“Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.”
The three immutable influences of my life are Edith and my parents, each representing a plethora of familial remembrances and spiritual guideposts that define: who I strove to become, who I am today, and how I will be revered tomorrow. Family makes this life, although brief, endurable and joyous; the alternative is a vapid loneliness that haunts me, still, yet reminds me of my good fortune.
Family is a life buoy, although at times in my misguided youth and angst, it felt like an anchor. In vain, I learned in those days that not even the Pacific Ocean could sever our bonds. With that in mind, I have taken a pass at the songs that define the difficulties, intricacies, and beauty of the most cherished aspect of this life – songs of family:
- “Murder In the City” – Avett Brothers: Upon first listen some six years ago, I was astonished at the lyrical mastery of this Americana musical outfit dedicated to songs about family bonds. The most poignant line, of course, is the lyric quoted at the top of this article. The sentiment rings especially true for me and my siblings in these waning days of 2016, as we seem to be venturing together upon a new path caring for our ailing mother while further building upon our strong bonds.
- “Movin’ On” – Justin Townes Earle: To appreciate this bittersweet confessional from Steve Earle’s songwriter son, you have to know a little history of their troubadour roots. In it, there is a chest trove of childhood memories haunting Justin’s reckoning with his mother, father, and his father’s mentor, Townes Van Zandt. This tune is probably the best damn confessional ever written about a family legacy built upon music.
- “No Lonesome Tune” – Townes Van Zandt: There is a mythology celebrated around musicians who “sacrifice” a lifetime of opportunity in pursuit of music with artistic integrity. The two most influential troubadours of the late 20th century are the aforementioned musician-ghosts from Justin’s youth. Here, this road-weary character in Townes’ plot comes to a reckoning with heartache, regret, and the redeeming arms of a romantic muse.
- “Please Tell My Brother” – Golden Smog: Jeff Tweedy fans are familiar with this side gig he participated in during the golden era of alt.country. Although about sibling adoration, When I think of this song, Priscilla, Marcos, Michael, Orlando, and Alexis also come to mind – their wonderful childhood voices singing happy birthday on my voicemail.
- “We’re Going to be Friends” – the White Stripes: After this song, I am going to kiss my children and observe in their ensuing years the way they will build their own stitched moments as siblings.
- “Have You Seen My Song?” – Benjamin Booker: Estranged relationships are undoubtedly the most uncomfortable, taxing, and harshest to endure but the weight bears down heaviest between child and parent. In this tune, Booker – a very young and promising rock virtuoso – opens up as if, simultaneously, roaring and apologizing for his part in a father-son chasm.
- “Beautiful Boy” – John Lennon: I have always been conflicted by Lennon’s endearing song of adoration for his second son, Sean. Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite Lennon songs and, upon every listen, I think of my brother Julian and the eighteen years that separated our first encounter. With that experience, I came to realize I wanted to be a good father, like my own.
- “You’re My Girl” – Neil Young: Almost every line here makes me dread the day my daughter leaves for a life of her own. She’s brilliant, creative, and certainly one of the goofiest, happiest girls I have met. She has a rare gift that I have only encountered in less than a hand full of people I have met during my life.
- “No Hard Feelings” – Avett Brothers: My siblings and I brought our mother home after nearly a month in the hospital from a pulmonary stroke. This is a strange place to arrive upon as an adult but life makes no exceptions. Coincidentally, the brother craftsmen of family and love released this song only a few days before we were set to bring her home, and I wept with uncontrollable fear and relief on that long King Ranch stretch when I heard the Brothers’ profound opening lines. In the intermittent, hectic weeks from initial diagnosis to medical discharge, I have thought of the unspoken truths that I have failed to mutter, despite my conciliatory, manifestations. This song crystallizes where I stand: poised to speak of and ask for forgiveness in our brief and illustrious life, as son and mother.