Hey Mama By Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats: The sound of real support.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Last week some of us from Setlist took a trip out to Colorado. We did some backpacking through Estes Park but more importantly we went to see Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats play for the home crowd at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
We were really intentional about seeing them play here. First, it's gotta be the coolest venue in the world, second, Denver is where Nathaniel Rateliff cut his teeth back in the day. Playing with bands The Wheel and Before the Flood. They've earned real support and true love from the fans that are there. They aren't fair-weather friends who only know the chorus to SOB and neither am I, so I didn't want to be surrounded by those mother fuckers. I wanted to be in an environment that recognizes this is one of the most authentic musical groups of our generation and should become an important part of the culture.
So, the venue is electric, the show has got everyone out of their seats and doing their best to sing along. Plenty of people knew the words but everyone at least knew the sounds that were going to come out of Nathaniel Rateliffs' mouth. That's part of the beauty of Nathaniel Ratliff's music, you may not know what he is saying but you believe every word.
It was the sax man Andy Wilds Birthday so they brought him out a cake and the crowd and the band sang Happy birthday it was cool.
It was just a hell of a show.
So they leave the stage and the crowd roars for their return. They encore with Hey Mama. But just before they do, in a tongue and cheek way they start to point out all their moms that are in the audience. I know they thought it was goofy and that this may have gone on for too long by the way Nathaniel Rateliff said "Fuckin' Shit! Let's do this already!" But the truth is it was a nice moment and likely very unique to this show. It was a beat of time that allowed me not to just see their success as a band headlining at Red Rocks, but to see a more complete story. The fact is they were just kids once and then starving artists for a long time after that.
What starving artist needs more than bread in their jar is support, real support which is the hardest kind to give and recieve. To me, that's what the song Hey Mama is about.
It's about the rare support that tells you what you don't want to hear, but need to hear all the same. It's so easy to give hollow support and it feels so good to do it. The kind of support I'm talking about now usually starts with "it's okay". " It's okay that you tried, failed, and are now going to call it a wrap, I'll hug you and it will all be fine. " "It's okay you shucked your responsibilities to yourself and others and now, as a result, your life looks bleak".
Fuck that. That's easy to come by, most people care too much about feeling good. So it makes them feel good to just offer up what you want to hear.
It's a vicious cycle. You want to be coddled and reassured that what your feeling is OK. You can get that kind of advice on the street from a stranger for free. Just be careful, because you get what you pay for. For the support you need that shit has to be paid for in blood and tears.
Hey Mama embodies this notion perfectly. The song starts out with the character saying "Hey Mama, it's me." Reaching out to his mother after a long absence running down his dream and feeling dejected. From the first note, I can feel him calling out expecting to be received like the Prodigal Son. He isn't.
"You better sit down"
"My only son this will be so hard to hear"
That's an oh shit moment. That's when you know you aren't where you thought you were. This is thinking you're the guest of honor at a surprise party and realizing it's an intervention.
Then she ignites the burner to begin the slow boil of this frog by empathizing with him. She speaks of the world being tough and acknowledging he's been laboring to make his place in it. Unfortunately, for society at large, that is where most people stop.
What happens next is the most important part. She tells him the truth. The truth hurts is a cliche but that's only the case because well, its true. when you take inventory of where you are with clear eyes you can see where you've succeeded but also where you've come short, but we protect our egos by remaining blind to those faults.
"You ain't gone far enough to say
At least I tried
You ain't worked hard enough to say
Well I've done mine
You ain't run far enough to say
My legs have failed"
It takes someone who is really tough but also who really loves us to share with us the things we make an effort not to see. you're really lucky if you have a friend to do this but most of the time the only person in our lives that loves us enough and is tough enough to match it is our Mama's.
"You ain't gone far enough
You ain't worked hard enough
You ain't run far enough to say
It ain't gonna get any better."
So, if your mom tells you that you're a shit-head or you're lazy she's probably right, Be grateful you have some one that loves you enough to be honest and get back to work.
Thanks for reading and thanks to the Nightsweats for leaving it all out there for the best show of my life.