Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Hearts and Bones," by Paul Simon

Paul Simon is a marvel. He has written and performed legendary song after legendary song over the past 40-plus years, while putting out startlingly few actual solo albums in the process: only ten original albums in that timeframe, including two soundtrack albums. That’s approximately one album every four years…way too few for such an iconic and consistently significant musician. Paul Simon’s albums continue to be compelling and progressive, moving forward without getting lost in embarrassing fads and experimentalization.

From these precious few albums, many Simon songs have worked their way into the pantheon of rock and roll classics. First, there’s the unequalled output from his partnership with Art Garfunkel, and beyond that, there’s his remarkable run of hits from the 1970’s, including, “Mother And Child Reunion,” “Loves Me Like A Rock,” “Still Crazy After All These Years,” and the tongue-in-cheek break-up song, “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” And for those who were paying attention, there was Simon’s thrilling mid-80’s “comeback,” Graceland, which featured the top 40 hit, “You Can Call Me Al,” ubiquitous in the spring and summer of 1987, due in part, no doubt, to the silly Chevy Chase cameo in the video, followed by the amazing and almost as big, “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.” Sadly, though, few remember one of Simon’s very best albums, 1983’s riveting and poignant, Hearts and Bones. It’s overlooked partly, because it came after his 1970’s solo heyday and before his aforementioned mid-80’s world music resurgence. It was also ignored because it came out the year Thriller ruled the world and forever changed the tide of pop music, closing the coffin on too many 1970’s pop icons.

The overarching theme of Hearts and Bones is all love, all the time, and in the Simon tradition, the album approaches the topic from a melancholy perspective. For example, Simon’s heart is literally allergic to the women he loves in “Allergies,” the lead track and the only near top-40 hit from the album. Next, Simon mournfully ponders the past and future of love with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Carrie Fisher, in the heartsick title track, and later in the album, he thinks way too much about shaping perfect love in the companion songs, “Think Too Much (a) and (b),” where he sings, “But maybe I think too much, and I ought to just hold her, stop trying to mold her…” The former was released as a single in early 1984 and failed miserably in the wake of heinous radio hits from that year, like “Flashdance” (What A Feeling!), “Ghostbusters,” and “Islands In The Stream.”

In other places, Hearts and Bones looks into its crystal ball to forecast living and loving in the new millennium, like on “When Numbers Get Serious,” where Simon foretells the pending internet age of quick results, online dating, and web-based, virtual relationships with extraordinary accuracy. “Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” is a beautiful tribute to both the abstract artist, Rene' Magritte, and Simon’s beloved vocal groups of the doo-wop era: The Penguins, The Moonglows, etc. My favorite song on this classic Simon album, however, is the haunting, “The Late-Great Johnny Ace,” which discusses the (then) recent and horrific death of John Lennon, juxtaposing the tragedy with the death of early rocker, Johnny Ace, by self-inflicted gun shot to the head. Simon introduced the song at the Central Park concert in 1981 and was nearly assaulted on stage near the end of the song, apparently by an angered/crazed Lennon fan, who was quickly pulled away from Simon just inches before the attack: a strange response to a song, where Simon’s genuine love for Lennon is palpably displayed. No good deed goes unpunished, as they say...

Originally, Paul Simon had other intentions for this magnificent album about love and loss. It was initially meant to repair an old friendship, reportedly to be the long-awaited Simon and Garfunkel reunion album (which is never going to actually happen, by the way; it's not, so stop hoping for it already...) to follow their highly acclaimed reunion concerts two years before. Early on, the album was also going to be titled, “Think To Much,” but after thinking too much, old conflicts resurfaced between the duo, and they parted ways once again. Simon erased Garfunkel’s vocals, turned further inward, and made a stunningly personal album which autopsied friendships, current events, the future, and love affairs that ultimately come to regretful ends, finally and fittingly naming this one Hearts and Bones.

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