My longtime friend Douglas Imbrogno issued a public challenge the other day, and not for the first time, to get us both working on the performance of a song we've loved since we were young boys with our first guitars. We've talked about doing this for decades (which is a thing you can say only after you've attained the euphemistic "middle-age" milestone). We're both approaching 70 years now, and at this age there's another thing I say often:

Life is short. Do it or die.

What follows is a brief affirmation of why I always wanted to hear this song produced in a slightly more theatrical way than the original recording by Cat Stevens, who wrote it and performed it so well for so long. From the first time I listened, reading the lyrics on the album cover of "Tea for the Tillerman," I wanted it to be sung in the voices of Youth and Age.

So we'll see how it goes with the recording when Doug and I get our actual act together. My comments on the song itself are interspersed below with the lyrics.

Father and Son

©1970 Cat Stevens

I hear "Father and Son" as an operetta even more focused and compact than The Beatles' "She's Leaving Home," another masterpiece that illuminates the longing and the trauma of this inevitable choice to become something a parent could not know or expect.

There is much here of the father in the son, much of the son in the father. They contain and also resist one another, evoking a tension that has Shakespearean elements of beauty and tragedy.

The father has his say first. In two full verses he calms and reassures and ultimately hints at his own forsaken dreams ...

It's not time to make a change
Just relax, take it easy
You're still young, that's your fault
There's so much you have to know
Find a girl, settle down
If you want, you can marry
Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy

I was once like you are now, and I know that it's not easy
To be calm when you've found something going on
But take your time, think a lot
Why, think of everything you've got
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not

The son speaks his frustrations not to his father, but to us ...

How can I try to explain? 'Cause when I do he turns away again
It's always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen
Now there's a way, and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

And finally they speak to — or at — each other. The countermelody here is a technique also used by Mozart, and there's genius in it. The seeming conflict between father and son is infused with tenderness and love. In this next verse, the father makes his case again and the son's unspoken responses are rendered (parenthetically) in the countermelody:

It's not time to make a change (Away, away, away ...)
Just sit down, take it slowly
You're still young, that's your fault (I know ...)
There's so much you have to go through
(... I have to make this decision ... alone)
Find a girl, settle down
If you want you can marry
Look at me (No)
I am old, but I'm happy

The son laments in the next verse, and this time it's the father who responds in the countermelody:

All the times that I cried (Stay, stay, stay ...)
Keeping all the things I knew inside
It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it (Why must ...)
(... you go and make this decision ...)
If they were right, I'd agree, (... alone?) but it's them they know not me
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

The son dwells in his own head; the father can't reach him. There's stubborn resolve in both of them and no resolution in sight. The uneasy conversations between generations are necessarily endless, even when we suppose otherwise ...

A boy's will is the wind's will, and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts ...

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My Lost Youth

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Jeff Seager

I write about our connections



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