The songs called out from decades past, from radios, from turntables, from the pop culture consciousness.
Art Garfunkel had sung them with his former musical partner, Paul Simon. He had sung them on his own. For a time, he had not sung at all, having suffered vocal paralysis nearly a decade ago.
On stage at Rocky Mount's Harvester Performance Center on Tuesday night, the 78-year-old singer called forth such Simon & Garfunkel classics as "Scarborough Fair," "Homeward Bound" and "The Sound of Silence." He sang music from his own catalog, including "All I Know" and "Perfect Moment," all of which delighted a sold-out crowd of about 400.
His voice, while not the near-perfect instrument of decades past, was compelling, full to overflowing with soul and experience, with plenty of air behind it. He had a ringer, though — his son, Art Garfunkel Jr. He called on the 29-year-old scion early in the first of two sets, then walked off to stage right while the younger man sang a Simon & Garfunkel chestnut, "Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m."
"I'm a proud papa. He's the one with the singing voice, now, but I'm the one with the hits," Garfunkel said after walking back on stage, soon to lead backing musicians Tab Laven (guitar) and Paul Beard (keyboards) — on another one of those hits, "The Boxer."
Father called on son for several more numbers, moving the audience when they put their arms around each other and shared a microphone on the close harmonies of Everly Brothers' classics "Devoted To You" and "Let It Be Me." Garfunkel Jr. scored on his own with interpretations of crooner classics "Smile" and "That's Amore." The young man has a well-trained and legitimately good set of pipes, with control of major spookiness at the high end.
Garfunkel didn't attempt to revive the spirit of Simon & Garfunkel harmonies, though his son joined him for part of "Homeward Bound." Instead, he lightly improvised single-note versions of their classic choruses.
When he wasn't singing, Garfunkel was reading from his poetry book and from his 2017 autobiography, "What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man." Of the latter, he joked that the subtitle was a Dostoevsky ripoff, though it could have referenced the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame duo's "A Poem on the Underground Wall."
From the autobiography, he read a passage that seemed to reference Simon. "Authorship may be trumpeted. It may be declared. It may be declined," he read aloud. That flowed into lines about Garfunkel's father, who had turned his 5-year-old son onto Enrico Caruso, via a Victrola phonograph record player, creating a love for such music that now lives on his iPod. "Your beautiful musical soul is the author of mine," he said.
In a nod to his more recent musical history, he read from the autobiography about a meeting with his publicist, who suggested he take to Twitter, to meet his audience "where it's at."
"If I'm to be a tweeter now then cut a hole in the seat of my trousers," Garfunkel read. "Give me feathered tail. All is fashion, shame for sale."
Reading from his 1989 book, "Still Water Prose Poems," he wondered why he couldn't instead be a goldsmith, creating a deeply detailed battle scene on a pinky ring, "and not have to sing these nuances, inviting angels on to the head of a pin."
He admitted that he couldn't imaging not singing for people, and that he loved his work on stage. He has found unique ways to express that need, now that he is not the singer of decades past. In Rocky Mount, he found an audience that loved it.
The crowd endured Garfunkel's rules for the show, including no leaving your seat during either of the two sets, even for a restroom break. Each set was less than 45 minutes, with a long break between. With all the laughing and the standing ovation at the end, it appeared no one was too bitter about it.