Calling people by a nickname was commonplace while I was growing up. In fact I really have to think about it sometimes when trying to recall the legal names of people in my small hometown. Some I never even knew but can guess that Sully’s last name was probably Sullivan. Nicknames were usually related to last name or family heritage (What’s up “Irish”), reputation (junk yard), vocation (Cap), initials (KIP), relation (Cuz), or physical attribute (No ladder Jack). Nicknames were usually affectionate and never meant to bully or berate but could be tongue in cheek (“Stretch” assigned to a shorter person or “Shrimp” to a giant). Nicknames were meant to say “I know you and what you’re about.” Or “We have history”. In my small hometown nicknames meant “We are all family”. This brings me to my first song:
“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother” by the Hollies
I grew up in a town that was, and continues to be, riddled with substance abuse, heroin in particular.
My brother and the brothers and sisters of many people I know succumbed to their addictions in one way or another. This song makes me think of a close friend that lost several brothers from her family of 10. I am sure that it was played during at least one of their funerals, a little Morbid right? But this song is also about Brotherhood in the best way. Brotherhood is term that can be associated with groups, family members and deep friendships but is also a broad term for humanity. It can be personal and literal or general and abstract. Brotherhood is a powerful word that can evoke feelings in me of loyalty, sacrifice, love, and deep connection. This song is appropriate to any definition. For me when I hear “It’s a long, long road, with many a winding turn…” I feel the deep sadness of loss and the powerlessness of codependency. While I usually go there first while listening, I can pull myself back and see the greater message of hope and goodness buried within. Sometimes I hear “The road is long” but “He ain’t Heavy” and “ I am strong enough to carry on” without him. This song is also about supporting each other through the trials of life, the burdens of disease and suffering, and never giving up but learning to let go. Although saving others is sometimes out of our control we can always do our best to be there for each other.
My favorite line, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse”. “The River” by Bruce Springsteen. Not just another depressing Ballad but a soundtrack to my teen angst. It’s funny that this song about broken dreams and unrequited potential brings me back to a time in life where my destiny was a blank sheet and I had no idea what it really meant to give up your life’s passion to live in survival mode at crappy dead end jobs. It was easy to say “That will never be me” but we all have to grow up and have responsibilities someday. This song to me now is about my father who worked hard every day of his life to support a family of six kids until he died too young at 55. He loved the ocean, sailing was his dream, and I think if he could have left us and sailed off into the sunset, he would have. He couldn’t do that because he was a good man who always did the right thing and he loved us. Although he never said It, he was unhappy. I think we all felt his longing for the life he didn’t have and felt his regret. This song for me is also about letting go and the power in nature for healing our souls. I think of when my father was truly happy in his little turnabout sailboat coasting on the water every summer weekend he could get. For those moments he was living his dream and free of life’s burdens. The river has the power to wash everything away and leave just the essence of you. You are back to the beginning and the endless potential, right about where I was when I found this song. Writing is a kind of river for me now. For some people it is meditation, reading a good book, walking the dog, or running. Literal and metaphorical rivers help us live in the moment free of worries, regrets, and responsibilities. You can be who you really are. In this way the River can make your dreams for yourself come true if only for a little while. Jump in.
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. Providence, RI Civic Center 1986 ish? My best friend got me the ticket to go with her and her family. She had moved to another small town north a year or so earlier and going to a real concert in a big city was still a big deal, especially with someone I missed seeing every day. “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year”. We met in pre-school but she was a year older and we didn’t become close friends until our early teens. Until then I was lonely. I had many friends but few people really “got me” the way she did or made me feel so cherished and loved. We know each other’s faults but accept each other for who we are unconditionally. We are both really good at forgiveness and know that support goes both ways as does the phone line. Letter writing was a big thing for us when we were younger, (yes, before e-mail). We kept in touch through the years of high school, college, and first jobs this way while never living in the same state. Much to the dismay of our parents and delight of our parent’s long distance carriers we would also talk on the phone for hours, sometimes watching whole TV shows with running commentary. Visits were always special and we are that type of friends that can go a long time without talking but pick right back up where we left off. We also could not be more different from each other. She is impulsive, sometimes reckless, and outgoing while I am reserved, usually pretty quiet, and like to think things through. She is a free spirit and I am all about responsibility. She came back into my life in a big way 20 years ago when she visited me. Eventually she moved across the country to live near me about 15 years ago and has lived across the street from me for the past several years. We have fallen in love, had children, been back to school, started new jobs, bought and sold houses, and dealt with illness, success, failure and loss in this time. She has been my sounding board, my life coach, my councilor, and my greatest advocate. She moves in less than a week for the east coast again to take care of her ailing parents. I will always hear this song and wish she were here with me while knowing that she always is.