Songs About Parents

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To go along with our ongoing Parenting Month here at Beams, the theme of this week's Jukebox is songs about parents. Seeing as how this is pretty self explanatory, let's get right to the music!

MerleHaggard-MamaTriedStarting off is Mama Tried by Merle Haggard, a song about a kid who went wrong despite the best efforts of his parents. It's a classic of outlaw country, a genre of music whose songs are replete with rough and tumble characters often on the wrong side of the law, and Haggard himself knew a thing or two about that kind of life. "Mama tried to raise me better but her pleading I denied, That leaves only me to blame 'cause mama tried".  A close runner up on this theme is Johnny Paycheck's song I'm the Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised), another outlaw country classic which includes this line in the chorus- "She tried to turn me on to Jesus, but I turned on to the devil's ways, And I turned out to be the only hell my mama ever raised".


Next up is Independence Day by Bruce Springsteen, a song about Bruce's strained relationship with his father. The song contains the following lyrics, which I'm sure many can relate to- "Now I don't know what it always was with us, We chose the words and yeah we drew the lines, There was just no way this house could hold the two of us, I guess that we were just too much of the same kind". Breaking away from the tight hold of our parents, and gaining our independence, is something we all have to go through in one way or another I guess, and it's all the more painful when that's been a troubled relationship. Bruce offers a heartfelt song that speaks to all this, and in doing so allows space for other men to process (and possibly grieve) their own relationships with their fathers.


Next is Dolly Parton singing Coat of Many Colors, a song that recalls how a mother did everything she could for her child despite being poor, crafting 'a coat of many colors' out of a collection of rags. A heartwarming song about the type of love and support a parent can offer a child, even under the most trying conditions.


I once heard Bruce Springsteen half-jokingly ask- while introducing his only song about his mother- why it was that rap artists have no problem singing about their mothers while you rarely hear it in rock music (he joked that it was "dangerous to the career of a rock musician" to sing about their mother). It's true that there's many hip-hop songs about mothers, and one of the most famous is 2Pac's Dear Mama, a brave and moving homage to his mother Afeni Shakur.


Although many songs about parents involve some kind of pain and/or a difficult past, sometimes they are simply about the bursting joy of a parent's love for a child. One of the greatest of these is Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) by John Lennon, with Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely being a close runner up.


When I was thinking about doing this Jukebox one track that came up immediately was Harry Chapin's Cats in the Cradle. However, I hesitated about putting it in because we've all probably heard it many times, and I thought it might be a little too obvious and thus not that interesting. But then I recalled something that changed my mind. Over the past few years I've had the honor of doing therapeutic and shadow work with groups of men in a pair of different settings, and through these process I've become painfully aware of how often we repeat negative patterns and behaviors that we learned in our youth from our parents, even when we consciously don't want to. As Michael Milano wrote about so powerfully in his article Thank God I'm Gay and Sterile, the imprints from childhood can be deep and long lasting in their influence on our lives, and a song like Cats in the Cradle reminds us to do our best not to make those negative ones for our own children.


Rebellion against our parents is a classic experience of youth and one that's often been captured in song. When thinking about this theme these lines from Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A Changin immediately jumped out at me:

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The two other songs that came up for me around rebellion are a little more on the humorous side than Dylan's revolutionary battle cry, but they're still classics of a different sort. One is Fresh Prince's Parents Just Don't Understand, and the other Twisted Sister's We're Not Gonna Take It. I can still hardly listen to this song without pumping my fist!


It's not just our fathers that we can have difficulties with, as in Springsteen's Independence Day, the rocky relationships with our mothers can take up a lot of mental real estate too. And make for great songs! One classic in this category is Pink Floyd's Mother, with John Lennon's Mother being a close contender.


And last up, a song about an experience that many, many kids and parents have to go through, divorce. Leave it to country music to find a way to give expression to this common, and often painful, experience.


As always with the Jukebox, drop your additional choices in the comments, let's utilize the cognitive surplus! Thanks for listenin.

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