My mother likes to talk about a meeting with her guidance counselor in high school. With a condescending smile, the guidance counselor told my mom that she just wasn’t cut out for college, and that she should focus her attention on finding a husband to provide for her. My mom, indignant and newly motivated, set out to attend community college, eager to prove that guidance counselor wrong. Today, she has a Ph.D and a successful career in information science, and is the kindest, most caring mother I could ever hope for.
My father is a mechanic and general handyman who fixed-up the fixer-upper my parents bought before they had my sister and I. My mother and I are talkative, fussy, and anxious, but my dad is quiet, practical, and relaxed. He doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve the way I do, but my mom tells me about the day she went in for a sonogram when she was pregnant with me. “It’s a boy!”, the doctor said, and my father beamed from ear to ear.
My sister is a year older than me, and she’s always been my best friend. I’ve told her secrets that no one else knows, and she’s done the same. We celebrated together when we were happy, and comforted each other when we were sad. Even though we might not be interested in the exact same things anymore, we’re still as close as can be. It’s impossible to truly know someone outside of yourself, but I know my sister the best.
I don’t normally talk so much about myself in these reviews, but for a song that touches me as deeply as this one it would feel wrong not to. “Family Song”, a tender, gorgeous song by the Rochester-based singer-songwriter Madeleine McQueen, is an ode to her family, from her mother to her father to her brothers, and it’s written with care and specificity. McQueen knows her subjects inside and out, and the love she has for them shines through.
In a beautiful voice free of affectations, McQueen sings about her mother, a smiling woman with sun-kissed shoulders who “gave everything to everyone”. She sings about her father, who “built a dreamer out of [her]”. She sings about her brothers, who provided balance and company; she likens them to “two stones moving through the earth”. And she sings about her little sister, who “knows how to move through the world just right”. These lyrics go beyond sentimental mama-who-raised-me cliches; McQueen is committed to doing her family justice, immortalizing them in song.
It helps that the song itself is so beautiful. It’s a sun-baked alt-country song, its gentle swaying rhythm rocking back and forth like a tire swing in the backyard. Dreamy guitar, warm keyboards, and airy harmonies make the song feel full and complete, and by the time it ends it feels like a satisfying sunset at the end of a long summer’s day.
“I could never be her,” McQueen sighs, singing about her mother, “but I think I’ll spend my whole life trying.” That line is the key to “Family Song”, and a big reason why it resonates with me so strongly. I want nothing more than to make my mother proud, my father proud, my sister proud. I want to be as hard-working as Mom, as level-headed as Dad, as creative as my sister. I know that their love is unconditional, but I’ll strive anyway because I want them to know that their love hasn’t gone to waste. McQueen has shown her love through this song, and I have no doubt that her family is proud.
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