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Home is the place you haven’t to deserve, as the poet says (Robert Frost, specifically). Meaning, there’s stuff in life you shouldn’t have to earn. Which I’m not a big fan of, given that I pride myself on having earned everything. Which I realize is an idiotic and self-indulgent point of view. Call it privilege, or grace, or fate, but there are things that just happen. We remember the bad ones, but there are plenty of good ones too.

We were driving home from school the other day with my sophomore-year son. He was filling us on on his life, his academics, what he’d been listening to lately. He provided the most detail about the last, controlling the car radio with his iPhone, but that’s sort of the family we are. “Play something about coming home,” I asked, and being a smartass he put on Gil Scott-Heron, “Home is Where the Hatred Is”:

Home is filled with pain
It might not be such a bad idea if I never, never went home again

Not what I had in mind! So as a corrective I requested the first song that came to mind with a more sentimental view of home, til tuesday’s “Coming Up Close”:

Coming up close
Everything sounds like welcome home
Come home, and oh, by the way
Don’t you know that I could make
A dream that’s barely half-awake come true

A beautiful song: perfect melody, great twangy guitar riff, Aimee Mann’s smooth, emotionally open vocal. (She stayed smooth but lost the emotional openness later.) And it reminded me, like I wanted it to remind my son, of being home during the summers while I was at college, familiar places, familiar faces, slipping back into being a person I wasn’t anymore, the melancholy of knowing it was all temporary.

Only, as I was listening, it struck me the song isn’t about that. It’s about two friends or lovers who may not be either of those for very much longer having an evening where it feels like those are the only things that matter. The singer isn’t even home–she’s in Iowa, driving a borrowed car, staying at a hotel!

So why will this song always say something special to me about going home? Maybe because it was playing during those summers I was home. Or maybe because its bigger feeling, of finding if only for a little while mooring in a world where you feel uncertain, is more important than the details.

To me. In this case. But like Robert Frost says, you don’t have to earn everything, not even a song interpretation.

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