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Way To Live

A song about family

Photo by Cory Wood

I had been laid off from my job and was spending a lot of time at home. I had the first line of the song and the chorus written but I wasn't sure where else to take the song. At this time in my life, I felt keenly in touch with my mortality, as it felt like the evidence of mortality was everywhere. People were unwell. Some were dying. And suddenly my place in the lineage felt more important. I wondered how to measure myself against it.

I was obsessively thinking about the history of humanity and civilization. I was listening to Stan Rogers a lot, struck deeply by the stories of mankind conquering the northern oceans and forests to forge a place for mankind to live and trade. Was I at the end of it all? Would I be one of the last men? One of the last Nails? One of the last humans? I wasn't sure, but these questions hadn't entered my mind until this time in my life.

I started to recall stories I had heard about the members of previous generations of my family on both sides, either from my father or from my grandmother.

My grandfather's grandfather was said to have worn long-sleeved shirts all the time that covered his white arms. He was a farmer and he never wore gloves. His hands were said to have been like tough brown leather. My grandfather recalled hearing his grandfather cuss only once. The story was that my grandfather was a young boy tasked with the job of making sure that some piece of wood on some sort of hay form or tool didn't bend, lest it break and cost them a full day of work. My grandfather got distracted "looking at the birds" and he failed at his job. The wood broke. And his grandfather couldn't hold back a four-letter word.

My grandfather, Henry, moved to Winston-Salem with a buddy of his to get a job and start a life. He came to Winston-Salem where he found his bride. They had four sons, one of them being my dad. Henry worked for Piedmont Concrete for many years, which afforded him a simple life. He loved plants and building. He kept a huge garden, a perfect yard, and a slow walking pace. He spent his spare time seemingly recreating his humble country origins in his little piece of land in Ogburn Station where I grew up. He was my hero.

My grandmother's grandmother was said to have converted to protestant Christianity while in Cuba after meeting a missionary. She was determined to make sure her family would keep to that faith from then on. She had a daughter who married a fellow named Cristobal. They had 2 daughters, one of them being my grandmother. There is so much information to this story that I couldn't even begin to tease it. But when Castro took power in Cuba, my grandmother had to part ways with her parents for seven years. And this was a significant hardship for a family that cares a lot about staying close together. But my great-grandparents eventually they managed to come here and spend the remainder of their days close to their family. They lived to a very old age and I was fortunate to know them in my childhood. They were angels.

Family, faith, and food were important to these folks. And as I thought about them following the mortality scare of 2020, I considered the differences between us. "I'm still looking for the way I'm supposed to live" was the best summary I could muster. For many of us, faith is an alien concept. Family reminds us of our lowly subordinate nature. And food is a cheap, toxic inconvenience to be found in stores or fast eateries – not grown. It's as if a quality life is some other thing in some distant place to be found someday.

When I think about these people, I feel bad that I am so separated from these traditions that have made us human for so long. The family bond, the humility before the name of God, and even the wisdom needed to grow food.

I've been so fortunate to see this song be received by people with deep appreciation. I played it at a show in Asheville, NC, and it garnered a standing ovation and a declaration from a stranger in the crowd that this song "should be the #1 song in America." Another great honor it received was when my friend and soundman at High Rock Outfitters in Lexington, NC, heard it for the first time during my show. It was the songs I ended my set with. After it ended, he came to the stage with tears falling from his eyes, thanking me for the song. He told me it was perfect. This warmed my heart. It means everything to me when people find a true connection to these words in the same way that I do. "Way to Live" has landed me a spot as a semi-finalist in The International Songwriting Competition, which I consider a great honor.


I recorded this song with Doug Davis at ElectroMagnetic Radiation Recorders in Winston-Salem, NC. Doug had engineered and produced projects for The Avett Brothers and The Wood Brothers at his studio in my hometown and I was honored and thrilled to be able to work with him on this round of recordings.

With me were my good friends, Cory Wood and Quique Rodriguez-Pastor. I kept other keepsakes with me to make me feel relaxed and at home, including a copy of Uncrate Magazine, a copy of Rick Ruben's book (The Creative Act), and a very special red bandana.


Well my grandfather’s grandfather had hands made out of leather

And his arms were white as snow upon a hill

Through the dusty storms and thunder he worked the fields all spring and summer

That were left him in his father’s father's will

And he bore a son named Henry who bore a son named Henry

Who had four sons as different as can be

And as long as he was able, he kept food upon the table

Enough to feed his four son's families

Will you go to church on Sunday, be in the field on Monday

Will you be sure not to take more than you give

Will you grow the things you need, reap the harvest, sow the seed

Will you show the next to come the way to live

And my grandmother’s grandmother had faith unlike another

And it gave to her entire family

My grandmother fled the island when the Communists went violent

And set out on a life of being free

She worked hotels in Miami, DC, and New York City

And moved to Carolina for to stay

And her parents fled the island, moved in the house beside them

And thanked God for their family every day

Will you go to church on Sunday, be in the field on Monday

Will you be sure not to take more than you give

Will you grow the things you need, reap the harvest, sow the seed

Will you show the next to come the way to live

If I ever am a father with a wife a son and daughter

Well I hope that I’ll be worthy of the name

There was so much blood and passion that was spent to make it happen

And I hope that I can carry on the flame

But I don’t go to church on Sunday, I work 9-5 on Monday

And sometimes I take way more than I give

I don’t grow the things I need, I have yet to sow the seed

I’m still looking for the way I’m supposed to live

Yeah I’m still looking for the way I’m supposed to live


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