Dear Shadow Alive and Well: Revisited

Last night, I went with my parents and a family friend to see Fleet Foxes at the Taft Theater. They were good – great, even – better than I’d expected. I also didn’t expect to cry, but I did, the moment Robin Pecknold stood at the center of the stage by himself and started to play “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.”

I sat next to my parents, tears falling down my cheek, remembering something distant and familiar I’d written about this song years ago, back when I wrote things on the internet from time to time.

I wanted to revisit this old blog post here (old and sloppy and overwrought, but honestly myself), because the older I get, the more this rings true. I remembered these sentiments as Pecknold sang the words “dear shadow alive and well, how can the body die…?” and I sat next to my parents, all of us getting older, still hopeful as we tumble down the hill.

(Previously published on September 9, 2008)

Beneath the wall of books in my parents’ home (where James Herriot and Erica Jong once salaciously touched covers) was a series of cupboards that hid a different art: their old records. I used to flip endlessly through these cardboard covers, trying to piece together my parents’ history, first apart, then together. You can almost go so far as to blame the entire extent of my current nostalgic obsessions on a single cupboard of vinyl. I put the needle on Harvest and the damage was done. I was traveling backwards, inhaling the smell of polyester in the closet, witnessing afghan throws and unfinished wood decorating a newlywed Vermont home.

Their particular record collection was like the commercial for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. “Hey, you got your CSNY in my Carpenters!” “No, you got your Simon & Garfunkel in my New Riders of the Purple Sage!” On listening, I tried to seek out the place where the two converged.

A few weeks ago, a bit late to the party as usual, I discovered my modern day fabled peanut butter cup: Fleet Foxes.

There’s this song too, the song that made me cry the very first time I heard it, on the couch the other night, and then again on the bus last week. (Their use of Brueghel on the album cover doesn’t hurt their rating in my book either. If you’ll tolerate it, someday I might spend an entire post here writing the stories of the characters in “The Hunters in the Snow.” In fact, that would make a fantastic novel. Somebody get on that.)

Fleet Foxes are a new string back to my parents’ record collection. To those imagined pasts soundtracked by an acoustic guitar. A simple round. Folk songs and protest songs.

I put on the record. It’s like having my parents over for dinner, their younger versions, with different expectations of life. These songs, even in moments of imperfection, make me think about what they once hoped for. What they still hope for.

My parents and I still talk about hope. All the time. Political hope. Hope for the future hope. Hope to see you hope. Hope you’re well. Hope.

I live in the shadow of this hope, and, contrary to the usual associations attached to living in someone’s shadow, it’s a wonderful place to be. They’ve raised me like those gourmet coffee beans that grow in the shade. And we come together, at times, the oak trees and the acorn, to have inspiring dialogues. And I can see something in them that inspires me to create my own version of their lives. A cover version, my interpretation of their past. Me and my words, wandering off to some foreign country, awkward and unsure in our old early nineties uniform, interpreting their lives from a distance. Full of echoes. It might look something like this.

We, most of us, are cover versions of our parents’ lives.