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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather join to mark Fathers’ Day by looking at some song where fatherhood plays a roll — fathers good, bad, and (mostly) indifferent populate songs from every genre from the last several decades and try to heed the promise (or warning): “You know I’m gonna be like you, dad. You know I’m gonna be like you.”
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I might go a step further than Matt and suggest that it’s not JUST scarcity, but are also trying to admonish everybody for tolerating a state of affairs that everybody recognizes as insufficient. It’s not the kind of scarcity where the person who gets the most points/dollars/attention/lives “wins,” but more the kind where society shoves people into unnatural roles (provider, judge, sometimes executioner, and so forth) where nobody is ever able to do enough.
(That’s not my family, mind you, more an observation on the songs that seems to apply to a lot of families. With apologies to Tolstoy, my family was terrible in its own way…)
Unrelated, sort of like my mention of Dee Snyder, last week, I’m always amused whenever Harry Chapin comes into a broad conversation. Chapin spent a lot of time in the local community, so plenty of local spots are named for him, pretty much anybody who goes to music events has met his (very talented and absurdly nice) daughter Jen, and I can (on a nice day) walk to Harry’s grave. So, around here, we grow up with the impression of Chapin being a strictly local act, and we’re always surprised other people are in on the “secret.”
Billy Joel is in a similar category (though not the same class…), except there, everybody assumes he’s not a big name, because we’ve all run into him at bars and restaurants.
The thing that I find particularly profound about “Isn’t She Lovely” has to do with Stevie’s relationship with the harmonica.
If you’re like me, you LOVE Stevie Wonder’s music and his virtuosic genius and the way so many of his songs craft emotion that is timeless and all that good stuff…but you only like his use of the harmonica. It’s nice…he’s great at it, but he could maybe use it a little less.
But what is crystal clear is STEVIE WONDER LOVES TO PLAY THE HARMONICA. It must be his favorite thing, because even after he semi-retired he still showed up on everyone else’s tracks for forty-some years just to play the harmonica.
Chaka Khan’s “I feel for you”? That’s Stevie on harmonica.
Sting’s “Brand New Day”? Stevie.
Drake, Elton John, Snoop, Beyonce, Tony Bennett, Luther Vandross, Paul McCartney, Hank Williams, Jr., DeBarge, Kravitz, Rod Stewart, Eddie Murphy? Stevie Wonder on harmonica.
And so with this as background information, I’ve always found it quite moving how Mr. Wonder unleashes his most touching extended harmonica solo to express his emotion at the birth of his daughter. There’s no apprehension or worry or hesitancy in his performance. It sounds like pure fatherly joy.
That’s actually a very good podcast episode: “Popular music tracks where Stevie Wonder guests on Harmonica.”