Questions & Answers: Hearts and Bones and Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher public domain

Wikimedia Commons/public domain

Many have commented that 2016 was thicker than usual in celebrity deaths. But some of those deaths have felt crueler and more poignant than others. (I for one couldn’t care less whether Prince lived or died. Sue me.) The comparatively young death of Carrie Fisher has come as a particularly sad shock to cap the year off. Tributes from various friends and associates have poured in, all emphasizing her sharp wit, humor, and honesty. It’s struck me that Fisher’s distinct un-sappiness as a person has rendered this outpouring less syrupy than the usual “dead celebrity tributes” fare. She was a complicated personality with lots of hard edges and dark corners, and she spoke about those hard, dark parts of herself with disarming candor.

Some fans are just now learning that Carrie Fisher was married: once only, to rock legend Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel fame. Their stormy, whirlwind romance gets extensive treatment in Peter Ames Carlin’s new Simon bio Homeward Bound, from which some pertinent excerpts are provided here. It’s painfully sad reading. Carlin paints a vivid picture of two people who had extraordinary sympatico, yet were so deeply dysfunctional that neither one could handle the other’s pain. They shared a fierce intelligence and a melancholy bent that inevitably drew them together. There are stories of titanic fights between them that would dissolve all of a sudden because they began to laugh helplessly at each other and themselves.

However, there’s no denying that their marriage was spectacularly ill-advised. Fisher’s bipolar disorder and drug abuse weren’t things that could be pushed under the rug. They were an ever-present ball and chain. Coupled with Simon’s own ongoing depression, and topped off by a tragic miscarriage, they inexorably dragged the marriage down to its doom, a mere year later. Interestingly, it was Fisher, not Simon, who made the final decision to cut it short, no doubt believing it was best for both of them.

As is typical with such things, this wasn’t the end of the story. Simon and Fisher maintained an on-again, off-again relationship for a number of years thereafter, before Fisher once again decided to break it off for good.

Musically, some of Simon’s best work came out of this relationship, most famously the song “Graceland.” Fisher is the “she” who “comes back to tell me she’s gone, as if I didn’t know that, as if I didn’t know my own bed.” However, Simon wrote another song about their relationship that slipped through the cracks at the time: the title track for a flop project called Hearts and Bones, which has been revived as something of a cult classic in recent years. While the stature of “Graceland” is undeniable, and the track understandably more ear-catching, “Hearts and Bones” is, for my money, the deeper and more poignant lyric of the two. It traces “the arc of a love affair” between “one and one half wandering Jews” (Fisher was half-Jewish), from marriage to divorce. One might mistakenly think it was written in the wake of their separation, but eerily, it was actually written on the cusp of their marriage.

Continue reading “Questions & Answers: Hearts and Bones and Carrie Fisher”


Questions and Answers, Veterans’ Day Edition: Fortunate Sons

 Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the stars farewell.

— Sam’s song from The Return of the King


It’s been far too long since I visited this column, now several years old (catch up on past entries here if you’re new to the site). So, I’m reviving it by pairing up two songs that hold especially poignant significance for Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, or really for any day where we reflect on the costly sacrifices of our military servicemen, living and dead.

On the “Question” side, we have Bruce Hornsby’s shattering song “Fortunate Son,” based on the tragic life and death of Vietnam veteran Lewis Puller. On the “Answer” side, a song by Rich Mullins called “I’ll Carry On,” which is open to more than one interpretation but can naturally be read in the voice of a young man going to war.

Continue reading “Questions and Answers, Veterans’ Day Edition: Fortunate Sons”

Questions and Answers: As We Are Known (featuring Edie Brickell and Audrey Assad)

Loneliness is woven into the fabric of the human condition. Lifelong companionship is a gift not everyone is given, and even when they are, it still doesn’t magically make the problem of loneliness go away.

One song that deals with loneliness in an especially poignant, painful way is Edie Brickell’s “Remember Me This Way.” Written with Steve Martin and released on their joint album Love Has Come For You, it asks a painter to paint the speaker’s portrait for her. The request is almost child-like as she thinks of things to add to the picture. There’s “a happy family,” surrounded by “kids and dogs and babies.” And then, for no particular reason, “put horses and a house in the background.” By listening to what she wistfully tells the painter to put in the picture, we learn about all the things she doesn’t have: home, family, someone to love her, someone to love.

