Monday, March 31, 2008

The Things We Can And Cannot Keep

The other day Delaney asked me about a song on my new record called "The Things We Can And Cannot Keep".  Here is where I will try to explain the song. 

I spent most of January in Kansas City recording You And The Evening Sky with Don Chaffer. This song was one of my favorites going into the month and it was fun to sing the vocal because I got to go some places vocally that I haven’t before on a recording. There was a moment of epiphany that occurred while I was singing. I was revisiting the lyric of the bridge, making sure it was the right sentiment, when Don leaned into the vocal booth and said, “Alli, it’s perfect”. The bridge, he meant, and proceeded to tell me how the song had just come together for him and how he, in that moment, understood the song to be about innocence. He was right. And in the same way a novelist can be surprised by their own character’s words or actions, the song revealed itself to me more fully that day.

The things we can and cannot keep is a line from a blog written by Rebecca Stevenson. She is a wife, mother, teacher, and writer that has inspired me greatly. After reading her blog one day, I wrote the first verse and chorus of this song.

When I sing the words to The Things We Can and Cannot Keep, I think of the apple cider my grandma makes at Christmas, of the days my mom and I would shop for new school supplies and that smell of new shiny folders and unused erasers, of my bedroom where I relentlessly came up with new arts and craft projects that eventually turned my carpet an array of different colors. It makes me think of my high school boyfriend, of the school newspaper where I learned to use a dark room, of my short stint as a cheerleader and the way I wanted desperately to be noticed. It makes me think of all of these things because I want to know what memories are going to stay clear, and which ones will fade away with time. I want to know what happens to the attachments I have to certain buildings and houses, and the connection I have with certain people who have been part of my life. I want to know what we can carry in this life, and in to the next life. I want to know why our convictions change, and about the ways we all “negotiate growth”, in Don’s words. (He uses those words during our dialogue about this song, recorded on the bonus disc.)

My favorite class of all of high school was one called Modern Literature that I took my junior year. My favorite book ever assigned to me to read is one called “The Things That They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. It is about soldiers in the Vietnam War and their stories told through the things they kept in their pockets or socks or bags or hearts. I could not have written this song apart from the image I had of a soldier with a knapsack, carrying all the things that he felt defined him.

Here are the lyrics:

The Things We Can and Cannot Keep

up the drive, ‘round a corner
stand atop of the front porch staring
at the swing that used to hold
your end of the day thoughts
there’s the old cherry trees and the neighbor who knows
every grandchild’s name
even sewed them some clothes for Christmas
you remember that Christmas

what can we carry, what will stay with us
what will shine like gold when the story’s told
some things will tarry, some will return to dust
there are things we can and things we cannot keep

I was young and he was in high school
in the band he played all the marches
circle girls, boys and their solos
dancing our hearts like an auction
we’re for sale and we’re cheap and we’ll sing you a jingle
oh “heart” seems to be the wrong word for a soul
It’s crazy how we try to find solace

Innocence like a bottle spun
sacred stones in careless hands
building up our cityscape
we write our names on a plot of land
where will we go, who will we be
and what, if anything, can we carry?


Lindsay Rae said...

Thank you for talking more about this song! I love the way it leaps in memory in the lyrics and it's even better to hear more, also I was wondering if the nod to Tim O'Brien was intentional so I am glad to hear you had that in mind.

Anonymous said...

Alli- missed you guys at the Ridder Easter! It is funny that I happened to look at your website and blog today- on Friday I shared your song "The Things We Can and Cannot Keep" with a friend who is going through a divorce after joining our church with her soon- to-be-ex, after just becoming a stay at home mom, and after just building her "dream house". It's funny how "innocence" can be lost again and again in a lifetime. Every time I listen to the song I think of her and what she is giving up in order to gain, and what difficult decisions she's had to make in order to be who and where she is meant to be. I know her faith grows daily, and so mine must as well! I love the new cd! Thanks for sharing your talent! - Lisa

Alli Rogers said...

Hey Lisa! I missed you all as well and wish I could have been there!

Thanks for bringing up the fact that innocence doesn't necessarily refer to childhood, or adolesence, but to our human state. There is this sense of loss in the song, which is an inevitable experience for us, and I suppose part of what I was trying to say.

I love what you said "..what she is giving up in order to gain." how true.


Vitamin Z said...

I got to write with Don once when I was in Nashville. Great guy and super talented and creative.


Linds said...

Hey Alli-

I stumbled across your blog recently. It's been a long time since I've seen you.

This post reminds me to not rush and to savor the moments. Difficult, but important with a 2 year old and 5 month old :)

Hope you're doing well!

Anonymous said...

How many cd's do you have?

Boise, ID.

Heather said...

I downloaded your music from Noisetrade and love Things We Can and Cannot Keep. I am going to be an RA at Baylor University next year and am basing the theme of my hall on the song. I would love to read the blog posting that inspired you. Do you know which one it was?