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Album Pulls at the 'Reel Life' Heartstrings of Boy Meets Girl

February 21, 1989|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

About two years ago, when Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill--of the singing-songwriting duo Boy Meets Girl--were going through hard times, a name change seemed in order. Boy Loses Girl or Girl Dumps Boy was more like it.

After living together 11 years, they found their relationship was on the skids.

But there's a true Hollywood ending.

Boy and Girl not only reunited, they got married and are now living happily ever after in Venice. One reason they're so happy is that their recent Top 5 single, "Waiting for a Star to Fall," has suddenly turned them into one of the hottest vocal twosomes in pop.

The single is from "Reel Life" which is more than just their second album. While they were writing it, they found that the songs were becoming a sounding board for their miseries--a record of the final stages of their crumbling relationship.

Merrill and Rubicam were the real stars of these songs about lovers in torment, such as "Bring Down the Moon" (the follow-up single to "Fall"), "Stormy Love" and "If You Run."

"I couldn't talk to George," lamented Rubicam, 37, who writes most of the lyrics. "So I poured it out in the songs. (He) edits the lyrics and does the music, so I was communicating to him through the songs. There was a time when we couldn't even look each other in the eye."

"The import of what she was saying in the lyrics hit me," Merrill, 33, added. "Trying to keep the facade up was becoming harder and harder. I even wrote a song myself. I went out to the desert by myself for one agonizing week and wrote 'Is Anybody Out There in Love.' I came back and played it for her. . . . I was pouring out my guts."

His "Is Anybody Out There in Love" includes to-the-point lines such as "You say it's time for this to end / I guess I'd rather not pretend / I'm glad you'd rather not pretend."

On "Bring Down the Moon," which is No. 53 and climbing this week on the Billboard magazine pop chart, Rubicam makes this pithy observation: "I've got to let go / Of visions I've outgrown / Even I know / But it hurts." She's even more blunt on "No Apologies": "I want to break free / With no apologies. . . ."

Considering the downbeat themes, the sound of their album isn't gloomy or overwrought--due chiefly to the surprisingly upbeat music and vocals. This is highly melodic, middle-of-the-road pop buoyed by punchy instrumentals. Though some critics have dismissed the album as relationship twaddle, it has obviously touched a chord with some listeners.

Rubicam and Merrill mostly write for themselves, but they occasionally compose for other artists. Bette Midler sings their "I Know You by Heart" in the film "Beaches," while Whitney Houston's has recorded their "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody."

In fact, "Waiting for a Star to Fall" is a Houston reject. "We were happy (Houston didn't record it)," Merrill said. "It's better suited for us."

Reliving their old relationship woes one recent afternoon in a restaurant didn't seem to bother Merrill and Rubicam. They were laughing through it all, as if they were discussing a memorable vacation. They came across as effervescent types. It's hard to imagine them in the throes of trauma.

"Oh, you should have seen us back then," she said, laughing. "We were a mess--morbid, angry, down on each other."

Their relationship started in the Seattle area in 1975 when they met while performing at a wedding. They didn't get together until a year later, when she joined Rubicam's band. They migrated to Los Angeles in 1982, looking for their big break in the music business.

They eventually landed a contract with A&M Records, though their debut LP--titled "Boy Meets Girl"--flopped. Their personal life started to go sour about then too. Even having a baby--daughter Hilary, now 5--didn't help.

"It was slow decay," Rubicam recalled. "I was disappointed that the relationship hadn't turned out like I had expected. There was that disparity between fantasy and real life. I get lost in fantasy sometimes and don't deal with things as they are."

Merrill added, "We just drifted apart. We couldn't get in sync."

They went to a therapist to help salvage the relationship. All the while, however, they kept working together on their music.

"It wasn't easy," she said. "We split up for eight months, but somehow we still managed to work together. We realize that we're better as a unit. We never wanted to be solo artists."

They moved over to RCA Records in 1987 and started writing the new album. "Composing helped us clear the air," she said. "It forced us to deal with the problems. Eventually we grew back together."

He added, "It was a new commitment. So we decided to seal it with marriage."

Though they have many songs left over from the "Reel Life" period, they have no plans to record them.

"We might send them to other artists, but we don't want to do anything with them ourselves," Merrill said. "That chapter of our lives is over. Doing more of those songs would bring it all back. We really don't want to look back."

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