"Rosanna" // On Grief
Rosanna, off my upcoming EP, is one of the most complex and meaningful songs I've written yet. I wanted to offer to you the story that birthed it, the reason for Penny and Sparrow being involved, and what the lyrics mean.
Last november, I was scheduled to open three shows for Andy and Kyle, including two nights at The Blue Door in Oklahoma city. On the night of our last show, Andy and I were sitting on the stage warming up our voices, when my phone rang from my sister. We talk everyday so I thought nothing of it and kept on with what I was doing. When she called a second time I walked into the other room, and learned that my cousin Joseph had passed suddenly and instantly of a heart issue. I have no idea how much time passed before Andy came running into the room to find me weeping and attempting to bash the back of my head through the wall. I don't know how long he held his hand behind my skull (mind you we've only met a handful of times by this point in our relationship) to keep me from harming myself. It was devastation at its darkest, and I truly hope you have never and will never experience it. Eventually, I walked a few blocks to a liquor store, bought a plastic bottle of Jim Beam, and wandered the surrounding neighborhood in a daze. Somehow, I made it back safely and tried to soundcheck, but everyone quickly realized I was too drunk to play. This all took place over hours, but I know they found me in this nasty dirt field behind the venue, crying into the ground and vomiting. Its not a night I particularly like to revisit, and I normally prefer to bury my hardships in poetry so as to keep hidden from you. One of my best friends Jonathan Kemp drove us through the night to Nashville, an act of kindness I will never forget or repay.
As far as the story goes, I can fast forward a bit and you can fill in blanks from your own experience I'm certain. Months of depression, and rebuilding a very broken idea of the way the world works. Penny and Sparrow paid me for being there that night, and kept close to me over the coming months, eventually inviting me to open a string of shows on their "Let a Lover Drown You" tour. We played something like 30 shows together, one of the best experiences of my life. By the time we neared the midwest, I realized the gravity of soon returning to Oklahoma City, where I had seemingly lost so much. I scribbled the words to "Rosanna" on a dreary day off in Minneapolis, played it through, and for the first time in my life cried at the end of my own song. I don't know a lot about the stages of grief, reading that kind of material tends to piss me off. I do know I spent a lot of time in the mindset of "fuck everything and nothing matters" and that is mostly where Rosanna comes from. It is a very real process and place for grieving people.
I brought myself to play the song for Andy and Kyle and talk about the depth of the situation. I didn't play it for any shows, until the day we reached Oklahoma City. Together, we drove back to that very venue from the solemn November night. I walked around, remembering so much, and found the field behind the venue to be covered in white clovers. I wept. They let me. That night I played Rosanna for an audience. It's an unresolving story. Many days I do not know if love is actually worth it. I'm terrified of dying suddenly and leaving holes in people the way Joe left a hole in me. But this is a real place we experience as humans, and I think it is worth singing about. And singing together about. That's why I'm humbled and honored, and to be honest deeply saddened to have Andy and Kyle sing the harmonies on the song. It haunts me still, that they could love so well at the risk of so much loss. But I tip my hat to them, because they taught me that you let love kill you (or drown you). And you give it your damndest regardless of the outcome to love people. And though that may leave you broken, eventually I have found that it is worth it.
PART TWO // Who the hell is Rosanna?
The lyrics are available in full on the other tab of my website, but if you've read this story and heard the song, you would know the lyrics by no way literally reflect those events. Here is my mindset on the song.
My grandmother's name is Rosanne, and for years I have had this silly dream that if I were to have a daughter some day, I would name her Rosanna. I used to write letters in my journal to "Rose" hoping someday to leave behind stories of my life. This song is a letter to tell her that it is ok to reach a place where you don't get it, and to memorialize the loving uncle she would have had. The first verse "the dandelion gots undressed....we get naked and we don't know why" chronicles simply the idea of settling down, and having a child. A bit of an homage to a David Bazan lyric, in the song when the baby is born, the only feeling I come to is one of regret at what pain she will have to most likely encounter.
The chorus is a defeated admittal, begging her to love well what she can, while realizing that everything is temporary.
Verse two is the letter portion of the song. And it reminisces on several facets of my own story. When Joe and I were in middle school we lived in the same neighborhood in Ormond Beach, Florida (quite close to where he passed away). I open the verses with a childhood memory, actually inspired by a time he got us lost, and in the same line tie it to sharing a dorm together in college. He was a bit of a crazy person, and left a blood smiley face on our dorm hallway that is still there (blood of brotherhood dried on the wall.) Another of my strongest memories is around the time I was going through family turmoil, he bought us a pack of clove cigars and we walked Jacksonville beach all night long. Our favorite band was Mayday parade, and "cigarette stained silhouetted dreams, crumbling like a sandcastle" references this song. In the next line I am sitting at his funeral in the church we went to as children, listening to some preacher go on and on about how grieving is unnecessary, and everything that happens is for a reason. I never imagined I would attend his funeral. My blood was boiling. I almost had to walk out. So I follow lyrically by referencing Joe by name, and saying that I truly wish he died for a reason, but ultimately I can't believe that. Sometimes chaos wins, and love loses. He should be here.
The song ends with an accidentally stunning instrumental. What would seem masterfully planned was actually an accident on many levels. The speaking voice comes from a voicemail Joe left an old girlfriend. Its simple, but for some reason facets him in a way I really love. I cut and spread the audio out, without listening to the song and just sent over a text message with the audio. It was the exact length of the instrumental. The cello, oboe, and electric guitar lead lines were all improvised without hearing the other part, and somehow fit together so seamlessly.
I suppose all I am trying to say is that there are accidents, and there is beauty yet. I hope of Rosanna gets to exist some day she will believe that. And I hope if you are reading this, however deep your darkness might be, you will eventually believe it too.