This week one of my favorite songwriters, Teddy Thompson, released an album called “Family.” As covered in a New York Times Magazine story last weekend, the project truly is a family affair, a folk rock collaboration between Teddy, his sister Kami, various nephews, and the now-divorced matriarch and patriarch of the clan, folk legends Richard and Linda Thompson. Each family member contributed a couple of songs, and the others layered on their own musical contributions in a Round Robin recording fashion.
The Times article, and the album itself, present a fascinating glimpse into the specific family dysfunctions of the Thompsons, who as Brits tend toward the “stiff upper lip” school of repressed feelings. Why talk about it when you can just write a song, send it to your dad for his guitar input, send it to your mom for some background vocals, send it to your sister for a little musical grace, and pray that everybody understands the subtext, both positive and negative, that you’d prefer not to discuss in the open?
It’s a gorgeous album, but with lyrics like “if you’re busy living your life, then you won’t be living mine” and “I am betwixt and between, Sean Lennon you know what I mean,” it’s clear that the Thompson family is working through some shit here.
It got me thinking about what a Family album would sound like if it came from this house, a chance to air grievances and express gratitude in four part harmony. Hey, my people are from Yorkshire. I can do repressed as well as anyone. When readers of the first draft of my memoir said they needed to read more about my feelings, I told them, “Got it. Can you please tell me what they are?”
I’m no musician or songwriter, but I can at least imagine the titles of our tracks that various people in my family would contribute, and conjure a few sample lyrics.
“Over and Over”
Mom’s telling that story of yore
She’s told so many times before
Since I got home from school today she’s retold it twice
Is she losing it? Should I be nice?
“Break Some Rules”
Yes there’s a family rule
If you cook dinner, clean-up should be done by another fool,
But when what you’re cooking is just for you
Like a smoothie for one, not two
Then rules are meant to be broken
“Pancho and Lefties”
Everywhere else in the world, left handers are a minority
In this house, they’re the authority
Mom’s the only right hander here, so be kind and think
Where’d it goooooooooo? Where’d it goooooooooo?
Dish soap and toothpaste on the wrong side of the sink
“Ticket to Ride”
I don’t drink, I don’t gamble, I don’t play golf
But she’s glaring at me through the mist
All I said was I’m riding in the morning
She said “GREAT!” like she was pissed
“Achilles the Warrior”
The g-d dog is attacking a stuffed animal
You’re making me insane
I love you
I love you, boy
“Recycling My Love”
The stack of unwanted paper on the counter grows
Like a tree, like my love, like the winter snows
You sigh and ask “anything more to go out to the bin?”
Nothing at all
Except that catalog I found, right before you walked back in.
Yes, you’re taller than me now
Yes, by an inch or three now
Yes, you can fit into my shoes now
But no, you cannot wear them.
Where on weekends lazy parents nap,
Where on flowers the dog takes a crap,
Where girls talk nonstop ballet,
Where the meals are substantial if not gourmet
Nirvana for me at the end of my day