“Put it all back, I would make the time last…” – Sister Hazel


Ben Harper, at Metropolis (Montreal) while the...

Ben Harper, at Metropolis (Montreal) while the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in 2003. Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It goes without saying that your entire perception of the world changes after your mom dies of cancer (or pretty much after losing any parent or close family member, especially at a young age), but – this is silly, but I’m going to say it anyway – it’s seriously changed my view of lyrics in music.

Every single sad song that isn’t overtly romantic but discusses loss or remembrance I now associate with the loss of my mom. I no longer feel the compelling need to identify with the dramatic worryings of dysfunctional dating relationships, but I see a much deeper meaning in so many songs. Probably not the artist’s original intention, but that’s the beauty of art – the ability to interpret in any way you can, as long as you see the beauty in the finished work.

Not all of the songs are sad – a lot of them are about  moving on and being happy. Some are sad, but I find that I do my best writing and get my best thoughts from some of these songs.

One song I can’t stop listening to is “Sleepwalker” (The Wallflowers). I particularly enjoy the verse:

“I’m in your movie, and everyone looks sad. But I can hear your voice, the laugh track…but you never saw my best scene – the one where I sleep, sleepwalk into your dreams. Sleepwalker, what’s my line? It’s only a matter of time until I learn to open up my eyes when I’m dead asleep dreaming.”

I absolutely love this song because it really reminds me of how my mom wanted her funeral – er, I’m sorry – her “celebration of life”. Everyone around her was sad, but she wanted everyone  to be happy, and to be happy that she lived and that all 250+ attendees at her service shared in the memories she got to make. In fact, one of the saddest things (and this is the reason why I never even attempted to accidentally send her email address anything) was that she set her vacation message for her email address to “Thanks for the memories! Kathy”. Isn’t that all we are in life? Shakespeare said it best – we are all just players in a play, aren’t we? But my mom left me when I was young and she knew I had to stand on my own at some point without her.

Cold Case (TV series)

Thank you, Cold Case, for significantly improving my music library. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found this next song in – of all places – a Cold Case episode (LOVE that show! Took place in Philly and never gets old). I’ve always liked The Cars, but never heard “Since You’re Gone” before. When I’m feeling the loss of my mom and especially melancholy about it, I find these verses particularly relatable:

“Since you’re gone, the nights are getting strange. Since you’re gone, Throwin’ it all away…Since you’re gone, I never feel sedate [those could be wrong], Since you’re gone, Well, the moonlight ain’t so great.”

For me, the upbeat tempo of the song combined with the lyrics result in a complicated grieving mood, but I like that because my grief is complicated. It also still tells me how lost I still feel without my mom. I feel like I’ve gotten myself together pretty well, but there’s definitely still a part  of me that’s missing a huge part of who I am.

Not sure if any of my readers are rap/hip-hop fans, but I definitely am, and being in Philly it’s part of the culture. I kind of discovered “Yesterday” (Atmosphere) by accident, but when I discovered what it was about (revealed at the very end of the song – “It wasn’t you because you passed away, Dad”), I felt horrible for the guy singing it but I knew it was because I knew exactly how he felt.  Any kid who loses a parent eventually grows up at some point and is forced very violently into realizing what a little sh*t you really were at times…and then how lucky you were to be loved so unconditionally. I pretty much love the entire song, but a few key verses that I think have the most impact are below:

“I thought I saw you yesterday, but I didn’t stop cuz you was walking the opposite way.  I guess I could have shouted out your name, but even if it was you, I don’t know what I would say…”

^ Definitely went through a very rough period where I struggled between wanting my mom to come back and then not wanting her to, because even if she did, would I have enough time? What would I talk about? How in the world could I possibly say goodbye again?

“And we could analyze each complaint, break it down and explain these mistakes I make. I like to tangle up the strings of the puppetry, but you knew me back when I was a younger me…”

^ I miss my mom. She knew me, really, really knew me. And she’d know that I am who I am now because of all the stupid things (all kids do stupid things) I’ve done…but she’d have the insight I need to move forward. I’m doing pretty well on my own, but I know that I’m completely missing her guidance.

