The Heart of “The Heart of the Matter”

The local Kroger’s supermarket played Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” earlier this evening. Henley wasted that song. It runs a bloated five minutes, 21 seconds. Cut the pretentious, meandering crap out of the lyrics, strip down the arrangement, and add a gospel feel, and you’d have sub-three minutes of beautifully mournful longing.

You might find that hard to believe. For you, “The Heart of the Matter” might be too permeated with the stench of 1990.

But me…when I hear, “The more I know, the less I understand / All the things I thought I figured out, I have to learn again,” the regret and pain moves me. If only I didn’t have to endure so much musical mediocrity to get there.

I’m not a musician. I can trim the lyrics, but I can’t re-write the song’s arrangement, program a Casio, and post a WAV file; and you need the tune to feel the words. With that caveat, here are my shortened lyrics:

I got the call today, I didn’t wanna hear
But I knew that it would come
An old true friend of ours was talkin’ on the phone
She said you found someone
And I thought of all the bad luck,
And the struggles we went through
And how I lost me and you lost you
What are these voices outside love’s open door
Make us throw off our contentment
And beg for something more?

I’m learning to live without you now
But I miss you sometimes
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
But everything changes
And my friends seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

[instrumental break]

I’m learning to live without you now
But I miss you, baby
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I figured out, I have to learn again
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
Because the flesh will get weak
And the ashes will scatter
So I’m thinkin’ about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

(All lyrics © Woody Creek Music (administered by WB Music Corp.) / Wild Gator Music ASCAP / EMI-Blackwood Music Inc. BMI)
Yes, it’s repetitious. It’s pop music.

I like that repetition, though, and the way that Henley evolves what gets weak and what scatters, so that each verse becomes sadder than the last; sadder because the numbing shock is wearing off and the singer is calling on the depth he has for the strength and faith to see past his pain to what can redeem it.

No, it’s not Eliot. It’s pop music.

Are the last four lines of the first verse pretentious and weak? Perhaps, but I hear a charming piss-elegance in them; besides, they’re immortal poetry compared to the rambling crap I cut out.

No, it’s not Cole Porter. It’s pop…erm…

Anyway, I don’t want to be too hard on Don Henley. The man gave us “Dirty Laundry”. Eminem’s made a career out of tell-it-like-it-is brutality, and he can’t even match the ex-drummer of The freakin’ Eagles at it.

I just wish the old, gassy Texan had worked as hard on “The Heart of the Matter”.
(This post is dedicated to Mark Hasty, who is a musician, as well as a happy father-to-be.)

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3 Responses to “The Heart of “The Heart of the Matter””

  1. Gil Says:

    Oddly enough, one late night coming back down from Dallas, I heard that song and just started singing along with it (God, someone shoot me). I must say that I was shocked that I remembered the lyrics at all.

  2. Mark Hasty Says:

    You know, that may be the only Don Henley song that I can tolerate, a little. But you’re right, Steve; it could have been better if it weren’t so LA-crufty.

    None of this excuses Henley for his involvement in “Take It To The Limit,” however.

  3. The Bemusement Park Says:

    COOK’S CHOICE

    Editorial note: At my school growing up, “Cook’s Choice” was the code word on the lunch menu for “We don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re going to get.” It usually wound up being some sort of patty-shaped meat object…

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