Goodby, Dear Old Dysfunctionals

Just heard Tom Rush sing “Child’s Song” on A Prairie Home Companion. Tom Rush was one of the “original folk” performers who rose to prominence during the sweet, brief ascendancy of 70s acoustic music–which produced some fine haunting tracks by Joni Mitchell, the early James Taylor, James’s brother Livingston, Jonathan Edwards, Boni Raitt, and others.

“Child’s Song” (written by Murray McGlaughlin) never failed to move me back then. Partly it was Rush’s moody performance, but the message seemed so right. It reached deep into my own feelings about growing up, leaving childhood behind, sallying forth into the great world with all its adventures. But above all, it was about the bittersweetness of it all. Of Leaving. Leaving––them. And leaving against their will.

Right on, I said to myself back then. Leave! You have to. You love them, but they’re a mess. They’re all wrong, so you just have to say a gentle goodby and go.

Tom Rush has been singing that song for 40 years now. His sons are grown. He’s looking forward to grandchildren. In the banter with Garrison Kielor (who thank God did not try to make a duet out of it), Rush made jokes kids these days, how they don’t rebel by leaving, they rebel by coming home, and so on.

His darkness was lighter now; and the rendition was pleasant, a bit more uptempo than what I first heard in 1968. It was almost, well, perky. Whatever first moved Rush to love that song and sing it back then has lightened up. It’s behind him now.

I’ve been listening to it for 40 years, and maybe it’s just because I’m on the other end now, with children grown and gone, but it’s interesting to log my current reaction, particularly the to lyrics. I still like “Child’s Song,” I do. But I can’t help it: that kid who’s singing such a poignant goodby to his f-ed up parents, he strikes me now as impossibly measured in his studied kindness. He’s so much more enlightened than those poor old dysfunctionals, and more than just a teenz condescending about it.

But to be brutally honest with myself, I guess that had to be a piece of me back then, didn’t it? Boy, I must have been insufferable.

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