My Father’s Sweater

Image from Mike + The Mechanics’ “The Living Years” (1988) music video.

This time, I chose to do the assignment “Old Poem Same Feeling” submitted by Lauren Wootten. The description is as follows: “For this assignment [sic] you must first pick a poem. Once you find this poem you mash it up (or sing it if you choose.) with the instrumental [sic] of a song. For my version I mashed up a beautiful instrumental of Wiz Khalifa’s See You Again with my attempt to sing Shakespeare’s [sic] sonnet 104 about an old friend. ” Which I wish I could find! It sounds very neat. For my assignment, I read Li-Young Lee’s 1986 poem “Mnemonic” to Mike + the Mechanics’ 1988 song “The Living Years”.

Above is a draft since I had a lot of difficulty with this one, and I want to show my process. First, however, I will explain my poetry and song choices. The poem I selected was called “Mnemonic,” though I could not quite figure out why. I do not see any mnemonic devices, though perhaps it is symbolic that smaller things can represent things larger and more complex. It is about a person who inherited a sweater that their father gave to them as a child, their feelings about their father, and how life has changed since their childhood. Please read it here.

The song I chose fits in very well with the poem: it is about someone who wishes that they could have told their father how they felt about him in “The Living Years.” In both works, the father is dead. Lee begins with fond memories, then bittersweet, and ends with the repeated line: “Once I was cold. So my father took off his blue sweater.” The Mechanics similarly ends with ambiguity, saying that “it’s too late when we die / to admit we don’t see eye to eye.” I am fortunate to have a great relationship with my father, but there was something that resonated with me regarding both works.

I know that I’m a prisoner
To all my Father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Mike + The Mechanics, “The Living Years” (1988)

Next, I found the instrumental version: which of course, does not carry the same meaning as the song with lyrics. I recorded the poem in the HCC Vocal Booth and cleaned up the vocals before pitching them down slightly. I found that different parts of the song carried different verses of the poem. “It won’t last. Memory is sweet. / Even when it’s painful, memory is sweet” goes well with the more ‘hopeful’ and sentimental chorus. My favorite part is the introduction, for it sounds like one is entering a dream. The corresponding verse is as follows:

I was tired. So I lay down.
My lids grew heavy. So I slept.
Slender memory, stay with me.

Li-Young Lee, “Mnemonic” (1986)

When I spaced out the verses throughout the song, I found the poem difficult to follow and it read awkwardly. I tried to cut parts of the song so that I could bring the words closer together, but something about it was still off. I decided to edit it again. This time, I put most of it in the beginning of the song and just cropped out another part of the music that I knew I could match up with the previous section. I decided to keep what I did with the ending, which was cut off at a drumbeat. I added an echo with a delay time of 0.2 seconds and a decay factor of 0.5. The final version is below:

Ultimately, this was a good assignment that can be interpreted in many ways. I would be interested to see what other people try to do with it, and perhaps even write my own poem to be integrated into a specific song.