Heidi Howe explains lyrics from album 'Be Good'
The minute you hear the irresistible twang of Heidi Howe’s all-American vocal, it makes complete sense that throughout the course of her career she’s opened for a veritable who’s who of major alt-country names. She’s shared stages with Todd Snider, Stacey Earle, Tommy Womack and many more, and no doubt fitted in very comfortably amongst this order. Indeed, her distinctive, honey-sweet country voice has classic written all over it.
The daughter of a music teacher and a concert promoter, Heidi grew up singing in musicals and church choirs and it was almost inevitable that she would pursue a life as a performer. Her career so far has seen her touring nationally and appearing on numerous radio and TV stations, with her latest album Be Good representing her sixth solo release.
I was a really good student in elementary school. “Could've used a stiff drink in 2nd grade” doesn’t really have a lot to do with how good of a student I was. But, just really about how uncomfortable I felt in my own skin. And I talked to a lot of people in and out of addiction recovery about that and I think it’s kind of a universal feeling.
I think maybe alcoholics and addicts have that to a greater degree, I don’t know, maybe that’s all in my head. But, I definitely felt like there was a rulebook to life and I did not get it, from a very early age. I can remember feeling like, what I would think of like being depressed or something like that. It’s like feeling weird - like just weird in my own skin and just feeling what really amounted to being fear.
So, when I started…when I discovered alcohol that was the great, like, fear culture. So, I guess that line about “I could have used a stiff drink in second grade” just, kind of, means that I didn’t feel normal, you know, straight out of the gates. I needed a little bit of extra help, like, right out of the gates. So, that’s what that means.
I got to be a kind of a scallywag in middle and high school I did a lot of stuff that I’m sure other people have done - cutting class and all of that stuff and I’ve gone back and apologised to some of my administrators and none of them were like “oh, no big deal.” They were all like “yeah, thanks. You owe us an apology.”
So, I don’t think that I’m someone that has a really hard time letting go of a relationship. In fact, probably, to a fault, up until the past couple of years I’ve just been very much like “see you later” onto the next thing and I don’t think that’s been very useful of helpful for me.
I think that I probably should have sat and felt - I hate it when we say “feel our feelings” - but I really probably should have sat and felt my feelings a little bit more and maybe I wouldn’t have so many broken relationships in my past. Maybe I would have had a better relationship with myself and really had something to bring to the table in relationships, instead of bringing this person that’s like, “I’m terrible at relationships. Let’s hook up.”
So, I probably should have taken some time to get really clear about what I do well an what I don’t do well in relationships and worked on that a little bit instead of just distracting myself.
As far as finding it hard to open up to people, our partners…I find it hard to open up to people, in general, whether I’m dating you, I’m here with you or sitting by you, or if I’m related to. That’s getting better, I think. I think that it’s really difficult to have any kind of intimacy in a relationship if you are uncertain or you fear about opening up to yourself - because you might just have like this status quo maybe I’m not going to get super hurt if this doesn’t work out. But then I don’t get to have the great joys either. So, I may be avoiding some of the bigger lows - the disappointment. But I’m not getting the benefits of really sharing myself with somebody.
Songs are, a lot of times, kind of therapy. While they reflect, maybe, what’s going on with my heart or my head, they don’t always reflect exactly what’s going on with my circumstances; there’s more me being able to think out loud, the nuttiness that is going on inside of me, without having to act on that.
So maybe I’m acting differently in life than I’m singing about in a song - not always. I feel like it’s definitely been a slow, slow journey for me. I have so much to learn.
I heard a woman say today, “the longer I’m doing this thing of sobriety and recovery, the more that I realise how little I’ve known all along.” It’s not like I suddenly know less than I did a few years ago - I don’t think that’s true. I think I’ve not known very much for a really long time and it’s just that the more I become aware of other people and what’s going on around me and then with myself, the more I realise I really don’t know.
So, Go Back is about that feeling that, probably, so many of us have had that, you know, I just find it really hard to get out of this relationship. It’s gone on, maybe we’ve broken up and, I’m going on with my life. Then a song comes on the radio or I get phone call or a smell or I pass by a restaurant or something like that and it’s like always, like, always going to go back to this person in my mind - because there’s some of those special people in our lives that we always go back to. Those people that I hadn’t thought about in years and years and years that I had once…what I felt really intense feelings for and I don’t think about at all now.
Then there’s other people that I think about often and, uh, this was written about a man that I still love very much. Wasn’t a first love, wasn’t a high school sweetheart. My high school sweetheart I’m actually still really good friends with - hey, Aaron! He still watches my dogs for me and stuff when I’m out of town.
So, it wasn’t about that, it wasn’t about a new love. It was just about am I ever going to be able to shake this feeling about this person. I don’t think it’s a… it’s not a very deep song. It was written more as, like, therapy for me and I think, probably, some people can relate to it. Not everything is super deep.
