Tuesday, June 01, 2010

water color ponies will someday ride away?

Decades ago there was a Christian singer-songwriter Wayne Watson who wrote a song called "Water Color Ponies". I am not entirely against sentiment but this song was twee even by the unusually twee standards of contemporary Christian music.

So why do I give it mostly a pass? Because Watson, despite the metric tons of music cheese and schmaltz, was willing to write about the bittersweet aspect of savoring the childhood of children while knowing that stage will one day end. The song displays something you rarely seem to find in Christian songwriting, ambivalence.

What sometimes happens is that the water color ponies don't just ride away, as the song goes, there are parents who outlive their children. Since this has happened to a relative of mine (less distant in relation than distant in terms of literal distance) I, for some reason, find myself remembering songs and cultural references from my teen years and hearing song after song from contemporary Christian singers.

Watson was never my favorite but he at least had more than one emotional setting. There were the praise and worship songs and then there were songs that were about other things, though I confess to remembering few of them. He was not at the level of Rich Mullins, let alone Keith Green, and not at the level of Michael Card in terms of being able to write either memorable songs or memorable reflections, but he certainly wasn't Carmen. So he was okay, if memorable only for a song I got sick of hearing in a bleating tone during offering plate time.

There is very little about my childhood and teen years that I would ever want to revisit. There is also little about my youth that I look back on with actualy nostalgia. On the other hand, I don't find it easy to say I disliked my younger days. The alternative to being is non-being and of the two being is the more interesting (if at times TOO interesting) possibility. It is as hard to be nostalgic for my youth as it is for me to say there was nothing pleasant about it. I don't regret learning about rock music from my stepdad. I don't regret trips to the woods in Oregon. I don't regret having to stay with a relative with my family a few years. In fact those were some of my favorite memories but even during that time I could be glum, as teens often inevitably are in America, casting about for some idea of what to do.

What strikes me now about a song like "Water Color Ponies" is that the song suggests an essential transience of the parent/child bond that Watson finds troubling. Eventually children grow up and leave you behind, the song seems to say. I guess they do, though I admit to not understanding what that would feel like. At another level it seems as though children never really leave you behind even if in some way literally or figuratively you leave them behind. They take too much of you with you to be anything less than a productive of who you are even when they think they are being their own person. Call it ambivalence about identity separation. :)

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