Like a lot of other men of my generation who grew up Catholic, I walked away from the faith after I had fulfilled my familial expectations to obtain all the sacraments of initiation, and had planned on never looking back. However, unlike a lot those same cultural Catholics who went off to college bereft of any religious moorings, my faith was actually rekindled when I did. I had gone to college right out of high school but dropped out after a year and a half because of poor grades, lack of money, and too much partying. So when I finally pulled myself together and managed to go back to school, I was older and definitely wiser. That time around, I was fortunate enough to encounter a group of solid and mature Catholic men who challenged me to drop the pretentiousness that I was trying pass off as intellectual sophistication, and to find out what my faith was really all about.
I did and I eventually came back to the Faith, albeit dragging my feet most of the time. This is why I am more than a little unhappy with the fact that all the work I did to smooth out and even pave a way back to the Church for the sake of my family, has gone unused by my two oldest children. While not in any way hostile to Catholicism, they have simply chosen a different path and have now joined the ranks of the “Nones.” Moreover, I am now a divorced father of five who constantly worries that this cycle will repeat itself with my other kids- talk about the sins of the father being revisited!
One struggle that has been particularly difficult to navigate, is walking the fine line between being a welcoming father and a disciplinarian when my kids are with me. My sixteen year-old daughter is a perfect example of how I must carefully choose how I discuss moral issues with her, lest she feels that I am being too “preachy” and either accepts more invitations from her peers rather than spending time with me or simply tunes me out when we are together. Petulant behavior? Of course, but as any father with teens can testify, its par for the course, even in the best of families.
Nevertheless, I have not given up and have found plenty of other roundabout ways to engage her mind, by going for long strolls with her on such mystery streets as the Via Via (its very narrow there), Via Veritas (a very liberating place), and the all important Via Vitae (always packed and abundantly so). What follows is the gist of one such “sneaky preach” I had with her as we discussed something she is very interested in- popular song lyrics. Whether these words can offer encouragement to anyone who is in a similar situation or you find my lyric analysis in any way illuminating, I offer them (with the permission of my daughter!) here for your enjoyment.
Musical Musings with a Slice of Pizza
My daughter and I go out every Wednesday night and on this night she was telling me of her adventures the previous weekend at a rock festival she had attended, while we waited the advertised 10 minutes for our carryout pizza to be done. She had been very excited to go and of course I had not, although to be fair this particular tour was known for its extreme intolerance of drugs, alcohol, and other contraband. Nevertheless, I didn’t think it was the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
However, I was surprised to hear her admit that much of the music she heard had been subpar, since it appeared that many of the artists sounded awful live. Moreover, she couldn’t understand most of the lyrics and those that she could were pretty vapid, even for her tastes. I told her that this should come as a surprise since apparently there is now “verifiable proof” that popular music has indeed sunk to new levels of mediocrity, and I showed her a video on my phone by British commentator Paul Joseph Watson as he, in his best Billingsgate, demonstrated why.
She then asked me what were some of my favorite songs, ones that had deep meaning in their lyrics. The first one that came to mind was “Life by the Drop” by Stevie Ray Vaughan from his 1991 posthumously released The Sky is Crying album. The song was actually written for Vaughan by longtime friend and Dallas blues legend Doyle Bramhall, and if you ask anyone what the song is about, without missing a beat they will tell you its about Vaughan overcoming his substance abuse problems.
However, while I realize that interpreting song lyrics is a tricky business at best, there are other ways of looking at the song. Some will say that its about looking back on a life without regrets, especially since the phrase “life by the drop” generally refers to living life day to day without giving much thought to the future. As someone who voraciously engaged in spirituous pursuits in my youth, I am partial to the substance abuse interpretation. Nonetheless, time, life experience, and a lot of grace have offered me a slightly fuller picture of the lyrics, which is why the song still holds a special place in my heart.
This is what I told my daughter about what the song could mean.
“Basically the song is about the relationship between the narrator’s addict self and his sober self, which is the “old friend” mentioned in the song. The addict part of him is looking back at his life through rose-tinted glasses and reminisces about two things. The first is playing ‘outside in the pouring rain‘, which is the kind of stuff kids do and which parents tell their kids to use their common sense and to come in out of it. This is exactly what its like to be an addict, as your pursuit of all the earthy delights the world has to offer wins out over any sense (common or otherwise) to remove yourself from a harmful situation.”
“The other memory nostalgically brought up by the addict self is the whole ‘Up and down that road in our worn out shoes, talkin bout good things and singing the blues.‘ If you think about it, talking about pleasant things and singing the blues would seem to be radically opposed activities. Once again however, the addict part of him wants to paint those times as having been fun despite giving his sober self ample “blues” material to sing about. Kind of like when Homer Simpson jokingly shouted in that prohibition episode, ‘To alcohol, the cause of and solution to, of all of life’s problems!’”
“Hopefully though, an addict will come to their senses and realize their predicament and turn away from it, as the song says, ‘You went your way and I stayed behind.’ What you have to understand sweetheart, is that at the root of every addiction is a desire to fill the hole that all of us have in our hearts. There has never been a person, now or in the past, who hasn’t tried to plug that hole with any and everything under the sun, but unlike that sappy song by Extreme, nothing this side of eternity will fill it. It has to be something from outside of ourselves. Like the lawn mower blades I used to sharpen for work, the blade can’t sharpen itself and continuous use would only make them duller and cut worse.”
“But you see, since we are composed of a body and soul, the cure for our perforated hearts or what some old dude named Augustine called ‘restless hearts’ that needed to be at peace, is something physical that can impart to us the spiritual grace we need to unite the sober and addict parts of ourselves. And when that happens, you get to the last part of the song, where the two ‘old friends’ make a sort of peace together, ‘Time’s been between us, a means to an end. God it’s good to be walking together, my friend.’ This kind of means that the time the two halves spent apart was part of an ongoing process to find wholeness.”
“Is the union perfect? Did Stevie Ray Vaughan truly kick his substance abuse problem? No its not perfect, and till the day he tragically died he remained an addict, even if he didn’t act on his addiction. The truth is honey, in some respects we’re all addicts, in that we all have a strange tendency to turn to any number of thing as a cure for the emptiness, the loneliness, or the aimlessness that everyone experiences at some point or another in their lives. Most people intuitively know that the same habits and qualities that drive us to excel and achieve our goals, are the same ones that can get out of balance and cause us to go on a bender.”
“As I’ve told all of you kids plenty of time before, life is hard and unfair, its not some odd side-effect that pops up now and then. The song says this with the refrain, ‘You’re living your dreams, oh you on top. My mind is aching, Lord it won’t stop. That’s how it happens living life by the drop.’ Even when you’re living your life and your dreams to the fullest, your mind will always ache, each and every day, drop by drop, because of the tremendous amount of energy you’ll have expend in order to act virtuously and to fight off vice. So get used to it now because life won’t get any easier, and if it does, you’re probably doing something wrong or something that is beneath your ability and dignity.”
“Comments, questions, concerns? None? Good cause I’m hungry and the pizza has to be done by now.”
As a last aside, this site is for Christian men to encourage and uplift one another, so if you care to mention your own favorite song that is rife with meaning for you, then please share in the comments section below.