And it’s you when I look in the mirror / And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone

~ U2, “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”, 2005

I’m ten years old, or so, and wandering the streets of the apartment complex where we live, somewhere in northwest Ohio. A headstock, stained the color of an individually-wrapped caramel abandoned in the sun for too long, sticks out of the corner of an industrial-sized and green garbage bin. To me, it is a rose, blooming and beautiful. I pluck out the instrument and drag it home. That is bookend the first.

The second is me dragging it again, only this time back to the garbage bin.

The stuff in the middle is timeworn and difficult to decipher. For example, I can’t recall anything else about the guitar, its color or make or whether it had strings or hardware. Nor can I remember why he told me I couldn’t keep it. Odds are the guitar had sustained irreparable damage, something I would have had no inkling or ability to recognize. Or perhaps my father had no inclination to go down a road paved with lessons and the endless practicing, and requisite noise, that come with learning an instrument. In many cases, desire is not enough. Or maybe the brush off came after no thought at all, for him a moment of annoyance that could be ended simply because he said so.

Those details are lost to me, but the bookends remain.


Bono shares of a similar experience in U2 By U2, the band’s 2006 coffee-table-style autobiography. His grandmother owned a piano, and as a child little Paul Hewson would stand under the keys, reach up and pluck them one by one, “playing with it the way kids do, just making noise – but it is not really making noise, it is making music.” Years later, as a tormented teenager, “I would put my foot on the pedal and hit keys and I remember how the room would change shape, because the note would get this cloud of reverb around it, become cathedral-like.” After her death, the family had to decide what to do with the piano. Bono searched their small home for a corner where it could sit, but his parents wouldn’t have it. In a home abounding with dark, deep humor but short on romanticism, keeping the piano lacked practicality.

Years later, his own death imminent, Bono’s father Bob confessed that he’d always regretted never becoming a musician. In light of that, Bono writes:

. . . you would think that the first thing he would do is to make sure his kids have that opportunity. But no – sell the piano. Sell the fucking piano. It’s amazing. If you were a kid like me, that is like someone taking away your oxygen tank. You can’t breathe.

There’s a lot in that. I think the seeds of ambition were sown, paradoxically by this repression of the spirit. If you keep telling somebody not to do something then that might just be what they become driven to do. Megalomania might have started right here. I was going to have my revenge on the world. Everyone was going to have to listen to me! Of course, I didn’t know what it was I was actually going to say or play, but the world was going to have to listen. Which, of course, is really psychological shorthand for ‘my father would have to listen’. When it gets down to it, there’s only ever really one person in the audience.


According to the Quit Smoking Tracker installed on my Palm Pre Plus, as of this very moment I have been smoke-free for 6 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 55 seconds. I have not spent $57.15 on cigarettes (Instead, I bought some relatively inexpensive plastic storage shelves for the garage and a new hose – kink-free and sans holes – for the garden), and have avoided 230 cigarettes. It also tells me I have not inhaled 0.35g of nicotine and 4.62g of tar.

Numbers. Like seconds, they pile up.

My father and I get along fine. At this point in our relationship, there are so many nuggets of this or that, rooted deeply in the dirt of the past and refusing to yield to whatever tools we may wield in our attempts to dig them up. We can do dates and places and events, but the stuff that we felt, and still feel, is like that iconic mosquito stuck in the amber of time. We can look at it, but never again bring it to life, no matter what Michael Crichton says.

Maybe that’s for the best.

But there are time when reminiscing about the stuff of the past can be fun. For example, the other day he came with me up to the BSA camp to spend the evening with my youngest son. His grandson. I had made arrangements for him to be shuttled around on an EVI because previous and lingering injuries to his hips and back would preclude a walk across the camp. He protested a bit, said he could make it, but he soon realized I had thought this all out to his advantage. And in it there was no shame. We sat and chatted with the scoutmasters about Wood Badge and old-school scouting, back when he directed Chicago’s Scouting for the Handicapped program. Seeing him smile at remembrances of long ago made me happy as well. The scars diminished, and the pain subsided, even if only for as long as it took to scarf down some dutch oven cobbler. He has surgeries coming up that hang above his head like Damocles’ sword, reminders that time is slipping away, and life is never as easy as we often strive to make it look.

