“Mama Knew” is the first song I ever wrote that was good enough to record. It was written just before I left Colorado for NYC and then Nashville (the photo is of me on that trip). You'll no doubt notice that in the first song I ever wrote, I’m already wrestling with the main theme of most of my songwriting -- the push/pull between staying and going.
In the years since I wrote “Mama Knew,” I’ve learned that I’ll never be able to choose one or the other. The city lights will always shine in my eyes, just as I’ll always need the “fields of green.” (though I probably wouldn’t write “fields of green” these days…)
This new version is particularly special to me, and if it sounds a little scruffy, that's because it’s built around the original version which was recorded during my first-ever recording session in Denver, Colorado. Modern technology allowed us to strip away almost all of the original instrumentation, leaving only the original pedal steel guitar and my original (very twangy!) vocals on the choruses. I then recorded my present-day vocal, and we mixed it in with Past Me in the chorus, and added an acoustic guitar track. So it’s a bit of musical time travel -- Present Day Me gets to sing with Past Me who was just starting out on this journey before things got weird.
I feel compelled to add that this song gives my real-life mother too much credit. At the time, I believed she was withholding her opinion out of a generous and enlightened understanding that I needed to find my own way. Now I realize she was mostly figuring I’d crash and burn and then come to my senses and go back to the respectable (aka boring) life she wanted for me.
That her plan didn’t ultimately work is not (I don’t think) the primary reason she and I are estranged, but I have no doubt that it’s a contributing factor, and there’s a sadness for me in this song that will always be there, for what was and what never will be between us again.
It's difficult for me to listen to this song. It's clearly a beginner's song, but looking back, I can also see the beginnings of talent. It's painful for me to realize that instead of supporting my courage to go after a dream, she chose to sabotage that dream instead. And more meaningfully, I chose to let her sabotage it for me by believing her when she told me that I had no talent and would never make it as a songwriter.
I understand why she did what she did. I understand it was her fear, her failure of nerve to make her own dreams come true, projected onto me. She didn't have the courage to pursue the creative life of an artist that she dreamed of, and because of that, she couldn't bear to see anyone else do it.
So I suppose the reason I'm sharing this song on Mother's Day weekend is to say this: if someone you love, be it a child or a partner or a friend or.... yourself... has a dream, please find it in yourself to be supportive even if you're afraid for them, even if you're jealous or fearful or resentful. It was my choice to listen to her doubts, but even a little bit of genuine support from her would have made all the difference in the world. It would have given me all those years to make my dream come true, years that I lost and will never get back.
If you have or had a mother who supports/ed your dreams, maybe take some time this weekend to thank her, if you still can. And if you didn't have a mother like that, I'm so sorry -- but don't let that stop you. Never, ever let someone else's fears or resentments determine your life's path or keep you from your dreams. Never, ever, ever.
And now, here's "Mama Knew":