Editor’s Notebook: Guy Clark Magical Music Hour
The late Guy Clark, a great Texas songwriter who also made his own guitars. (David Redfern | Redferns)
My older daughter was born six weeks early, arriving on her mom and dad’s first anniversary. And long before she announced her impending arrival in the middle of a quiet celebratory dinner at The Common Man in Concord, I had already started planning her musical education. I would never be able to teach her how to make music or even read it, but I was pretty sure I could help her learn how to listen to it.
The soundtracks of our lives are constructed organically, but the broader the foundation the longer the playlist. And the more songs you love, the more help you have navigating the world. Ultimately, I wanted her, and later her baby sister, to understand that listening to music wasn’t a purely passive activity. You could use it to better understand yourself, to explore not only deep reservoirs of joy but also the broken places.
Well, I’ve never prayed but tonight I’m on my knees, yeah / I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah / I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now / But the airwaves are clean and there’s nobody singing to me now. (“Bittersweet Symphony,” The Verve, 1997)
When the girls were little, we had a player piano on loan from my parents in the small room that served as a library-slash-painting studio. To get them away from “Bear in the Big Blue House” or whatever kids’ show they happened to be addicted to, I would sit with them on the stool while invisible hands played Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” or “The Entertainer.” Neither of them remember the scene or the songs, but I’ll never forget. It was the beginning.
From there, they became acquainted with Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin, Wilco and The Spinners. On and on.
One day, after my younger daughter came home from her half-day of kindergarten, she looked up at me with great seriousness and said, “Dad, I want to paint and listen to Miles Davis.”
On the bad days, when my mind involuntarily begins cycling through all of the ways in which I’ve come up short as a parent, that’s one of the moments where I find a measure of peace.
At this point in my life / I’d like to live as if only love mattered / As if redemption was in sight / As if the search to live honestly / Is all that anyone needs / No matter if you find it. (“At This Point in My Life,” Tracy Chapman, 1995)
When I was a kid, my family twice traveled to Disney World. How my parents could afford to take four kids anywhere south of Massachusetts, never mind to Florida, remains a complete mystery to me. I’m sure they saw it as a worthy investment in lasting memories, but I recall almost nothing from either trip other than we came home from one of them with the “It’s a Small World” album.
What I do remember is the sound of Andy Williams singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” on a winter afternoon in the kitchen of my childhood. I can’t hear “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell without returning to glorious impromptu pool parties on hot Saturday evenings. Play “You Needed Me” by Anne Murray and you will find me in the late 1970s, in the backseat of some gas-guzzler on a rainy autumn day, flanked by my siblings and with mom at the wheel.
When my daughters were small, we lacked the disposable income to take them on anything resembling a real vacation. They are both well into their teens now and neither have ever set foot on an airplane. The memories they’ve made mostly happened close to home – but you should hear the soundtrack.
But if you close your eyes / Does it almost feel like nothing changed at all? / And if you close your eyes / Does it almost feel like you’ve been here before? (“Pompeii,” Bastille, 2013)
Even before the pandemic arrived, the girls and I would sometimes spend a couple hours of our Saturday nights going down various musical rabbit holes on YouTube. And then when COVID fully implanted itself in our lives, robbing us of time with our extended family, those nights became a little more crucial.
Some videos are in heavy rotation – First Aid Kit performing “Emmylou” in front of a tearful Emmylou Harris at the Polar Music Prize, various versions of Wheatus singing “Teenage Dirtbag,” Prince’s astonishing guitar solo during a 2004 star-studded performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and Richard Ashcroft singing “Bittersweet Symphony” with Coldplay’s Chris Martin on piano at Live 8 2005. For years now the musical education has been reciprocal. I wouldn’t know Phoebe Bridgers, Declan McKenna, Wallows, Beabadoobee, or Taylor Swift’s brilliant deep tracks if not for my girls sharing with me the songs that matter most to them.
The soundtrack keeps growing.
A moment to change it all / Had life before been so slow? / Urgency takes hold / But to live in fear isn’t to live at all. (“How Can I Make It OK?” Wolf Alice, 2021)
One night, I’m not sure when exactly, I gave our YouTube sessions a name – “Guy Clark Magical Music Hour” – partly because it sounds like an awesome 1970s variety show and partly because it was fitting. Over time, we began to end each of these special nights the same way: Guy’s 1989 performance of “Desperados Waiting for a Train” from Austin, Texas.
It’s how we say “good night, until next time, I love you.” It’s how I will be able to say “good night, until next time, I love you” wherever and whenever they need to hear it.
Days, up and down they come / Like rain on a conga drum / Forget most, remember some / But don’t turn none away / Everything is not enough / And nothin’ is too much to bear / Where you been is good and gone / All you keep is the getting there. (“To Live is to Fly,” Townes Van Zandt, 1971)
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