So we have today. I will see him this afternoon. I will pile my brood in the van and I will drive them up there, where we will all swim and then cook out and eat and then watch the sky as it is set ablaze. We may even talk about this post. He reads this, you know, when he’s not harvesting crops or hatching baby emus on Facebook. As much as I like to think I write for each of you, he is often the target audience. I say things here I can’t say out loud, or couldn’t with any modicum of clarity or profundity. And he is perhaps hearing me clearly for the first time.


Tough, you think you’ve got the stuff
You’re telling me and anyone
You’re hard enough

You don’t have to put up a fight
You don’t have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches
For you tonight

Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go in alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

We fight all the time
You and I… that’s alright
We’re the same soul
I don’t need… I don’t need to hear you say
That if we weren’t so alike
You’d like me a whole lot more

Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go it alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

(This is it)
I know that we don’t talk
I’m sick of it all
Can, you, hear, me, when, I, sing
You’re the reason I sing
You’re the reason why the opera is in me

Well hey now, still gotta let ya know
A house doesn’t make a home
Don’t leave me here alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you that makes it hard to let go
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own
Sometimes you can’t make it
Best you can do is to fake it
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

[Flickr photo is by tofer618 and is protected]

20 thoughts on “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own (Songs for Amanda #1)

  1. Less and less alone with each minute. What you are doing is really, really hard and you *do* have to do it alone. But people are here. Every minute, every drag you don’t take is a testament to your strength.

    Off to listen some more.

    1. I tried to put up a video of the actual song, but it can’t be embedded for some (greedy) reason . . .

      Hope you enjoy this one. It seemed like a good place to start. Next week, we pick it up a notch!

  2. Hey man,

    My dad doesn’t read my blog, but my mom does. I hope she tells him what I write about, but I doubt it. Part of me is still seeking his approval I suppose.

    Love the 666 header. Classic.


    1. I’m glad you recognize your own work, my friend . . .

      (The rest of you? Click the Headers tab and go visit Michael’s site, which is not about him at all. Do it, please? Thanks!)

  3. those moments my parents tossed off – ‘defining moments’ for me, and just a gnat in their daily jello. scariest part of being a parent for me was just that – which random, thoughtless thing would i do today that marked my children (for better or worse) for the rest of their lives?

    in the end? we all do what we can.

    still cheering madly for you in the battle against the smokes, because i really want to keep reading your words!

  4. I’ve gotten so behind on blog reading! I’m glad you’ve decided to quit smoking again. Good luck with it! And you’ve hit it on the nail about blogging for an audience of one (or maybe a few more, in my case). Sometimes it is easier to write what one wants to say. I’m glad you and your father have a good relationship and that you spent time at the scout camp. Not only did it bring back memories for him…and you, but it also created more.

    1. And it was a gorgeous evening to boot. Unlike this one. Hot and humid and icky all around . . .

      Thanks for stopping by. Always a pleasure . . .

    1. It might have been all the typos. I just read it again and noticed several spine-tingling errors. And I call myself and English major?!?! I’m so ashamed . . .

      Carry on.


    1. Thanks, Sean. Not certain where your musical loyalties lie, but if this U2 thing gets out of hand, just say the word and I’ll switch to Metallica or Dream Theater.


  5. ok – that’s interesting because i was about to say that i heard somewhere that Bono’s dad was an opera singer, and that’s how the U2/Pavaroti collaboration came about – because his dad talked him into it.

    Sometimes is one of two songs written around the time of Bono’s dad’s death , but i can’t remember what the other one about it was called.

    I have a guitar myself and its amazing how attached you can get to an instrument once you get past the initial frustration – i still regret part-exchanging a heavy silver Marlin slammer guitar that i had for my 18th – but the pickup was shot…

  6. I’ve been a spaz on the internet. Finally catching up. Powerful posts [this one and the one prior]. I hope you’re hanging in there. I love the new look of your blog. I’m assuming it’s going to be around for a long time…

  7. Holy….the sight of that smashed guitar in that picture made me gasp. Your story of having to take it back to the dump made my heart hurt.

    Congrats on keeping with the quit, man. That’s wonderful news.

    Dutch oven cobbler…mmmm. That there encompasses so many of my camp memories.

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