How Son Volt's music has sustained me through life


Jay Farrar performs in New York City, 2012
Jay Farrar performs in New York City, 2012 (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Entering a new decade of your life can be hard. Climbing the age ladder can be difficult to navigate. However, I am of the school that believes age is attractive. There is nothing more valuable and powerful than experience. That is, if you embrace and learn through it. When I was in my 20s, I couldn't wait to be in my 40s. With age comes knowledge! Well, this year, I made it to my 40s and even though it's been just a few months, I love it from this view.

The same month I turned 40, Jay Farrar of Son Volt turned 50 — and that made me realize that I've been listening to his music for well over half my life. What a surreal thought, traversing through the years on a parallel with this artist. Sure, you can say that about any artist, but looking at how I've gained maturity while learning life lessons from Farrar's music, it's clear that he has been an especially fond companion throughout.

Farrar is known for his quiet and introspective nature. When he performs live, he says almost nothing to the audience. It's truly about the music. Every show I've been to, it's as if the only thing in the room is the microphone and his guitar. Sometimes he doesn't even lift his eyes to acknowledge the crowd. If you think that musicians need to entertain you with constant banter, then I wouldn't suggest going to a Son Volt concert.

As my 40th came into view, I began to reflect, as many of us do. I put on my headphones and played Trace (1995). The first minute of "Windfall," with the slide guitar and the fiddle and Farrar's voice, transported me to a younger age. What that album taught me was to explore with "both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel." and to "look for purpose from a neon sign." The songs on Trace urged me to get out into the world and experience it.

In 1997 and 1998 Straightways and Wide Swing Tremelo brought even more keen observations as I lived in Chicago and began to navigate early adulthood — taking the L every day to school carrying my Discman and a small Case Logic filled with Farrar's music.

In 1999, Farrar took a break from Son Volt to work on solo albums. At the same time, I took my own break and had to explore other avenues. When Son Volt formed again (Farrar being the only original member), their sound was different and I stayed away. Four albums later, I'm listening to Son Volt with the same passion as I was in the mid-90s. Although Farrar has changed and experimented with new sounds, he has been a steadfast regular in my headphones.

In the song "The Storm" on Son Volt's new album Notes of Blue, Farrar sings "Spent all my money on whiskey," which echoed a line from "Moonshiner" that Farrar's previous band Uncle Tupelo covered on their March 16-20, 1992 album. Then in a later track, "Sinking Down," he sings another similar line from that song: "Give me bread when I'm hungry, give me bourbon when I'm dry."

Perhaps Farrar is reflecting on the past, or just letting us know that he's the same person — only a bit more seasoned.

Sarah Eldred works in the development department at MPR and shares an equal passion for music, dogs, and running.

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