I hope you read the post but here’s the song if you just want to listen to it. Goes well with sitting by yourself in your living room when the kids are down and your wife is busy upstairs, sitting on the porch on a Saturday afternoon, grilling, when you need to remember a lost loved one, or with beer.
Growing up, my dad was famous for coming across a movie he deemed a classic on AMC and then turning to one of his children who happened to be in the vicinity at the time and basically guilting them into sitting down and watching the rest of the movie with him, fatherly commentary included. You just simply weren’t going to leave the living room without watching the rest of that movie. “You mean you’ve never seen Cool Hand Luke?! Sit down, I’ll catch you up.” He’d do the same for music as well. Quieting the whole car to listen to a tune while also repeating the lyrics to everyone just in case they might’ve missed them or didn’t understand the real meaning.
Whatever this gene is, he has passed it onto me so I’d like to take a second to tell you why you absolutely must stop what you’re doing and go listen to Homecoming by Tom T. Hall.
Tom T. Hall is a country/folk story tellin’ type of artist whose catalogue includes a bunch of simple tunes that tell a good enough story to keep you interested from stem to stern. “That’s How I Got To Memphis,” “Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine” and “I Like Beer” are some you should check out. He does the type of music that’s perfect for a cool Saturday afternoon with nothing to do but sit out on your porch and drink some lemonade. All of those songs mentioned before are good listens but “Homecoming” is his masterwork. Let’s break it down.
The song starts out in what nerd artsy folk would call ‘in media res.’ We simply don’t know a thing about any of the characters involved when Hall starts in with, “I guess I should’ve written, dad, to let you know that I was coming home” but we find out soon enough that the protagonist is a somewhat famous recording artist back to visit the place of his humble upbringing and talking to his father who seems just happy to see him but also probably has a question mark over his head the entire time his son is talking, not really able to comprehend the lifestyle his son leads.
And that’s really where the genius of the song comes into play. The entire tune is a one way dialogue by the protagonist where we learn a good deal about him as he rambles on but also learn a lot about the dad despite him not getting one word in edgewise. We learn that the dad is a bit naive at what his son is out there doing in the world when the singer says, “No, we don’t ever call them beer joints, night clubs are the places where I work. You meet a lot of people there but no, there ain’t no chance of gettin’ hurt.” Here we find that he’s a kind, gentle father who is just making sure his grown up son is taking care of himself and not getting into trouble, but also a dad who isn’t really sure what his son is up to out there in the real world.
As the protagonist goes on, we discover that he’s kind of a no count son. At the beginning of the song, we learn he’s just found out that his dad has a telephone and as the song continues, we see that he’s also missed the death and funeral of his mother. When I listen to the song, I imagine that the singer knew his mother was sick but was just a little too caught up in life on the road (hence the girl who’s asleep in the back of his car) and his own mild success to come back and check on her. In a sort of passive aggressive apology to his father he remarks that “I was on the road and when they came and told me it was just too late” and that “I drove by the grave to see her, boy, is that a pretty stone.” This part always gets me. 100% cry rate when I hear that lyric. At this point in the song I’ve formed an image of the singer being a tall drink of water “looking kind of pale” and probably wearing jeans and a leather vest with a cowboy hat covering up his greasy, unwashed hair. He’s standing there facing his shorter, aged father who’s probably dressed in overalls and is caring around an old rag that he uses on just about anything around the farm but is currently being applied to the dad’s sweaty brow as he beams up at his son who has finally come back to visit. A modern day “prodigal son” tale.
Tom T. Hall tells this story in the most simple of ways. The lyrics are simple, the music is simple and the song even lacks a chorus. It’s just a story that we either can all relate to in some way or will be able to one day and I think you all should sit down right now in a quiet place, find the song where you get your music and give it a listen. You won’t regret it.