If your fears should start to get inside you, I will take you home.
By The Deadhead Cyclist
Ibecame a Deadhead in 1973, during the Keith and Donna era, and was deeply saddened when they left the band in 1979. Keith Godchaux was a phenomenally talented pianist, and to this day I love listening to his mostly understated playing on so many wonderful ’70s recordings. My first show with “the new guy” on keyboards was 10/11/80 at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater. I was immediately impressed with the skill Brent Mydland displayed on keyboards, but even more so with his vocals. While I understand, but never shared, the widespread antipathy felt by many Deadheads toward Donna Jean Godchaux, Brent’s arrival served to transform the Grateful Dead from a band that was often barely tolerable vocally to one that could really sing.
Beyond that, Brent Mydland was a terrific songwriter in his own right, and contributed compositions to each album the Dead recorded during his tenure, as well as a handful of tunes that were performed live, but never released on vinyl. “Brent songs” were on full display during a run of three shows at Oakland’s Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in February of ’89. The first of these concerts, 2/5/89, makes the cut for T.W.I.G.D.H., and includes We Can Run But We Can’t Hide (in its debut), and I Will Take You Home, both collaborations with John Perry Barlow.
Emerging from the chronic issues the band faced during the mid-’80s, the year 1989 proved to be one of the most beloved in Grateful Dead history. It also turned out to be a pivotal year in my life, with the birth of my first daughter, Julia Lynn, on April 2nd. Having lived in Santa Cruz since 1975 – just a short drive from the Bay Area – I’d grown accustomed to seeing the Dead several times each year, and while navigating the traffic to Oakland for this Chinese New Year-themed show – expecting my first child in less than two months – I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I worried, “Once the baby is born, will I still be able to go to Grateful Dead concerts?”
Having put that unanswerable question aside in deference to the convenient desire to “be here now,” I found myself in the second set of the first night. Transitioning neatly from the Drums and Space interlude was a sweet version of I Will Take You Home. But being an expectant parent and a new parent are as different as listening to a recording and actually being at a live concert. So, the tune didn’t have nearly the same impact on me as it would three months later at Frost Amphitheater in Palo Alto.
The annual Grateful Dead Frost shows were nothing less than a rite of spring, to borrow the title of the famous Stravinsky ballet, and I hadn’t missed a show there since 8/20/83. The May 6th & 7th Frost shows were scheduled a short five weeks after Julia moved into the spare bedroom of our home, but her mom and I decided to try to go to at least one of the two shows. Luckily, my sister, Janet, AKA “Auntie,” was living in nearby Redwood City at the time, and she kindly agreed to watch the baby while we took in the “fireworks, calliopes and clowns.”
It wasn’t easy leaving a five-week old baby behind as we drove off, and the nagging apprehension that we were being irresponsible in doing so was inescapable throughout the afternoon. That feeling began to intensify late in the show when we heard the delicate intro to I Will Take You Home, evoking the image of a music box opening, while my heart did the same at the first mention of the word, “daddy,” in the second verse:
Your daddy’s here and he never will forget you.
We are faced with a defining choice: Will we follow suit with the failings of our mothers and fathers, or commit ourselves to overcoming them and being a better role model for our children?
But then the final verse pushed me over the top of the emotional rollercoaster:
Your daddy’s gonna be right here beside you.
If your fears should start to get inside you,
I will take you home.
The feelings of protectiveness that a father feels for his child are perhaps the most powerful I have experienced. The love between a little girl and her daddy is unlike any other, and this sentiment comes through clearly in this beautiful lullaby. Like Brent, I have been blessed twice over with little girls to love and protect. Unlike Brent, I did not leave my daughters without a big strong hand to hold their little fingers at the ages of five and two.
Brent Mydland died on July 26, 1990 at the age of 37 from a drug overdose. There is no mistaking how heartfelt his paean to his daughters was, making the fact that he did not get to see them grow up all the more tragic. But while recently watching a 2017 video of his 29-year-old daughter, Jennifer, performing Dear Mr. Fantasy, while accompanying herself on a Martin guitar, feelings of sadness gave way to anger.
Brent made promises to his daughters that he failed to keep. He promised Jennifer he would gather her into his loving arms when she was scared; he gave his word to her big sister, Jessica, that he would be there and never forget her. He made a pledge to his daughters that, “your daddy’s gonna be right here beside you.” But for as long as they can remember, Daddy was never there to carry them back home in his arms.
The sentiment expressed in I WIll Take You Home is reminiscent of the concluding lyric of Ripple:
If I knew the way, I would take you home.
It seems that Brent intended to take his daughters home but just couldn’t find the way. In his defense, I also didn’t know the way when I became a father. Parenthood arrives with a set of awesome responsibilities and no instruction manual, other than the one that was often poorly modeled to us by our own parents.
Somewhere in his own childhood, someone else didn’t know the way, and failed to take Brent home. Perhaps it was the rigors experienced by his U.S. Army chaplain father. Perhaps his mother’s grueling schedule as a graveyard shift nurse played a role. But when Brent became a daddy, it was beholden upon him to learn the way home, regardless of whether or not it had been shown to him.
Every one of us is raised by imperfect parents, and we are faced with a defining choice: Will we follow suit with the failings of our mothers and fathers, or commit ourselves to overcoming them and being a better role model for our children? This is the fundamental question of parenthood.
The song, Hard to Handle, reminds us that “action speaks louder than words,” which is undeniably true. But let’s not misinterpret that to mean that words are meaningless. At their best, words are the parents of action, so long as we are sure to align the two. Brent got it half right in the song, I Will Take You Home, and the sincerity of his tribute to his daughters is beyond question. He left the fulfillment of the intention behind the words to the rest of us. To the extent that we carry his message forward better than he did, Brent Mydland did, indeed, take us home.
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