“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
– President Ronald Reagan
And yet, talking to those closest to us can sometimes be very arduous, if not downright impossible.
I remembered the above quote a few weeks ago when I overheard a row between a father and son. I didn't catch what the disagreement was about but it was clear that both parties were extremely angry and frustrated with each other. "This has nothing to do with me being difficult," the older man said. "This is about," he continued, "your generation not being used to working hard for anything. You rather quit than give what you are up against with your best shot. Unless it doesn't come easy, you don't want it. The only thing you do well is complain." The younger man walked away. His father sat down and stared into the distance and sighed. I was transported to my childhood.
My dad used to give me pretty much the same sermon and I also walked off every time. Back then I thought he was wrong. Now I know he was right. Unless you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, nothing in life comes easy. If you are not willing to fight for the things you want, chances are somebody will always take the best things from under your nose. This is what I teach my kids these days. To be fair, my father’s generation did have it harder than mine. My dad joined the merchant marines when he was sixteen. After he was done sailing around the world from one exotic port to another, he served his country. As a father, he always worked hard to give his kids a great life filled with opportunities he never had when he was growing up. When I think back to how unappreciative I was at times, it brings a tear to my eyes. No wonder then that my eyes moistened up a little more than usual when I heard our track of the week, "The Last American" by Ryan Culwell.
"The Last American" is a beautiful and emotive country song that packs such warmth and wisdom both musically and lyrically that it sent shivers down my spine when I first heard it. In fact, I've listened to it now countless times and it still floors me with each spin. The thing about this track is that its sound harks back to the late sixties and early seventies when country music was one of the most exciting music genres around. Just like country songs from this golden era, "The Last American" features meaningful lyrics, strong vocals, a great melody and a carefully selected chord here and there to make the musically savvy listener smile and think, "Yeah, this guy knows what he is doing."
These days, when most of the country world has gone nuts with overproduction and predictable lyrics (not to mention glittering Stetsons), an artist like Culwell stands out. His "The Last American" reminds you of the music of such great artists as Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofersson – there's also a touch of John Mellencamp here. Perhaps, it's the poignant, no-bullshit attitude of Culwell’s delivery or the fact that he actually has something important to say that makes this track fabulous…or maybe it's the simple, yet powerful arrangement that graces "The Last American." Who knows? All I know is that songs of this caliber don't come around that often. When they do, you've got to lend them your ear.
When I emailed Culwell to ask what inspired such a powerful tune, his answer was this:
I think of my record, “The Last American”, as a letter to a loved one who is hurting. I speak love, encouragement, direction, warnings and hope. This is how I speak to those I love most. Some of the songs [on the album of the same name] were literally written to my daughters and we sing them before bed. The title track says the things a friend might say in a time of need… to carefully pull the festering splinter from a swollen palm. If you love America, this song is for you.
I suppose one of the hardest things in life is to find people who have the capacity and the will to support you through thick and thin. In most cases, you can rely on your parents but beyond that it’s down to good luck. However, while this might be true for relationships, in life, we make our own fortune through hard work and determination. Well, that’s at least what I was taught. No wonder Culwell’s lyrics resonate with me.
I’m the last American on this earth
I’d like to quit this talking
Get back to work
You don’t understand me because we are not the same
You may recognize me but you don’t know my name
I got my old man’s heart and a broke down Chevrolet
I took this job because they need the hands
I got mouths to feed
And I’m a man
You can have anything you want
This is the land of the free
I got everything I asked for on the day I turned sixteen
I got my old man’s heart and a broke down Chevrolet
Returning to this topic of change beginning at the dinner table, I realized one day when I was having an argument with one of my six sons that I sounded just like my dad. He wanted to go somewhere I didn't want him to go. "Leo's dad is letting him go," my son pleaded in desperation. "Well son, that's between Leo and his father. Leo can do whatever his father sees fit," I stated. "However, you are my son," I stated sternly, "You do what I see is fit. And you aren't going." My son looked at me in anger and walked away. "Why doesn't anybody else have all these stupid chores and rules? They can just have fun!" my son yelled before disappearing into his room. "Life isn’t about fun. Fun doesn't pay the bills!" I called out after him. It was a re-enactment of me and my father. Well, perhaps one day he'll understand.
Oh, and so I don’t forget. Culwell’s new album, “The Last American” came out on August 24. Go give it a listen. I’m sure you will fall in love with it just like I did.
You can learn more about Ryan Culwell here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.