Paul Simon – Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War
My parents didn’t own many albums that weren’t of the classical sort. In their entire vinyl collection, the only popular music I can remember them owning was The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Rolled Gold by the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, and Greatest Hits Etc, by Paul Simon. I wasn’t allowed to touch the record player, following an incident with some glue and a small rubber ball that left a permanent mark on the lid, but if there was music to be played I always asked for something with Paul Simon in it (I never had any time for the Beatles or Stones as a child and slightly shamefully still don’t). I particularly adored The Boxer (that thunderclap has somehow never sounded so epic on CD as it did on my dad’s record player) and Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.
This would be the late 1970s, so as far as I was concerned all this music was absolutely ancient – despite a lot of it being far newer than, say, Sound of the Underground is now. But when you’re rifling through your parents’ record collection as a six year old it might as well be from another century. So for that reason I always associated Paul Simon with a bygone age – it was my parents who later bought Graceland, and even though I adored it (and to this day can lip-sync to every word of You Can Call Me Al), he still very much belonged to them. It wasn’t until 1988 – when I bought Negotiations and Love Songs 1971-1986 on cassette – that I felt like he was just as much mine as theirs. And it was there that I discovered the songs that led me to the Hearts and Bones album and in particular the gorgeous, gorgeous Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War.
Sometimes you can fall in love with a song without having a clue what it’s about. Appallingly, I don’t think I even found out who Magritte was until 1992, when Thomas Dolby nicked “ceci nest pas une pipe”for the sleeve of Close But No Cigar. Honestly, I’d know nothing without pop. So at the time this just became one of my favourite songs for late night summer headphone listening, imagining myself strolling down Christopher St like Rene and Georgette. The meaning of the words perhaps eluded me, but something about them made me impossibly sad (which of course made me impossibly happy), in particular the line “When they wake up they will find / all their personal belongings have intertwined” – such a lovely way of evoking a grand, weathered romance that it makes me well up every time.
Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War also served as my introduction to doo-wop, which had hitherto escaped my notice, there not being much of a doo-wop scene in Dumfries. I certainly didn’t know about the Pale Moons, the Orioles or the Five Satins – that would all become clear much later. I just knew I loved it.
Hearts and Bones was of course Paul Simon’s huge gigantic flop, but not I think due to any quality issues. Granted, I wouldn’t have picked Allergies as the first single (or indeed as a single at all) – it should really have been the title track, which is one of his very best songs. I reckon the problem was 1983 itself. Hearts and Bones was swept away by a tidal wave of new wave, and it made Paul Simon seem as archaic as I thought he was back when I was little, hovering by my dad’s record player. Still, everyone needs a flop at some point, and when he returned in 1986 with Graceland he was bigger than ever. Though obviously still quite short.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? It would be a brave person who tried, wouldn’t it, readers? But – and I swear I’m not choosing her for everything this year – imagine Beyoncé and Bruno Mars doing this as a duet at the Grammys.
Fantastic song from my favourite Paul Simon album. Great writing, thank you.