I can tell because last night we went to see Josh Ritter (whom Jae has been talking about for years but I’m just catching up). There was a song he played with lyrics that said “tell me I got here at the right time” and it was bittersweet and melancholy and painted a picture of loving someone through illness, and it got me thinking about the process of caring for my dad while he was sick and the acceptance I had to come to about the possibility that in one of my trips back to Nashville, I would not be there when he died. And that’s basically how it worked out in the end — Karsten and I had just made it back to Chicago that evening and decided not to go by my parents’ house until the next morning since it was already pretty late. And my dad died that night.
Sometimes the loss hurts more because I know I could have seen him alive one more time, but more often I know I was there at the right times all the previous times.
Anyway, it’s funny how once you’re reminded of something difficult, you can see connections in the loosest ways. So all through the rest of Josh Ritter’s set, I was primed to reflect on all kinds of loss, but especially my dad. And then he played “Kathleen,” which is one of the few songs of his I knew before last night, and I like it but it’s a tough one for me, because it so heavily references the Irish standard “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” and that’s one of the songs my dad used to sing when he was a nightclub performer and is the source of my name. Of course, Ritter’s song goes off in a different direction, but I think if you carry the connection over and think about his song in the context of its heritage, it makes his song even more intriguing. The Irish song is a plea to that song’s Kathleen to hold out hope in the narrator, to recognize that he sees she is unhappy and that he can once again bring her the happiness that she has lost. The Ritter song is a plea to its Kathleen to place some hope in the narrator, to recognize that he appreciates her and can see her clearly and can make her happy even if it’s just for one night. Each song is a kind of begging, but from nearly opposite ends of the lifecycle of a relationship — and, you could even say, nearly opposite ends of life itself.
Anyway, I thought about that while he was playing the song, but I was also just washed away in grief every time I heard the line “I’ll be the one to drive you home, Kathleen.”
And yet I walked away from the show feeling hopeful, and creatively inspired. I think there’s another post about that I need to write, because there are other factors at work there, but I definitely took away ideas from listening to Ritter’s brutal and beautiful honesty, and I intend to use them.