Father knows best? No. Father knows pain. His, theirs.
A sunny Sunday, surrounded by endless beauty, art, and family. Vista of the sky where mountains meet city and ocean kisses borders. Friends and lovers wander through impossible treasures, wordlessly turning to share their wonder. Father gazes toward the place where Son will arrive. He doesn’t know which one will appear, but he will accept him.
Father knows his Son and the tempest of angels and demons that rotate through him. His sense of when Son is struggling is almost spiritual. Father does not believe in God; he believes in the energy of the collective universe. Son believes in the heartache of a million screaming souls.
Father was once the Son. His angels and demons still drop in to remind him to pay attention. They offer no guidance, just awareness.
Son arrives alone, trailed by invisible murmurers. Today, they are unbalanced, with light struggling against a larger rash of darkness. Father feels the struggle as Son slowly moves towards him. And he knows, with no words, that this is the Last Father’s Day.
They try for normal. There is no normal. Son is generous, assuming the role of patron on this day. Father melts from the gesture and the halting words Son offers, thankful for Father’s love and support through the firestorms that seemed to dominate their lives. The moment is perhaps propelled by the last of the angels as demons tear at the light and summon the relentless cloud of darkness that would finally win.
The painful tension is undeniable as they say goodbye. Father holds Son for a moment, feeling the raging darkness beating against the desperate love, knowing there are no miracle words to say. There never are, except I love you, I am sorry, and I am here.
Soon enough, the last defenses fall, and whatever angels may survive have retreated. Blistering words, raging howls of hate. Shotgun blasts of denial and rejection. Darkness. This time, it feels like forever.
Are the last fusillades the demon’s victory, or a final blessing from the dying angels, turning them away so as not to share the ultimate abyss?
Father knows nothing but to remember the tortured slash of love on the Last Father’s Day.
Ah, another musing on songs that touch me and trigger many repeat listens.
Two pieces currently have my musical attention. Both are collaborations, but in very different ways. One is pure lyrical genius, with flawless musical performances and a beautiful arrangement all leading to a powerful, emotional story. The other is an offering from a diverse group of artists intent of bringing hope and encouragement to a struggling world.
Dustland, an older song by The Killers, is reinvigorated in a stunning collaboration with Bruce Springsteen. This combination is perfect in so many ways. I never dug into the Killers catalog, but always enjoyed their songs when one popped up on my music radar. Since finding this gem, I have gone a bit deeper into their music and have become a great admirer, particularly of the lyrical skills of Brandon Flowers. The song “Quiet Town” is devastatingly American – full of beautiful and painful images resonant to anyone who has looked honestly at the devastation of addiction and foolish death of our younger selves.
Back to Dustland. The opening lyric by Brandon Flowers immediately stands alongside my favorite Springsteen opening from Thunder Road.
A dustland fairytale beginning Or just another white trash County kiss In Sixty-one, Long brown hair and foolish eyes He looked just like you’d want him to Some kind of slick chrome American prince A blue jean serenade Moon River what’d you do to me But I don’t believe you
The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays Roy Orbison singing for the lonely Hey that’s me and I want you only Don’t turn me home again I just can’t face myself alone again
Both opening lyrics are cinematic, with song references that evoke wistfulness and romance (Moon River) and the ache of loneliness and helplessness (Roy Orbison’s Only The Lonely.) Instrumentation is spare, leaving the lyrics to do the heavy lifting. Flowers takes the opening lines, setting the scene for the bittersweet story. It took a few passes for me to grasp the depth and complexity and realize, after a bit of research, that he was telling the story of his parents and, more poignantly, his mother’s impending passing. Mister Springsteen enters, in the voice of an older man – the father, perhaps? Or the older son, watching the ravages of illness stripping away everything. “Saw Cinderella in a party dress, but she was looking for a nightgown. Saw the Devil wrapping up his hands, he’s getting ready for the showdown.” Death? The final fight over her soul? So many potential ways to read that. The real beauty is in the ragged, slightly cracking, quavering vocal, high in Springsteen’s register, raw emotion. The drummer counts four, the tempo shifts, and the piece accelerates rhythmically and lyrically. A quartet of strings helps drive the arrangement. A powerful bassline compels the track from below, and guitars become more emphatic, adding percussive color. The relentless drummer is not letting anyone off the hook. The vocals are beautiful, trading between the two singers, then coming together in ragged unison, and it all just leaves me waiting for the release. Flowers voice quivers a bit, as he touches his heart and pleads,
“Now Cinderella don’t you go to sleep It’s such a bitter form of refuge Ah, don’t you know the kingdom’s under siege And everybody needs you.”
And then, guitar playing a pensive, lonely finish.
It leaves me emotionally exhausted and artistically full.
Running Out Of Tomorrows
The second song is an entirely different animal. Running Out Of Tomorrows, written by my friend and former colleague Ed Daniels, is a collaboration in the truest sense. Ed is part of a collective of musical artists aptly named “Collaborations.” The group of writers, singers, and players come together with a palette of styles and inspirations that range from pure pop to country, with flecks of R&B, Soul, show tunes, and singer-songwriter influences.
My first listen had me thinking of the musicals “Hair” and “Godspell.” Kind of bouncy, quite earnest. A few more listens revealed the true nature of the collaboration, with no influence left unturned.
It has components I usually find off-putting, from cliché lyrics to riffs borrowed from Van Morrison to Gloria Gaynor. And despite all of the things that make me go “AAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!” I listen to it over and over. Why? Because it takes all of those things and delivers an important message in a pure pop package.
Like its music style, the song’s message is a bit of everything. Climate change, racial and economic injustice, political divisions, and a society that struggles with fairness paper every phrase and verse. Many of the lyrics are couplets of common idioms, exhortations that if we work together – but, dammit, they are so honest and earnest that many sins are forgiven.
The song starts with an acapella gospel choir singing the chorus. Great tone, beautiful, tight harmonies, and smooth, effortless singing bring the listener to the front door of the song.
A short, spanky guitar intro blends with smooth, pretty bass playing, adding some needed consistency. Great horns fill the spaces nicely, not too much or too little. Similarly, the strings add color and smoothness that help sand off some jarring vocal goings-on.
There are three primary vocalists – the ballsy, full-force female, the reedy, slender-voiced male, and the earnest, smooth-toned second female singer. When the first female sings the lyric “Everyone’s angry,” she sounds angry. The male singer slides all around his melodies. They seem to be competing soloists rather than a team blending together to deliver the song’s message. And that’s okay! It worked for “We Are The World,” and it works for “Running Out Of Tomorrows.”
So, for me, the true magic of Running Out Of Tomorrows is taking things I usually dislike, putting them all in one song, and turning out a piece that inspires, entertains, and takes its message to heart.
Good on Ed, who donates the proceeds from the song to local charities. And good on the Collaborations team, including the artists, musicians, arrangers, and producers who work together to support individual and collective creativity.
Tommy Emanuel and Mike Dawes. Two master guitarists blending together to deliver a beautiful acoustic performance of Sting’s “Fields of Gold.” Each part stands alone, both parts together equal perfect, generous collaboration. You can hear them listening, supporting and appreciating each other’s contribution. Dawes passing chord at :45 seconds is delicious, and Emanuel’s smile sums it all up. This piece deserves some headphone time, just to hear all the nuance and skill of each player, from the slap and rattle of the bass strings on Dawes dropped tuning, to the almost- violinist vibrato of Emanuel’s single-line work. Beauty abounds.