“Years ago, there were tribes that roamed the earth, and every tribe had a magic person,” the late Carrie Fisher writes in her memoir Wishful Drinking released in 2008. “Well, now, as you know, all the tribes have dispersed, but every so often you meet a magic person, and every so often, you meet someone from your tribe. Which is how I felt when I met Paul Simon.”
Anyone who has read Kurt Vonnegut’s masterful Cats Cradle will identify that sentiment as Fisher recognising that Simon was a member of her ‘karass’. For those who haven’t read it, then allow Vonnegut’s prose to explain: “If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reason, that person may be a member of your karass.”
Simon and Fisher’s lives were about as tangled and logical as a dissolvable fishing net. Their off-and-on romance was one that by all means should’ve resided in a sitcom, but it didn’t, and the human comedy it underpins is far less laughable as result. Over the course of their 12-year relationship, their tempestuous romance went from dating to split, then to engaged, split once more, missed a step and ended up dishing out matrimony vows, divorced, then dating once again, until they finally acquiesced to a fate that seemed tragically predestined.
As Peter Ames Carlin, the author of Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon, writes: “Once they saw each other, no one else mattered to either of them. Carrie added velocity to [Paul’s] life, a kind of wild energy that often set him alight and sometimes made him scream.” Thus, we return once more to our noble sage, the late great Mr Vonnegut, who adds to his humorous karass musings: “We Bokononists believe that humanity is organised into teams, teams that do God’ Will without ever discovering what they’re doing… The karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries. It is as free-form as an amoeba.”
In short, there is no logical link behind the dispersed members of your tribe, and the fact Fisher and Simon were like two parts of a puzzle that belonged together but never quite tessellated nicely enough to withstand the tethered pulls of life itself is testimony to this. By all accounts, their relationship was always loving, but it was pitted by tragic circumstances and various puncturing potholes on memory lane.
This relationship was defined beautifully in Paul Simon’s masterful ode to Fisher with ‘Hearts and Bones’, an anthem which he describes as “a better song” than ‘The Sound of Silence’. With wedding vows on his mind, he wrote: “Two people were married, the act was outrageous, the bride was contagious.” He later reflected in an interview with Paul Zollo, “That was one of my best songs. It took a long time to write it and it was very true. It was about things that happened. The characters are very near to autobiographical. It’s probably the only track that I really like on that album.”
He later adds that this personal switch towards more autobiographical lyrics brough about his songwriting zenith. “In Hearts and Bones the language starts to get more interesting. The imagery started to get a little interesting,” he states. “And that’s what I was trying to learn to do, was to be able to write vernacular speech, and then intersperse it with enriched language, and then go back to vernacular. So the thing would go along smoothly, then some image would come out that was interesting, then it would go back to this very smooth, conversational thing. So that was a technique that I was learning… I don’t know where it came from.”
In the end, what we are left with is a track of honeyed belle that seemed to prognosticate the bittersweet arc of their love affair very clearly. Thus, despite the prickly pastures it stands within, it is a patch of beauty that remains untouched by torment. As Fisher would remark in an interview in 2016, shortly before her passing, “I do like the songs he wrote about our relationship. Even when he’s insulting me, I like it very much.”
Very few sentiments could be as befitting of their relationship as that, and no song in Simon’s back catalogue delineates that with as much clarity as ‘Hearts and Bones’. It is an account of their love run through the fictional filter of mellowed nostalgia. The song abides by what Vonnegut writes: “Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”