Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Music: Are you ready for that? Driving your car down a desert highway listening to the seventies and eighties rise like zombies from the rippling sand? I hope so.

Mimsy Review: Matters of the Heart

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, September 22, 2002

If these are the things that dreams are made of, why don’t I dream any more?

Matters of the Heart was released in 1992, and when it came out I didn’t really get it. The opening song, bang bang bang, is a brilliant description of the dangers of prohibition, how it fosters violence among children. I didn’t get this then, because I supported prohibition.

ArtistTracy Chapman
Length44 minutes
Album Rating7
1. Bang Bang Bang 4:22
2. So 3:27
3. I Used To Be A Sailor 3:58
4. The Love That You Had 4:11
5. Woman’s Work 2:03
6. If These Are The Things 4:41
7. Short Supply 4:24
8. Dreaming On A World 5:04
9. Open Arms 4:35
10. Matters of the Heart 6:59

Prohibition, whether it is alcohol, marijuana, other drugs, or firearms, creates a lucrative black market for that item. The money then creates violent gangs to market the items, and the gangs become organized just as the mafia did. And then the youth in the communities most affected by prohibition see where the money is, see where success is, and emulate that. Prohibition ensures that all children know exactly where to go to acquire the prohibited item. It also ensures that the seller cares nothing for laws that might prohibit selling to children (“give ‘em drugs and give ‘em candy”). Then, we try to crack down on a lucrative market that we’ve created. This only fosters more violence. We create an environment where violence is not only encouraged, but is necessary.

We don’t care, necessarily, as long as the violence stays is “those” neighborhoods. “If he preys only on his neighbors, brothers, sisters, and friends, we’ll consider it a favor. We’ll consider justice done.”

But when the violence spills over into the nice neighborhoods, we call on the police to not only shoot the violent, but to shoot anyone that looks like them. We serve violent warrants on the “wrong” apartment. But it isn’t the wrong apartment, all of the apartments in that area contain undesirables. “Bang bang bang, we shoot him down.” There will come a time when we cannot contain the violence that prohibition causes. We already see it in some neighborhoods, some “isolated incidents”. The longer we enforce the violence of prohibition, the harder it becomes to “bridge the gulf between”.

Violence in support of prohibition breeds only more violence. “And if he finds himself to be a reflection of us all, bang bang bang, he’ll shoot us down.”

Other highlights from this album include “I Used to Be a Sailor” and “Woman’s Work”. In “Sailor”, she sings “I used to be a sailor..., but now I’m just an island, since they took my boat away from me. I don’t like being stationary. I like the rocky wavy motions of the sea.” With her boat gone (and I don’t even begin to claim to understand what the boat stands for), she is now locked behind “padded walls, hoping one day they’ll fall.” And I wonder what those padded walls are, and who has the power to bring them down. It’s a beautiful, mysterious song.

The phrase “a woman’s work is never done” has become something of a cliché over the past few decades, but it still applies to many women in the lower socioeconomic brackets. This is a short but powerful song, and fairly straightforward. “Early in the morning she rises. The woman’s work is never done.”

“If these are the things” is another song that takes many listenings to fully enjoy. It opens with the lament, “if these are the things that dreams are made of, why don’t I dream any more?” She’s gotten success. All of the trees in her garden “bear fruit”, but when she takes one she discovers that it is “rotten to the core”. She sees all the trappings of success around her, and tries to tell herself, “nothing’s changed... but I look around me, and think maybe that’s no so.”

And where she can’t dream, she does have nightmares. Like the beautiful fruit with the rotten center, has commercial success corrupted her? At the singer’s core, is there now nothing but rot and corruption? Well, duh, in this world wealth always corrupts, but it’s a very nice song.

“So” is a bit confusing. It’s a song about the kind of person who, having lots of money, assumes anyone can get it if they work hard enough--assuming that, with their empty hearts, they think about what anyone else can get at all. But on the one hand it chides the listener for “growing fat on someone else’s sweat”, and in the next breath chides them for “so you grind and grind and you push and shove”, in other words, for working hard for that money that allowed him to grow fat. Either of those are valid complaints about the unfeeling rich, but they don’t really go together.

As in her previous album, she has some songs about needy women. “The Love That You Had” is about a wife whose husband no longer loves her (or at least, she thinks he doesn’t, and is probably right). She’s trapped in the past. She knows or thinks that he cheated on her; “was I wrong to forgive your indiscretions? Should I have been more hysterical, less understanding?” She probably should have just left him, of course, but she begs him to tell her “what hardened your heart, what turned it to stone, what made you forget you were in love with someone?”

“Open Arms” isn’t nearly so bad, and in fact can be listened without such cynicism, as a simple song about a woman in love. She offers him everything: “don’t forget that these are open arms.” But she also tells her potential lover, “if time is what you need, baby I’ll stop the clocks.” It could be a simple statement that she’ll do the impossible, that if life is too rushed, if there is no time to relax, she’ll make that time. But it could also be the answer to a non-question: “I need more time to think about this,” says the person she’s pleading to, so she says “if time is what you need, you can have that, too. Whatever you want, baby,” which in the end means she’s giving that person up. They’ll never come back, because that non-question didn’t want that answer.

The title song, “Matters of the Heart” attempts to synthesize some of these lessons of love. The singer acknowledges that she always makes “a fool of myself in matters of the heart.” And in answer to her answer in “Open Arms”, she says “I guess I’m crazy to think I can give you what you don’t want.” Because the singer understands more about her problems, and about the problems of love in general (though she says she doesn’t), this song is to me much more enjoyable than the “needy” songs on the album. When people break up, there is always one person who hurts more than the other, no matter what they say on the outside. “If the moon were full, I’d be howling inside.”

I don’t find this album to be quite as powerful as “Crossroads”, but it’s still got some wonderful songs on it, both listenable and thought-provoking. It’s well worth listening to.

Matters of the Heart

Tracy Chapman

Recommendation: Purchase

If you enjoyed Matters of the Heart…

If you enjoy Tracy Chapman, you might also be interested in Crossroads.