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The Avett Brothers: Unofficial House Band of the #DeathPositive Movement

The Avett Brothers released their 9th studio album, "True Sadness," on June 28th.  Their fourth studio effort produced by Rick Rubin, the album features arrangements that have challenged the expectations of long-time fans.  The subject matter of the songs on the album, however, are quite typical of The Avett Brothers — love, loss, self-doubt, hard work, and death.  I open my book, The Law of Human Remains, with a line from their 2012 song "Life" — "We are not of this world for long."  (I'm also currently wearing, as I always do, a silver ring inscribed with those words.)

The Avett Brothers played a song (sometimes called "Another Youngster" and sometimes "A Dream Appointed") live from 2007 to 2011 before they abandoned it without recording it.  Scott Avett sings lead:

I was lost somewhere out on the road
This old man told me he had no place he had to go
He said his life on earth was limited, you know
He said he had no need to hurry

I thought of your voice and what lay ahead of you
And if I had it all again, what would I do?
My life now more than half of it through
Am I obsessed with dying?

Maybe, Scott, maybe.  But that's okay, because when The Avett Brothers sing about death, they do so with the clear eyes of young men whose awareness of their mortality helps enrich their lives.  Consider "No Hard Feelings" from "True Sadness," this time with Seth Avett on lead:

When my body won't hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?
When my feet won't walk another mile
And my lips give their last kiss goodbye
Will my hands be steady?

When I lay down my fears
My hopes and my doubts
The rings on my fingers
And the keys to my house
With no hard feelings

When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest
Won't be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it's ash and dust for cash and lust
And it's just hallelujah
And love in thoughts and love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings

Lord they knows they haven't done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold

When my body won't hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south
Through Georgia grain or tropical rain
Or snow from the heavens?

Will I join with the ocean blue
Or run into the savior true
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night
Straight to the light
Holding the love I've known in my life
And no hard feelings

Lord they knows they haven't done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold
Under the curving sky
I'm finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it to
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as its been to me
I have no enemies (repeat 4x)

On their 2012 album "The Carpenter," the brothers harmonize on "Through My Prayers":

Hard to believe I won't see you again
We were just fighting when winter began
The coldness of our words competing with the wind from the north.

...

My dream of all dreams and my hope of all hopes
Is only to tell you and make sure you know
How much I love you and how much I always did.

...

Down in my mind where I don't care to go
The pain of a lesson is letting me know
If you have love in your heart let it show while you can

Yes now I understand
But now my only chance
To talk to you is through my prayers.
I only wanted to tell you I cared.

...

In 2012, Seth talked about theme of death reflected in "The Carpenter:"

“I’m almost 32,” says Seth. “Scott’s 36. Bob’s 40. Pretty much, at that age, if you haven’t lost family members, if you haven’t had family members or close friends that have had cancer, you’re an incredibly lucky and rare person. Without getting too much into the details, we’ve all had other family members—older, of course, than Bob’s daughter—that had battled cancer. Some that died because of it, and close friends that have dealt with that and other sicknesses. You know, just the whole thing—love, breakup, divorces, family and friends. The normal stuff of life that we experience and can’t help but let those things become part of our fiber, and consequently become a part of our songs.”

Death is, as Seth says, "the normal stuff of life."  Being "death positive" doesn't mean you're pro-death.  (Who is pro-death??)  It means that you don't ignore or deny that "we are not of this world for long." Being death positive means being life positive — people who are aware of and have accepted death recognize that "hard feelings ... haven't done much good for anyone."  They don't let fights with loved ones linger until it is too late to tell them "how much I love you and how much I always did."  They think about the road ahead and ask why they're in such a hurry.

The Avett Brothers — unofficial house band of the #DeathPositive movement.

Tanya Marsh

 

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