YETI, a maker of coolers, created a web series about sons and fathers. In one of the episodes, entitled “Anchor Point,” Townes Van Zandt’s eldest son J.T. talks about growing up in the shadow of a destructive legend.
In the video, J.T. explains how his relationship with his father led to him finding his own passion for fly fishing. The short video is a fascinating look at how J.T. found his own path and how he reflects on his father’s legacy. He also talks about how Townes Van Zandt affects the way he is as a father himself. It’s really quite beautiful. Check it out.
“Figure out what it is that makes you happy. Work hard. Forget about the rest. Come home. And be a good man. Be a f-ing man. And go to sleep, and wake up early, and do it again.”
Other episodes in the My Old Man series are available online.
For Father’s Day weekend, we discuss two of Bruce Springsteen’s songs about adult life, fatherhood, rebirth, and birth: “Long Time Comin'” and “Living Proof.” Early in his career in songs like “Independence Day,” Springsteen explored the relationship between sons and fathers with a focus on his experience as a son. But later in his life, some of his songs, like the two discussed below, focused on the joys and fears of being a father.
“Long Time Comin'” and “Living Proof” explore some similar themes connecting the singer’s rebirth to the birth of a child. But although they were written less than five years apart, the singer’s perspective changes significantly between the two songs.
“Living Proof,” which appeared on Springsteen’s 1992 Lucky Town album, is about the joy and the celebration of starting a family. The singer tells us about his own struggles in life and about “crawling deep into some kind of darkness.” Through that, he sought some type of rebirth: “I went down into the desert city / Just tryin’ so hard to shed my skin.” Ultimately, he found faith and hope in his lover and the child she gave him.
Well now on a summer night in a dusky room, Come a little piece of the Lord’s undying light, Crying like he swallowed the fiery moon; In his mother’s arms it was all the beauty I could take, Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make; In a world so hard and dirty so fouled and confused, Searching for a little bit of God’s mercy; I found living proof.
“Living Proof” was written after Springsteen’s future wife Patti Scialfa gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son, on July 25, 1990. As such, it reflects the happiness Springsteen was feeling at finding a happy family life following a period that included a divorce in 1988.
“Long Time Comin'” officially first appeared on Springsteen’s 2005 solo album Devils & Dust. But Springsteen wrote the song much earlier around the time of his 1995 album, The Ghost of Tom Joad. Thus, he wrote “Long Time Comin'” within five years of the birth of his first son and around the time of the birth of his third child. Springsteen and Scialfa had a daughter born in December 1991 and a second son born in January 1994.
“Long Time Comin'” is set somewhere in the Western United States (“The wind in the mesquite comes rushin’ over the hilltops”) out under the open sky. The singer in “Long Time Comin’,” like the singer in “Living Proof” is seeking rebirth: “Tonight I’m gonna get birth naked and bury my old soul / And dance on its grave.”
Unlike “Living Proof,” the father in “Long Time Comin'” focuses more on the future of his children, and he fears what his children may face. The singer is happy, but he worries that he will transfer his own failings to his children.
Thus, with a few more years with experience being a father, the songwriter of “Long Time Comin'” creates a character who wonders about his own abilities as a father. It is a weariness earned by experience.
Well now down below and pullin’ on my shirt, Yeah I got some kids of my own; Well if I had one wish for you in this God forsaken world, kid, It’d be that your mistakes will be your own, That your sins will be your own.
The lyrics written by Springsteen-the-father contrast with the lyrics written by Springsteen-the-son in his earlier song “Adam Raised a Cain,” which appeared on Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978). In the song from Springsteen’s early years, the singer concluded, “You’re born into this life paying,/ For the sins of somebody else’s past.” Additionally, recalling his father’s pain, the singer warned, “You inherit the sins, you inherit the flames.” That son’s understanding of his own father’s burdens resulted in the son’s hope not to pass on those sins and flames.
In the end, the father of “Long Time Comin'” looks at his two kids in sleeping bags, and then he looks at his pregnant wife, promising that he will do better this time around (even using the f-word for the first time on a Springsteen record). It’s one of the most touching and honest moments in the singer-songwriter’s expansive catalog of songs full of honesty and faith.
Image of rebirth of Phoenix via public domain. What are your favorite songs of birth and rebirth? Leave your two cents in the comments.
English folksinger Ewan MacColl, who was born January 25, 1915, wrote a number of great songs like “Dirty Old Town” and “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” One of his most touching songs combines his political work with a personal story about his father, “My Old Man.”
In “My Old Man,” MacColl sings about his father. Socialist parents raised MacColl, who was born with the name James Miller, and their own activism surely influenced their son’s political work.
MacColl’s father was a Scottish foundry worker who was blacklisted by most factories because of his union activity. In “My Old Man,” MacColl uses song to indict the capitalist system that can destroy human lives.
In “My Old Man,” MacColl also reveals his fondness for the man who helped bring him into the world. But he also reconsiders his father’s life: “He abandoned hope and the will to live / They killed him, my old man.” And he sees the life as a warning that he can pass on to his own son: “And my advice to you, my son,/ Is to fight back while you can.”
“My Old Man” is a tragic story and a touching song about fathers. I first heard the song during a performance by folksinger Charlie King.
MacColl’s performance of “My Old Man” below was made for Grenada Television in 1984. It features MacColl’s usual style of singing while cupping his ear. The recording was made only about four years before MacColl died in October 1989.