As I listen to the lyrics, I think about how many of us have met women like this. Just ordinary women, getting a little on in years, the days slipping past one by one, and nobody to share them with. “Make me look like I’m somebody. Make me a little younger than I am now. Will you please remember me? Remember me this way?”

The most heart-breaking part is the bridge. The speaker is very concerned that this not be just any painting. “Make it a work of art,” she urges, “a real sight to see.” Not just a painting, but “a real masterpiece.” Of course, not realizing that she herself is the masterpiece. The masterpiece of a human soul.

One thing more. “Don’t forget my dear companion. Put someone who loves me by my side.” And again, the refrain: “Will you please remember me? I want to be remembered this way.” Perhaps this painter is the only person who will remember her in any way.

And this is where the song leaves us, with no happy ending and no easy answers. This is because the answers aren’t easy. Life isn’t easy. Even for the Christian, life is quite often not easy. Jesus offers something different. He offers himself. We may not experience his presence in the immediate, tangible way that we would experience the presence of a loved one, but the knowledge that he knows and loves us is enough to provide hope. It is enough to provide that measure of grace, never measured in excess. It is enough to know that in the end, we may have nobody else, but we will have God. This is not a small matter.

As Audrey Assad writes in her song “Known,”

From the fall of my heart to the resurrection of my soul
You know me, God, and You know my ways
In my rising and my sitting down
You see me as I am. Oh, see me as I am.

As I am. Not as I imagine myself to be, but as I am. This is how God sees us. This is how God remembers us. This is how we are known.

Questions and Answers: For the Streetlight People

For those of you who are new to the site or can’t remember the last time I wrote an installment in this series, “Questions and Answers” explores the space where the secular touches the sacred in popular songwriting (emphasis on popular–no weird, obscure stuff here!) It is designed to help Christians think deeply about some of the most thoughtful lyrics that writers on both sides of the divide have contributed to the eternal questions: Why are we here? Who are we? What is love? Do we need to be saved? Can we be saved?

My first entry paired up a Journey song with a Steven Curtis Chapman song. Now, it seems I’m coming full circle, with another Journey song (“Don’t Stop Believin’ “) and another SCC song (“More to This Life”).

I know what you’re probably thinking (at least, if you grew up in the 80s). “Journey? Thoughtful and deep? Seriously?” This song in particular might raise such skeptical eyebrows, given its nauseating ubiquity at graduations, class reunions, and such like. It’s a fixture of American pop culture. There is no escape. (Hey, see what I did there? Escape, escape… okay never mind.) But believe it or not, I am serious. A careful listen to the lyrics apart from its fist-pumping tag will make you wonder how it ever became the go-to feel-good song for teenage America:

Strangers waiting
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Streetlight people
Livin’ just to find emotion
Hidin’ somewhere in the night

Read the rest of it in full here, divorced from the music, and you’ll see that Steve Perry’s intended message was a much more tragic, more human one than the culture realized.

Continue reading “Questions and Answers: For the Streetlight People”

Questions and Answers, Father’s Day Edition: “My Son, My Son”

In honor of Father’s Day, here’s a special entry in my too-long-neglected “Questions and Answers” series, where we examine two songs that address the human condition from two perspectives—the one without, the other with hope. Today’s topic is fatherhood. To those whose earthly fathers have brought them only pain and fear, what do we as Christians have to offer? What can we say to the person who says “Everyone I ever trusted has let me down”? The answer is that we have a heavenly Father whose word is sure and whose faithfulness endures to all generations. Continue reading “Questions and Answers, Father’s Day Edition: “My Son, My Son””

Questions and Answers: The Reason for the World (featuring Five for Fighting and Chris Rice)

Two songs that aren’t Christmas-y, but together I think they make an appropriate Christmas couplet.  In this post, we are considering nothing less than the reason for the world. I hope you will join me in the discussion. In a slight change of pace, I’ve written this article for another blog, Retuned, whose proprietor Matt Linder asked me to contribute something when he saw some of my writing. This is a young website that was created to explore all genres of music and music culture from a Christian perspective. Though he and I have amicably agreed to disagree in some respects as far as musical taste is concerned (alas, he’s partial to heavy metal and holy hip-hop and doesn’t like 90s CCM), I appreciate the opportunity to add something to his site. Click here to read, and feel free to comment here or there!

