The video opens with Browne being wheeled into heart surgery, playing his guitar as the gurney glides down the hall. He winds up on the operating table in front of a crowd of spectators when Phoebe Bridgers appears in a nurse’s outfit, eating Browne’s heart as an artificial one replaces it.
The musicians featured on the track also lend a hand with the surgery: bassist Davey Faragher, drummer Pete Thomas, and Greg Leisz on lap steel. Val McCallum, who co-wrote the track, trades off vocals with Browne and Jeff Young: “They never break/They don’t even beat/And they don’t ache/They just plug in and shine.”
Browne first encountered the music to “My Cleveland Heart” after McCallum left a CD on his windshield with a note attached. After listening to it for months, Browne thought up an idea for the lyrics when he was driving around Cleveland, Ohio, and came across a building in the woods. “The person I was driving with said, ‘That’s Cleveland Heart,'” Browne tells Rolling Stone. “‘That’s where they make artificial hearts.’ I said, ‘Oh, I could use one of those!'”
Browne enlisted Alissa Torvinen to direct the video after watching Bridgers’ clip for “I Know the End,” which she also directed. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had making a video,” he says. “I’m a big fan of Phoebe, so I picked Alissa. And then it was really sort of in the last days of planning that someone said, ‘Phoebe could be one of these nurses.’ From there, it was pretty much improvised.”
It’s fitting for Bridgers — who has cited Browne as an influence and recently enlisted him to duet on “Kyoto” — to receive his heart, almost like Browne is passing down the singer-songwriter torch. “I thought it was really appropriate to take out my worn-out, useless heart and hand it to Phoebe,” Jackson says. “Who better to hand [it] to than somebody young, strong, and possibly as cynical as me?”
“My Cleveland Heart” follows the singles “A Little Soon to Say” and “Downhill From Everywhere.” The latter is the title track to Browne’s upcoming album, out July 23rd. The album was slated to arrive last fall but was postponed due to the pandemic.
“The initial two or three months of the pandemic just kicked a big hole in my release schedule,” Browne notes. “But then it was just a matter of releasing it at a time when it makes sense to be able to support it. I suppose life has gone on and albums have been released, but I don’t know how to separate it from the act of going out and playing these songs live. That’s just a big part of it for me.”
Browne will do just that on July 29th, when he kicks off his rescheduled tour with James Taylor at Chicago’s United Center. “I hope that people all get vaccinated,” he says. “I don’t know how they’re going to do this, but I’m looking on with great interest to see how people fill these arenas and they are going to be at a concert. We’ll see.”