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Tom Dunkel
October 15, 1990
Art Garfunkel is five years into a solo cross-country walk
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October 15, 1990

He's Gone To Look For America

Art Garfunkel is five years into a solo cross-country walk

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There is a flip side to 11 gold albums' worth of success: the benign curse of too much choice. Garfunkel doesn't have to do anything, so he agonizes over everything. Although his father was a traveling salesman, Garfunkel claims to have no talent for self-promotion, which more and more is a prerequisite in the music business. His last album, Lefty, was released in 1988. It got fine reviews but, he admits, "didn't really do much."

Garfunkel has resisted offers to cash in on the lucrative Atlantic City-Las Vegas circuit. It's just not the same singing "Bridge over Troubled Water" with a 14-piece orchestra behind you and Corbett Monica as an opener. As for acting, it is a love but not an addiction. Before flying to Nebraska, Garfunkel passed on a chance to costar in a TV sitcom.

He devoted most of the '80s to writing verse. A book of poetry, Still Water, was published in September '89. The poems were culled from notebook jottings made at home and on the road. Some entries are Dear Diary fare: "Marvin Gaye was shot yesterday. I'm following the Mason-Dixon line to Gettysburg." Some have been polished: "It's the not exactly knowing of the way—the map thrown away, no thruway near—that makes the setting sun the guide and makes the setting come alive."

By this day's sunset, with central Nebraska bathed in crepuscular colors, Garfunkel has conquered North Loup and is shuffling down a neat, shady street in Ord. He has ditched his hat and picked up "incipient blisters." He has new, half-size-larger sneakers, as well as a revised itinerary. He has decided to take a country lane leading to the town of Sargent. Mild delirium has struck now that he is within shouting distance of 24.7 miles.

"What will the history books want to record?" says Garfunkel, conversing with himself. "In grade school readers you'll have the Dred Scott case and The Walk. People will go, 'What other walk was there?' 'Oh, Lewis and Clark!'—[who made a similar trek] 'Well, that's an exploratory thing. The Walk is the famous Garfunkel walk of the 1980s and '90s.' " Left-right, left-right, left-right. Stop!

He calls it quits for the day after 24.9 miles. The decimal-point precision appeals to him. It has, he notes, "a polevault feeling." He has improved his personal best by .2 of a mile. There is a snippet of Garfunkel verse (notebook entry No. 644: yes, he numbers his notes, too) that applies to such moments of solitary joy: "I am a sneaker in the schoolyard, white on white, a Keds/I am a high school on the twentieth of June."

Lipson is parked by the roadside. Garfunkel drops into the front seat of the car. Motel-bound, they drive by the local Elks lodge, a golf course and a neighborhood of cozy houses. "All right, it's not France," says Garfunkel. "But it's a nice country."

On Sunday, Garfunkel is up early, feeling surprisingly spry. Before resuming The Walk, he pays his respects at the Grover Cleveland Alexander historical marker. The monument makes mention of the 373 career wins, the 90 shutouts and the 1952 biographical film in which "the baseball immortal was played by Ronald Reagan." Garfunkel is more impressed by a reference to Alexander's "pinpoint control." It connotes a finicky presence on the mound, a kindred spirit.

Sadly, Alexander never gained such masterly control of his private life. After the limelight had dimmed and his glorious baseball days were over, he suffered from epilepsy and became St. Paul's best-known drunk, and died at 63. Take heed: Fame can be a steamroller, so the wise keep moving. Which may be why Mr. Question Mark is back on virgin road within the hour—eyes open, back to the sun—walking into the future. Left-right, left-right, left-right.

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