Questions and Answers: “Take Me Home,” featuring Phil Collins & Michael W. Smith

Intense stuff today. This just might be the heaviest song pair I showcase in this series. I’ve listened to these two songs back-to-back many times now, and the impact never fails to blow me away. I hope you will join me as I discuss them.

Continue reading “Questions and Answers: “Take Me Home,” featuring Phil Collins & Michael W. Smith”

Questions and Answers #2: Looking For America (featuring Simon & Garfunkel and Rich Mullins)

Today I’m going to depart a bit from the standard patriotic fare you might be reading around the blogosphere and instead offer a special entry in our ongoing “Questions and Answers” series (which I kicked off last month here). The two tunes we’ll be looking at may not be in the same vein as “God Bless the U. S. A.,” but in their own way, they are quintessentially American. I encourage you to think about the lyrics with me today, and I think by the end you may find that they are actually quite appropriate. Continue reading “Questions and Answers #2: Looking For America (featuring Simon & Garfunkel and Rich Mullins)”

Questions and Answers #1: “Faithfully” (featuring Journey and Steven Curtis Chapman)

The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words — `free-love’ — as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. — G. K. Chesterton

For our first installment of “Questions and Answers,” we will focus on love and faithfulness. The first “question” is posed in one of the most famous rock ballads of all time, Journey’s “Faithfully.” (I was playing this at the house of some friends the other week, prompting the mother to say, “You are the most retro college girl I know!”)

Now of course, this song isn’t written as a question. In fact, it’s a declarative pledge of fidelity. Still, it raises all manner of unspoken questions. Written by Journey pianist Jonathan Cain (who can be seen looking at his wife’s picture at 1:00), it’s an essentially autobiographical meditation on the pain and tensions of being a married “music man.” The singer recognizes the many ways in which the rock-star lifestyle is taking its toll on both himself and his wife, but he feels helpless to do anything about it. He can only hope that their love won’t come crashing down, that the “two strangers” they become to each other when they’re apart will never stop being able to rekindle the flame. Meanwhile, he offers a promise that one way or another, if she stands by him, he will stand by her.

Sadly, Cain and his wife went on to divorce only a few years later, demonstrating that a promise without an anchor is a very fragile thing, and a well-intentioned resolution to love without fully understanding how to love can only take you so far when a marriage is cracking. This, then, becomes the question: How? How does a man truly love a woman?

Most of you, upon seeing Steven Curtis Chapman in the title, probably thought I would use his famous wedding song “I Will Be Here” as the “answer” in this entry. I certainly could have. But I actually chose a different, less well-known song also written for his wife: “Go There With You.” It’s a little more raw, a little more urgent, and it conveys a deeper sense of pain and struggle.  In fact, at the time the performance I’m featuring was recorded, Steven’s wife had just been diagnosed with clinical depression, something she had struggled with for a long time without giving it a name. Steven’s career was at an all-time peak, but she was barely holding together through it all. The Great Adventure tour, the very tour this video comes from, was almost canceled as a result.

So even while he projected an infinitely more wholesome, put-together image than your average rock singer on the stage, Steven knew even better than most musicians how painful a life on the road could be. But he had something they didn’t, and that was a true understanding of the nature of love. He knew that the words “I love you” had to mean “something more” every time he said them, even though he’d said them a thousand times before. And he understood that love meant taking a heart that was naturally selfish, because like any human heart it belonged to a broken man, and filling it up with Mary Beth. It meant taking her joy and pain and making it his own. And at the heart of it all lies this line, “I will give myself to love, the way Love gave itself for me.” The greatest Love of all has been displayed for us in the person of Christ laying down his life for the Church. And Steven sees that this is how it must be for himself as a husband.

That is why even though depression would continue to be a way of life for Mary Beth, and even though their greatest trials still lay ahead of them, they have remained husband and wife to this day. Such is the fruit of a human love that rests on the firm foundation of Christ.