I’m a firm believer in the connection between our personal journeys and how that plays into the music that we hold dear. When I became obsessed with Copeland’s You Are My Sunshine, I was in the midst of what remains to be the worst, and one of best, times in my life.
I’ve only briefly touched on this several times, but I suppose it’s time to lay out the whole story about my grandmother, Linda. Anyone who met her immediately loved her. She was the kindest, most thoughtful human I’ve ever met, and still no one compares to the way she always knew just what was needed to turn a bad day around. From cookies to a movie night, she was always the perfect diversion from what reality threw at me.
I was only 17 when she passed away from cancer, and even though everything feels like a big deal at 17, facing things without her these past few years have only made the bad seem worse. She always knew how to look on the bright side, which is something I’m really bad at doing. One of her favorite songs was “You Are My Sunshine”. She used to sing it to her kids (my mom and her brother) when they were young, and then to my siblings and I when we were younger.
Now that you’ve met Linda and, I’m sure, already wish you had known her, let’s talk about Copeland’s album of the same name as that 1939 Jimmie Davis hit. The album, for me, jumps back and forth, uncannily telling the story of my 2015: the year my grandmother died and the year I met the man I married three years later. It was the year I watched my family fall apart, but it was the year I saw them stand back up, stronger than ever.
The album begins with “Should You Return” and the lines that pertain here are, “But now there’s nothing left to do but waste my time / I never knew where to move on / I never knew what to rely upon”. Cancer takes such an emotional toll but it also takes a toll on time. The nights my mom would be at the hospital, it was up to me and the rest of my family members to keep the house running, to keep some semblance of order. Once my grandmother passed, my mom was back again, so I had more time on my hands. The extra time, though, wasn’t a blessing. It was used as a grief outlet.
“The Grey Man”, under normal circumstances, is just another song about a breakup. But for me, the song turned into both a ray of hope – “You’re gonna run right back to her arms” – and part of the realization that she was actually not going to come back.
The third track on this album, “Chin Up”, may be my favorite song Copeland has ever written (a close second is “In Her Arms You Will Never Starve” from Ixora). My mom leaned heavily on us during the time the cancer took to run its course. I feel like I bore a lot of the weight because I’m the oldest child, but maybe I’m just being narrowminded. Anyway, “You’d break your neck / To keep your chin up” felt so real then. My mom and I are ridiculously similar, and we deal with our feelings the same way – we don’t. We’re not fans of pity parties being thrown in our honor. I felt like I had to be strong enough so my mom felt comfortable leaning on me if she needed to. That feeling kind of stuck around though, even to this day, even when it’s not necessary.
“Good Morning Fire Eater” is kind of an aftermath song for me. ”The day is done and everyone’s gone now / You can taste every fire and hold every song”. I graduated high school shortly after my grandmother passed. So this song is kind of a sigh of relief, now that she wasn’t suffering anymore. And I held onto the idea that everyone has after high school: the world was my oyster.
We all know the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. If I’m continuing this track of being honest, I’m still having trouble with the acceptance part. But I had no trouble with the depression. “To Be Happy Now” is the best expression of that depression I’ve found up until Paramore released “Rose-Colored Boy”.
So let’s bring the mood up a little toward positivity. I was talking to a guy and he had really helped me through some of the tougher stuff I was having to deal with. My grandmother passed in June. By that point, Jeremiah was asking when I’d be his girlfriend and I told him we’d talk about it when I turned 18. I turned 18 in August and by September 2nd, we were together. The next two tracks on the album, “The Day I Lost My Voice (The Suitcase Song)” and “On the Safest Ledge”, respectively, provide two outlooks on this new relationship I was fostering: one of severe skepticism as I was no stranger to how quickly things can be taken, and the second, which was jumping headfirst.
“Not Allowed” is a jump back into grief and a different perspective of how I dealt with it. I felt that I needed so badly to be strong for the rest of my family that I pushed all of my feelings aside and just kind of forgot how to be upset about the loss we had all just experienced. It wasn’t some righteous quest to be the best griever. I just chose numbness as my coping mechanism. Disclaimer: Don’t do that. “Strange and Unprepared” follows that same theme: “And you never feel good or bad / Just strange and unprepared”.
In 2015, I had a whole array of feelings to choose from, and most of them were new. I’d been sad before, but not in this way, not in the way of “maybe I’ll never smile for real again.” I’d liked people before, but not in the way I had fallen head over heels for Jeremiah. So “What Do I Know” was kind of a pep talk. I was really in uncharted emotional territory, and I was trying my hardest to stay grounded.
The album closes with “Not So Tough Found Out”. That’s the song that brings me to today, to right now. I’m not as tough as I’ve always seen myself, and I’m learning to be okay with that. How can one year bring about so much change? I ask myself that a lot. I guess one way to describe it is when you get the star power-up in Mario Kart. Everything speeds up around you and suddenly you’re one lap away from the finish line instead of two. You’re not concerned with what happens in the meantime, but, watching the playback, you see that you knocked Yoshi off the track and he ended up in eighth place.
Looking back on 2015 still hurts and still thrills, kind of like Copeland’s You Are My Sunshine. It gets so low, but then Aaron Marsh sings lines like “Could you be happy / To fall like a stone / If you’d land right here safe in my arms”, and I’m reminded of the guy who was able to bring me out of my grief, and the fact that when I get home tonight, he’ll be asleep on the couch because he tried to wait up for me to make sure I got home safely.
Maybe I’ve learned more about looking on the bright side because I don’t have my grandmother there to do it for me anymore. All I have is her example and the need to make her proud. I know I’m not going to do it perfectly, but I’m trying, and I think that’s what counts.
by Nadia Paiva
Nadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.
Nothing about the incredible music? Lyrics only? Man. You are missing out. Unless this site is devoted to words and writing only.