I think writing about my Grandparents is hard, but I think writing about my parents is pretty impossible. But so many people have done it! The first song that springs to mind is obviously Mama by The Spice Girls.
I loved the Spice Girls when I was a preteen. I’m not really super ashamed of this, because I was the right age and they did have some pretty catchy tunes. But what I am ashamed of is making my Mum listen to The Spice Girls and All Saints in the car over and over again. A lot. My family; my mum and my dad and my brother, all have incredible taste in music. What I mean by that is that they all listen to music all the time and between them have a pretty vast musical territory covered. When I look back I feel like the period when I stopped listening to Abba and The Beatles (my favourite bands circa 1996) and started listening to Steps (I received the album Step One on cassette from my Uncle and Auntie for Christmas 1998) must have been a really difficult time for all of them. I know that they’ve all liked a lot of shit too (my brother once lost a shoe at a Cast concert) but I guess as the youngest, my foray into the world of atrocious pop was more starkly contrasted to my brother listening to Belle & Sebastian, my dad listening to Dylan and my mum listening to The Handsome Family.
The point of all this being that writing a song for either of my parents would be difficult because they are so central to me as a person but also to me as a songwriter. They introduced me to so much music. But there are all kinds of songs about parents out there. There are apoligies and thankyous, love songs and defiant rebukes and pleads. Parents inspire a lot of strong emotions in songwriters. And a lot of lazy sentiment. Despite the plethora of parents songs I couldn’t actually think of any so I had to do some research, and this research took me to this website for the lyrics of The Beatles song Julia.
Now, Julia is a beautiful and tender song, written by John Lennon for his mother who died when he was a teenager. Its a frank love song and like the love songs I talked about in this post it negotiates the difficulty of really expressing the love he feels.
“When I can’t sing my heart
I can only speak my mind”
I guess that’s a pretty interesting lyric to sing in a song especially if your John Lennon who seemed to be so good at both singing his heart and speaking his mind. Its definitely part of the childish desperation that makes this song (and a lot of John Lennon’s work) so touching. The reason I linked to that lyrics website is because it has a really wonderful comments section. The top comment is very eloquont and apt I think suggesting that we should “all express this kind of passion and thought about people, things and experiences in our lives”. What a positive interpretation of the song, picking up on the success of Lennon’s expression despite his awareness of its limits. The second comment down runs:
“it makes me feel so good about myself!!!!(even though this is not about me) i still like it lol because it has my name in it! hehe love it:)and i love the beatles because they wrote it!!”
Obviously this is what John Lennon was hoping for when he wrote it. I’m sure he hoped that countless other Julias, who were not his mother, would lol when they heard this beautiful, personal elegy. I guess there is an interesting point to be made here (in fact maybe a whole post on the subject) about the way people appropriate songs with names in. What’s that about? Why would anyone want this song to be about them when its about such a sad and intense relationship between a son and departed mother? But there you go. It makes her happy.
Another song about Mums is 2pac’s Dear Mama. Like Lennon’s song its directly addressed to his Mum but its a much more nostalgic song, filled with detail and memory. It is a thank you to a Mother who put up with a lot and this mother is much more present in the song, with a sample of her speaking coming right at the beginning. This contrasts with Lennon’s songs where the Mother is a central and poignant absence. Its a real sweet song, and I suppose its the conciseness of the lyric that stops it from being too cloying, although it is a bit much. I probably couldn’t listen to it more than once a year. Maybe on Mothers Day.
Lennon, 2pac and even The Spice Girls all pick up on one key theme in their songs about Mothers, the issue of understanding. Being able to express, across a generation, how you feel is difficult and that’s what makes this kind of song difficult to do right.So I guess I definitely could never write a song like any of these for either of my parents. Neither a love song or an apology. I like the way 2pac is so clear about the aims of his song
“And there’s no way I can pay you back
But my plan is to show you that I understand”
I suppose I would aim for a similar kind of clarity if I wrote a song about my parents. And I suppose it would be nostalgic, because I love nostalgia. But more than that I’m really not sure what a song about my parents would be like.