I recently acquired several large boxes of photos, documents, and other debris that had been stored for many years in a crowded, dusty corner of the basement in my childhood home. Much of it is from my early childhood but a lot of it is from the early lives of my parents, and particularly my mother.
So far I’ve only spent a few hours going through these boxes but already I feel like I have at least the beginnings of a newfound appreciation for who these people were before they made me.
My parents were considerably older than average when they first met, both in the their late 30’s already, and as a result I feel like the distance between us as individuals, the understanding gap that made it harder for us to relate to each other, was wider than it should have been.
It often seemed, especially once I became a teenager, as if my family had somehow skipped a generation. My parents could tell me stories about seeing Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King speak, but they had only casually incidental and woefully incomplete knowledge about John Hughes or the Internet. When I was 12, this seemed like a handicap, but obviously as I’ve grown I’ve come to appreciate it as more of an asset, the foundation of my own unique worldview.
Lately though, as I’ve slowly come to grips with the fact that I am now, inarguably, an adult, I’ve spent more and more time thinking about this gulf between them and I. When I first met my parents, they had been adults for almost 20 years, they had it all figured out, they were homeowners and respected members of their communities, they were small business owners and elected officials, doctors and engineers. It was easy then to mythologize their lives, to place them on pedestals so high that it would be sacrilege to think I might join them up there someday.
I first saw We Are The Willows almost two years ago, right after I got back from visiting my buddy in Austin and I remember being stunned by the juxtaposition of their reverent, euphoric brand of Midwestern folk and their quietly charming and unassuming stage banter. When I got home and had a chance to listen to their excellent sophomore album, Picture (Portrait), I simply assumed Peter Miller was doing the same thing for his grandparents that I had done for my parents all those years. I just imagined he was placing his grandparents, and their storybook romance that is at least partially responsible for his existence, up some lofty pedestal so that he could genuflect before them.
Today though, as I sit here and grapple with this double LP re-release/sequel thingy, Picture (Portrait) [Pt. 1 & 2], I’m starting to think Miller is doing something completely different. Now maybe (definitely) it’s just the new baggage that I’m bringing to this album that has changed my mind about what it’s about, but for whatever reason it feels so much more clear-eyed and tenacious than I remember it being.
It feels more like Miller is looking his grandparents square in the eye and coming to terms with the feelings of loss and hope and camaraderie that such an action fills him with. It feels like he’s coming to grips with the devastating knowledge that his grandparents aren’t mythological at all, that there were times in the their lives when they were nervous and uncertain and selfish and lazy.
Their lives were not mythological or predestined but rather ambiguous and improvised and incredibly messy. They were, in all of the beautiful and flawed and miraculous ways we can think of, just like us. They were young and dumb and hopeful and lost, and as much as that knowledge might frighten us, it will in time serve to reassure us, to make us feel a little less lonely and a little more certain, or at least a little more comfortable knowing that nothing is certain.
More information available from the Vaudeville Mews website.