Dropped my only child off at college this weeek, which is one of those things that is not a big deal (inevitable rite of passage, proof you’ve done your job as a parent, etc.) unless you are the one doing it. Some songs that have been helping me though:
- “Going Down to Laurel,” Steve Forbert.
The best expression I know of the youthful bravado and confidence I want my son to be feeling on he embarks on this great adventure, the sense of being glad to be young, glad to be alive, ready to take on all comers. “I’m going down to Laurel, it’s a dirty stinking town/But me I know exactly what I’m going to find.”
- “A New Name for Everything,” the Weakerthans.
Advice I’d want to give him when that youthful bravado and confidence falter, the main thing being to be cautious around advice: “Fire every phrase/They don’t want to work for us anymore.” “If you come back, bring a new name for everything”–that’s what college is for!
- “My Old School,” Steely Dan.
I’m on record as not being a huge Steely Dan Fan, but this is a great song, and one of the few in the rock and roll canon that will admit to having spent time in college. It gets the details right: “I was smoking with the boys upstairs/When I heard about the whole affair.” It also epitomizes the type of snarky, superior cynicism most of us cultivate and leave behind in school, though Steely Dan never did grow out of it. Everything can be made fun of, and should be! (RIP Walter Becker.)
- “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward,” Billy Bragg.
On the other hand: what shouldn’t be made fun of? College politicized me, though I never did much about it in terms of protests and picket lines. Even at a young age those sorts of group actions didn’t seem to me to make much difference. I’ve been proven wrong many times, so now I say man the barricades for what counts, buddy, and find some friends who will help make the great leap forward finally happen! (Unless of course your politics turn out to be the opposite of mine, in which case we can just argue over the dinner table during breaks.)
- “Better Things,” Dar Williams.
The most hopeful song I know, it’ll do as my envoi for the last 18+ years and salutation for the next 70. “Accept your life and what it brings/I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.” Written by grumpy old man Ray Davies, and though I like his version I prefer Dar’s, who also has her grumpy side though not here. The urgent acoustic guitar figure reminds me of my son in his new dorm room trying to hide his impatience as we were saying goodbye. Guys, I love you, it’s been great, but time to get on with it!