So definitely my upbringing has influenced me being a musician. My mum was a music teacher. My dad, I could say, worked in… works in the industry in booking shows. He does much more than that in his job, but that was part of it growing up. Growing up around a lot of live music and being in choirs and plays and music clubs, church choir and stuff. So, all of that definitely influenced me.
I got into punk rock music later on in high school and in my early twenties I dated a guy in a punk rock band and got into that whole scene and it was a lot of fun. I was very, very rebellious as a kid - sorry, mum and dad - and that certainly influenced me a lot.
The Ramones and George Jones, the song, is actually the idea of my friend Randy Ratliff who was talking one day and he said something to the effect that the only religion you seem to be growing up with was Ramones and George Jones and I was like “that is a song!”
I can really…it wasn’t a fictional song for me, that much as that it was just a really good idea I hadn’t thought of yet because I loved The Ramones, I grew up singing George Jones records with my Dad, so it was true for me.
As my dad would drive me to school and sing me country even if country wasn’t cool - not in so many words. But that’s certainly a message that I got was “be yourself.” My dad is a big country music fan - he’s a big music fan.
Country music was cool when I was a little. Then when I got to be a teenager I really, like, shunned a lot of that stuff. I was embarrassed, I guess, about…country music wasn’t super cool when I was in high school, for sure.
It feels really weird to talk about this stuff so much later. But, this is a true song for me. So, yeah, I can definitely relate to embracing all aspects of myself through this song.
There’s been a lot of things that have replaced traditional religion for me. I grew up in a church, I’ve worked in churches, I’ve done a lot of singing in churches. I even wrote a whole album - not religious, but spiritual songs - and I’m in different place today.
My 'higher power', for lack of a better word, is something that I refer to - the universe or in great spirit.
Like I said, I’ve been a pretty rebellious person my whole life and I can remember being in church and picking out what I would and wouldn’t do. Like, I’ll sing this song but I’ll change these words, or, I’ll sing that but I’m not going to say this prayer. You can’t tell me what to do.
That certainly shaped me. I think that a lot of that was just fear and anger coming out sideways. Like a lot of people probably just very…a lot of self-centred fear going on which came out as anger.
But there’s been so much stuff that - I don’t want to get a religious thing - but I have not found what I need to lead a peaceful life in religion.
I do like to try and see where religions are right and take a little - I don’t want to say where they’re right - but, what works for me from different religions.
So, I can take a little bit here and a little bit there. But, certainly, what’s helped me the most get through hard times, realise certain things about myself, a lot of that has been music - not my music, but other people’s music. I, kind of, shudder to think about certain times in my life what I would have done without certain music getting me through.
So, I’ve certainly been more consistent with exploring music and writing music than I have with any other spiritual thing. I think that it’s not a substitute for doing other things for me - like medication or service or therapy. It’s not a substitute for that. But it’s certainly been a part of my journey.
I think about what it would be like if you didn’t have music in your life. It doesn’t feel like a necessary thing sometimes until you don’t have it. So it makes me scared and a little bit angry about music in our schools and stuff.
My kid is in a school and he doesn’t have a “music teacher” and that’s something we had growing up.
I think that it’s something that’s really important that is over with and I’m on a tangent.
I remember the day that I wrote this song. I wrote it…it was one of those songs that just came out really quickly. It was definitely a song that was therapy for me.
The person I wrote it for, I just kept hoping that I could say the right thing or if I just kept them comfortable enough or showed them how great sobriety could be, if I just said the right thing in the right way, did the right thing in the right way, just was the right person in the right way, that it would be enough to keep that person sober - obviously that’s faulty thinking and I know that. I think I even knew that intellectually but it was a hard truth to come to terms with.
It was addiction is bigger than me. I’m powerless over it, I’m powerless over what it does to the people that I love. I’m powerless over a lot of things. I wasn’t powerless over being able to write music about it - and so that’s why I wrote music about it because it did help me feel like I had a little bit of power in the situation.
But, that line about “I thought I could help you have some kind of breakthrough” I just thought, well, if I could just help this person in the same way that I’ve been helped.
Then the truth is that the people that are able to help the people that we love, out of addiction, are usually people that are very far removed from the situation. It’s very rare, I think, that the girlfriend or the wife or the mother or the sister or the child or whoever is able to influence that person. It’s not any kind of emotional appeal that will suffice to keep somebody sober.
So, I had loved this person as hard as I could and that wasn’t going to keep them sober. It was hard thing for me to realise, but a very, very important thing for me to realise and something that I continue to work on because sometimes I’ve heard that I’m a slow learner and a quick forgetter.
I certainly can relate to that, it just takes me a lot of time, like banging my head
against the same brick wall and hearing other people's experiences.
I’ve got to keep doing that, keep helping people that have the same problems that I did. At least the craziness that I’ve done in my past doesn’t go to waste because I can share that - the craziness with somebody else who’s experiencing that and I can say, “this is what happened for me.”
Other people do that for me and I forget, on a regular basis, that I can’t control other people and I can’t control a lot of things. But, the one thing that I can have some control over is myself and my reaction to life.
Yeah, so this song was just a lot of therapy for me.