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?