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A grand weeper from Randy’s new album.

A man is on a doorstep saying goodbye to his hosts after a party. It’s an annual party, one he’s been to many times before. A holiday party, say, we’ve been having one of those for 25 years. He’s come to the party with his father; he’s come to the party with his wife; he’s come with his sons and daughters. Tonight he’s here alone but still wishing in these waning moments for the miracle appearance of his youngest son:

Where is my wandering boy tonight
Where is my wandering boy
If you see him, push him toward the light
Where is my wandering boy

There must be 20 songs that feature the phrase “wandering boy,” Irish songs, country songs, an old Carter Family tune. Maybe the man is a songwriter himself, and is familiar with these songs. Maybe the phrase itself gives him some comfort, lends a familiarity and continuity to something he can’t come to grips with.

The man launches into a story about his absent son, remember the time he jumped off the diving board, five years old, laughing like a maniac, Jesus Christ, that kid had no fear! His hosts nod: they have other guests to attend to, they’ve heard the story before. The man has had a few drinks but isn’t so drunk he doesn’t notice the impatience in their eyes. Again, great party, he says. See you next year. But as he drives home he can’t keep his mind from circling back to the son who didn’t show up:

I hope he’s warm and I hope he’s dry
And a stranger’s eye is a friendly eye
And I hope he has someone there by his side
And I hope that he’ll come home

I had a colleague at work whose son was Narcan’d twice in the nine months our project lasted. The first time I was shaken when he told me, I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry, my therapist told me to be honest with people,” he said when he noticed my awkwardness. “The kid does enough lying for the whole family.” The second time the colleague let me know in an email. “Was in the hospital all night, Nathan od’d again. Will be in a little late.” I was more prepared to offer sympathy this time but he waved it away. “He’s going to kill himself. I’ve told him, my wife told him, the doctor told him. He doesn’t listen. Not a thing we can do to stop it.”

Maybe that’s not what the song is about. Maybe this guy’s son is just doing a junior year abroad or something. Still a sad song.

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