The preparations had begun for the musicians to begin laying down their tracks in the studio for Know Yourself. We had all listened to my original demo of the song and as my bandmates grabbed their respective instruments and took their places in the studio, I heard John Putnam playing around with the original lead guitar riff from an old Byrds tune that happened to be one of my favorite songs of all time, Feel A Whole Lot Better. I immediately smiled suspecting confidently that we were about to create “magic”. I was not disappointed.
The band did a few practice takes so that each one could experiment with different sonic ideas, riffs, etc. Finally, after several very intense run throughs, we decided to lay down an initial cut of the song and then come into the control room to give it a listen. As we sat there listening to that first take, I leaned over to John and mentioned to him that I had a Rickenbacker 370 12 string guitar sitting in my closet at home along with a Jangle Box guitar pedal and given the creative direction we were now going with the song, I wished that I had taken that blonde Rick and pedal with me to the studio. John’s eyes lit up approvingly.
I actually wrote Know Yourself back in the early 1990’s. And I have been somewhat surprised at how well the song and it’s message have held up over time. Thematically, I think Know Yourself is timeless in that one cannot succeed in life until and unless one takes the time to understand who you are… what are your goals in life… and just as importantly, knowing what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses. For, in my humble opinion, the ability to maximize one’s strengths while at the same time minimize one’s weaknesses is one of the critical challenges in life that will help to determine whether or not an individual will succeed in his or her life’s work.
However, an equally important thematic parallel to the above within Know Yourself are parents and their core responsibility to teach their young children those most basic moral imperatives required for an orderly and just society. In this regard, there are always going to be honest disagreements among members of society with respect to different value systems some of which may contrast starkly with society’s time-honored traditions. (“What’s right for me may not be right for you.”) And this is to be expected. But it’s when an individual walks away completely from his or her moral responsibilities to spouse and offspring in order to selfishly pursue one’s own self-interests that the individual child, spouse and society as a whole suffer irreparably. Adding to this conundrum is the fact that many children today do not have the luxury of an extended family support structure on which to fall back. Specifically, despite the advent of the internet and inexpensive access to video telecommunications therein, social and geographic mobility have mitigated the ability of extended family members to remain physically and culturally intact thereby destroying this key safety net for our children.
Further compounding this dilemma is the unfortunate historical trend in out-of-wedlock births in America leaving children to be raised by a single parent, in many cases the child’s mother. For today roughly 41% of all births in the United States are to single women (compared with only 6% back in the mid 1960’s). Alarmingly, 53% of these births were among women under the age of thirty. And analyzing the latest data by ethnic groups further reinforces how out-of-wedlock births have served to devastate both the black and hispanic communities in the United States.
But what is to become of these children? There are those who believe that the state has no choice but to intervene in their nurturing and upbringing. However, there are also those among us who consider this to be a decidedly unacceptable option. For when others in the community are given moral access to our children and are allowed the sacred responsibility of molding their belief systems, society is now most assuredly looking to a future in which our children’s values and moral compasses are shaped by a select few with their vested interests being paramount to that of the child’s. In such a tragic scenario, we most assuredly would be squarely “on the road from here to nowhere”.
I am not smart enough to predict to what end this will all lead. I do know however, that as a young married man in his 20’s with responsibilities to my wife and yet-to-be-born children, I faced a similar difficult choice. Do I pursue my dream of a career in music at the risk of losing and/or hurting my family? Or do I channel my creative needs responsibly into the field for which I studied so vigorously (advertising) and in which I was then well on the road to “success”? Obviously, I chose the latter but with the understanding that someday, once my responsibilities to my family have been fulfilled, I would return to my first love… writing songs and making music for others hopefully to appreciate and enjoy.
For me, there was no other choice…