't blame anyone else for waiting for a book that deals less glancingly with the more heroic sections of his life, but I can't deny a certain admiration for his willingness to hold a little something back in the verse. How better to make the chorus really pop?