Family And Music

These are two of the most important things in my life. Whilst others may well debate the importance of music, I think we will all agree that family is everything to us. Back in June 2018 our family was blessed with the birth of my first (and so far only) granddaughter. Not surprisingly, this major life moment didn’t go unnoticed here on my blog, and I wrote two posts about her birth, and my hopes for her future, both of which were themed around a song. I mentioned these in a comment chat on a friend’s blog the other night, and it struck me that many of you won’t have seen those posts before. Both have been reprised, but as that was two years ago it seemed a good enough reason to edit these into a combined post, as the thoughts and feelings I shared then are still just as valid. The first of these pieces spent a while in my ‘Top Ten Posts’ list but has since been supplanted – it is now #11! In keeping with how I was feeling at the time, it was titled after the featured song, and this is what I said:

I HOPE YOU DANCE

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about family, and specifically about how we create our own little dynasty. In our lifetimes, we are nurtured by parents who instil in us the basis of the values by which we live our lives. Sadly, for some, this process is unsuccessful, and I know that not everyone will feel as lucky as I do. Next Sunday is Father’s Day, and I’ll be celebrating the fact that the man who helped bring me into the world is still going strong at 90. I was born in the days when everything happened in black and white, but still have a few cherished photos from that time, like this one:

As you can probably tell, that was quite some time ago – I was born in September 1953, so that photo dates from Spring 1954. I grew up in a town badly affected by WW2, particularly in terms of bomb damage, and although we didn’t know it at the time the rebuilding of our town was taking place while we were on the brink of some major social and technological changes. My teens – the years during which we begin to understand the world a little better, during which we develop our own values and political sensibilities – were played out against the backdrop of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and all the changes they brought, not least in pop culture, but also with the growth of democracy, of people finding their voice. This was notable in student protests and demonstrations, which hadn’t happened previously on a large scale. It wasn’t as marked in the UK as elsewhere – for example, France in 1968, or the US in the anti-Vietnam War protests – but as I went through grammar school and university I like to think that my awareness of the changing world developed in me a sense of what is important in life, of the values that helped me to care about what kind of world we were creating for our children and for future generations.

As we become adults, we build relationships of our own and, if we are blessed, we help to continue our own dynastic line. I have two wonderful daughters, and would like to think that I played a little part in helping them become the people they are today. My ex-wife deserves the lion’s share of the credit for helping them become the caring, capable women they have turned out to be, but at least one of them appears to have inherited my socialist tendencies!

One of the overlooked results from a divorce – when you are the one to move out of the family home – is that you tend to leave behind the photo albums. I’ve been looking through the photos I do have, and can’t find any comparable with the one of me and my Dad. I did find a number of shots of my first born with me, like this one, probably taken when she was about 4:

The earliest I could find of her, which looks as though she was no older than 2 or 3, is this one:

I’m not sure if that look reflects guilt or pleasure. Maybe both!

And here’s one of her at 5, with her baby sister:

The reason for these reflections, and of thoughts about what the future holds for the people we love, is that this little girl has just had a baby of her own. I’m now grandfather to a beautiful granddaughter, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I could share many pictures with you, but I’ll spare you the overload! This is our new family member:

She has been born into a good family, with parents who adore her and will give her everything they can to build her life. I wonder what the future holds for her? The world in which we live is, in many ways, safer than the one I grew up in, but there are still many threats to our way of life. But it seems incongruous at such a joyous time to be thinking about that. Politicians, governments etc will continue to come and go, but the core of human life will always be there – and love, families, relationships are the essence of that.

What I hope for my lovely new granddaughter is that she will have the best life possible, and will create and take her own opportunities to make her mark in the world. The title for this piece is that of a song by Lee Ann Womack about her own children, written not long after her second child was born. I’m the world’s worst dancer, but fortunately for me the metaphor is used here to mean that Lee Ann hopes her child will find and take opportunities in life – ‘I hope you never lose your sense of wonder……and when you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance’:

The adorable toddler in the video is probably around 20 now, and I wonder how her life has developed? Like her mum, I have hopes for my granddaughter’s future, but really these all boil down to one thing – that the little ones will be happy in whatever they do. Really, we can’t ask for any more than them taking their chance to dance, can we?

