Cheryl Strayed is an American novelist and essayist and a few years ago she wrote an article called “The Ghost Ship That Didn’t Carry Us”. The main idea that she was suggesting was that each person has a life and a “sister life” that they will never know – the “ghost ship” that they will never know. This reminds me of the parallel universe theory proposed by Hugh Everett, father of Eels‘ lead singer Mark Everett (or E). Cheryl Strayed suggested that trying to make a decision from your present feelings is not as likely to bring happiness as if you attempted to think deeply about your choices and actions from a future stance. To put it another way, consider how you might feel in the future if you didn’t take a particular course of action. Can we imagine a future scenario when we might regret taking one course of action over another? On the occasions I have been asked advice by someone about whether to take a decision or not, my response has been to ask them how do they think they will feel if they don’t act.
Cheryl Strayed was writing about the decision of whether or not a couple want to have children. In another article called “How People Decide Whether To Have Children”, Olga Khazan discusses the factors that people normally consider. Most people with children regard having a family as living a life that matches up to their expectations, giving a sense of fulfilment and reason for living. There are societal pressures to have children and childless couples are sometimes pitied or viewed negatively. Some people choose to have children, determined to do a better job than their parents. Olga Kahazan feels that parents tend to have “a cheerier disposition as a result of spending lots of time with people who wish that barn animals could be their best friends.” Conversely, some couples choose to remain childless in order to maintain an uninterrupted career, to have the freedom to travel, to enjoy quiet, personal time or to maintain a happy relationship. Some people choose to be childless because of their own unhappy childhood, fearing that they could pass on their own suffering to their offspring. Clearly, there are also biological reasons why some couples may remain childless.
My experience is that many of my friends have children, all of whom have given them huge amounts of joy, love and fulfilment but, at times and in varying degrees, worry and anxiety to say nothing of financial dependence. I regret not having children but it’s not something that I am particularly despondent over. I wrote about that when writing about my nephew and The Streets.
Alex Maas became a father to a son, Luca, two years ago. He decided to name his first solo album after his son. He said “A lot of these songs are based around the idea of what it’s like to be a parent right now, what it’s like to bring a child into the world right now, and the fears and everything that goes into that. Is it even a good idea? At the end of the day, my wife and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of having a child. We’d done everything else, everything, and so that was this last thing.” Having been the lead singer of psychedelic rock band, The Black Angels, for fifteen years and touring continuously, Alex Maas found that spending a year in lockdown with his wife and son was, in his words, “amazing” and “beautiful“.
The 3rd song on the album is called “Special” In the song, Alex Maas is singing directly to his son, finding joy and fulfilment simply by holding his son’s hand. He feels strong, just by whispering to him, lying cheek to cheek. It’s a beautiful, simple song.
“Shines Like The Sun (Madeleine’s Melody)” was written several years earlier when his sister had her first child. Alex Maas said “It’s about just letting go and allowing yourself to fall into love, fly towards being a parent and letting yourself be victim to everything that it is and knowing that it’s going to be a beautiful experience.”
Two years ago, Alex Maas saw an advert for a $100 organ in Austin which, on closer inspection, he realised was for a valuable Optigan (a bit like a mellotron). He contacted the seller and offered $600 if he would deliver it to him. An Optigan uses pre-recorded optical soundtracks to reproduce sound and Alex Maas’ new acquisition was delivered to him with 20 discs of different sounds. Some of these sounds are clearly audible on “What Would I Tell Your Mother” which has an eerie, other worldly feel to it as Alex Maas sings from another century about a bleak windswept landscape. Or so it seems to me. He said “Sometimes you just step into this character in the 1820s or 1940s and you’re just living in that, telling other people’s stories that are not your own and it’s a really fun place to be.”
Alex Maas is in no doubt about the joys of parenthood. On “500 Dreams” he sings “When you wake up, I’ll be looking at you smiling at me/ When you grow up, I’ll be thinking about you, thinking about me/ So sleep for your momma and me.” Such clarity of loving thought has inspired him to produce a beautiful album.