“And I’ve been meaning to ask you if I’m doing alright…”

^ This one’s huge for me. All I crave is to hear her approval. My father and I don’t speak or get along (over a year now, a parent’s death changes so many things), but my mom was always the one who I sought validation from, anyway. I just wish I had her so much to ask her, “Hey, am I doing things the right way?”. I just really miss having her help. I know she’d be proud of me…but that’s definitely the big one on my mind.

The next few verses are me almost exactly (I would love to meet the songwriter because he sounds just like me in a lot of ways) – he talks about how much of pain in the ass he was as a kid, how much he pushed back at his father when he shouldn’t have – but now he has to live with that, and that’s how I feel, too. But neither of us feel that much regret  – he mentions in the song that he’s having a great time, sorry that he was such a pain sometimes, but now he misses all of the criticism that his father gave him, and would gladly take it all over again. Ah, hindsight. These are the sad lessens learned too early.

He goes on, however, to say that there’s no way he’s every going to be able to sit with his father again and talk, but:

“It doesn’t matter – this is more than love. And maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get to see you out the corner of yesterday.”

No matter what, the love shared between parent and child will always unite them and be there.

I love how later in the song, his father was able to put all the bad stuff about him and them behind him, and most powerfully:

“You disappeared, but the history is still here. That’s why I try not to cry over spilt beer…I can’t even get mad that you’re gone – leaving me was the best thing you ever taught me.”

Enough said. I can’t even explain how much I understand these simple lines. If my mom hadn’t left me, I wouldn’t have learned a life’s worth of lessons in just a short time. I wish I could articulate how happy I am that this person wrote this line.

The next part makes me smile a bit, because:

“I’m sorry. It’s official – I was a fistful. I didn’t keep it simple. Chip on my shoulder, anger in my veins. So much hatred – now it brings me shame. Never thought about the world without you and I promise that I’ll never say another bad word about you. I thought I saw you yesterday, but it wasn’t you, because you passed away, Dad.”

Admittedly, I wasn’t a bad kid. I didn’t do drugs, sleep around, or party. I was a bit of a nerd, actually. But boy – WHAT an attitude! I had terrible self-esteem, and a lot of anger and bitterness toward life in general. I am truly ashamed of how incapable I was at seeing how much love I had at the time, but I don’t dwell on this now. I know that it’s just a typical kid thing, but boy, I wasn’t easy. But now I can totally admit that yes, I wasn’t easy – but my mom forgave me and loved me anyway. That gives me permission to forgive myself.

Atmosphere.

Atmosphere. (Photo credit: Derrick Austinson Photog)

What I love about “Yesterday” is that it nearly perfectly describes the positives and negatives someone young experiences after the death of a parent. I know enough to move on but keep my mom in my heart, but I’ll be damned if I don’t learn something from all of this. Like he says, “Since we went our separate paths, I’ve hit a few snags the remind me of the past. I can’t front – I’m having a blast. But damned if I ain’t afraid of how long it’s gonna last.” There have definitely been times when I did things that were dumb and I knew my mom would be yelling at me…but even with her gone, I’m still very happy with my life. I have a lot now that I wouldn’t have if she was still around. But of course, there is that fear that it will end at some point and the pain will come back.

What I love about this song is…well, everything. In fact, I think I’d like to meet the person who wrote this song and shake his hand.

“Collide” by Howie Day (another Cold Case discovery) is more simplistic but: “Even the best fall down sometimes, even the wrong words seem to rhyme, out of the doubt that fills my mind, I somehow find you and I collide…Don’t stop here, I’ve lost my place, I’m close behind.” Even in my strength to move forward, I still stumble…but I’m doing my best to be reunited with my mom again.

I have more to share but it’s getting late and I’d love to point you in the direction of Ben Harper. He’s a favorite of mine and “Amen Omen”  is powerful in its own right without me even having to say it:

amen omen
will i see your face again
amen omen
can i find the place within
to live my life without you

i still hear you saying
all of life is a chance
and is sweetest
when at a glance
but i live a hundred
lifetimes in a day
but i die a little
in every breath that i take

amen omen
will i see your face again
amen omen
can i find the place within
to live my life without you

i listen to a whisper
slowly drift away
silence is the loudest
parting word you never say
i put your world
into my veins
now a voiceless sympathy
is all that remains