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I followed that up a couple of weeks later with a piece that was originally included in my #SaturdaySongs series. I have edited it down a little for today’s post, as the original went a little OTT on the number of cover versions I included. It is still a great song, though, with an important meaning in the context of this piece:

TEACH YOUR CHILDREN

If, like me, you watch a lot of music videos on YouTube, you’ve probably followed links to some of their recommendations for you. This one was in mine the other day, from a band I’ve loved ever since their first album all the way back in 1969. This song was actually on their second album, Dejà Vu, by which time they had morphed from being CS&N to CSN&Y, though Neil doesn’t feature much on the original version – it is very much a Graham Nash song:

If you Google the song and follow the various links to sites on which people share their interpretations of songs you will find some weird and wonderful stuff. For me, though, this has always been about how our experiences shape us, how we pass that on as we bring up our children, and how they in turn teach us some lessons about life. In other words, it is about the cyclical nature of life’s experience and how it is interwoven into us, and between us and the ones we love. Given that I became a grandfather just over a fortnight ago, you can probably see why this song says so much to me right now – although, to be fair, it has always seemed to me to be much more profound than it might at first appear. The version I shared is a simple acoustic one, just the three guys with guitars and their amazing harmonies. You may have spotted that the signature sound of the original recording – the pedal steel guitar played by the late, great Jerry Garcia (of a little band called the Grateful Dead) – wasn’t part of that live show. I missed hearing it the first time I played the video – it was, after all, part of the reason for the song being a huge US hit single – but I think this stripped-down version really brings home the beauty and the meaning of the song.

One of the hallmarks of a good song is the number of cover versions it inspires, and in particular how closely those covers adhere to the original. Fellow musicians know a good tune when they hear one, although there have been many amazing covers which have completely changed the feel of a song: Joe Cocker’s ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ comes to mind – but not Disturbed’s total massacre of ‘The Sound Of Silence!’ Most of the many cover versions of Teach Your Children are faithful to the original, including the use of the pedal steel. As it is, at heart, a country song, it isn’t surprising that many in that field have covered it. Here’s a lovely version from three of my favourite country musicians:

I think the female harmonies really do the song justice, and it kind of becomes their song while they play it. And on a side note, it’s good to see a former American President singing along – I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen now, as the clown in chief doesn’t even know the words to ‘God Bless America,’ yet claims to be the ‘biggest, most beautiful patriot!’ Maybe I should exclude him from any analysis of this song, though, as his children aren’t exactly role models, and he himself has been quoted as saying ‘Growing up, I hardly ever saw my father and it hasn’t done me any harm.’ Yeah, right. Never was the inherent truth of Graham Nash’s song so perfectly demonstrated! (Editorial note from today: remember that this was written in 2018, and the US has reverted to having a ‘normal’ President now).

I’m closing with one more cover version, perhaps the most appropriate of all. Think about the meaning of the song as you watch this video – my guess is that you may have a tear in your eye by the end:

Who needs a pedal steel guitar anyway? The beauty lies in the simplicity, as it does in the acoustic CS&N performance. I hope those kids are encouraged to learn what the song is about, as they represent our future and will be the ones who put its values into place in their own lives and those of future generations. As Graham Nash has said: ‘I wrote ‘Teach Your Children’ and we have a lot to learn from our kids. We have a lot to teach them, but we do have a lot to learn from our children.’

Teach your children well….and know they love you.

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I was reminded of the transience of life whilst watching the Euro 2020 football last Saturday evening, when the dreadful incident involving Christian Eriksen played out in real time on our tv screens. As many said at the time in their reaction to it, it gave us a reminder that we should never need: that we should hold the ones we love close to us, and never forget to remind them of our love for them.

And to close on a positive note, that love is going to be shared again later in the year, as a little sibling is on the way for my granddaughter. She is turning into an adorable, caring little person, with a very cheeky side to her, and I’m going to love watching her care for her little brother or sister as her Mum did with my younger daughter. My two girls are incredibly close, and it is wonderful to see how they support each other: that, to me, is what families are about. And in case you are wondering, this coming Sunday will see another Father’s Day, and the old guy is still happily trundling along.

Family. Don’t ever underestimate how much it means to us.