For Mother's Day this year, indie rock star Lucy Dacus did better than sending flowers or a card. She wrote her mother a song called "My Mother & I." This new song is the latest single from the singer-songwriter's ongoing 2019 holiday song series, but this one in particular touches on more than just warm and fuzzy feelings for our moms.
With a low, comforting cadence, Dacus sings of loyalty, shame, intergenerational body issues and wonders what traits of her mother will be passed down to her.
For a special Mother's Day chat, Dacus spoke with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro about the song and what her connection with her two mothers — one biological, one adopted — means in her life. Hear the radio version of their conversation at the audio link.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Garcia-Navarro: Those are very powerful first [lyrics]. "My mother hates her body we share the same outline. She swears that she loves mine." Tell me about that.
Dacus: I think that a lot of women feel this. It's taken a really long time for me to put words to it, but I have had conversations about this with friends forever about how as our mother's age maybe they feel like they're falling out of beauty or losing what they've prioritized throughout their life like their physical appearance.
Or what others are prioritized for them.
Right, and I feel like my mother is beautiful, and I'm also adopted, so I have two mothers and both of them are beautiful. I just want them to see that when they, you know, say, like, that they're ugly, it can really fall back on to me like, 'Oh, well am I going to feel the same at their age? I don't want to.'
It's a complex feeling. I've learned so many good things from them, but it's one thing that mothers pass on that I think is really hurtful.
You've said before that your parents raised you with the idea that everything is chosen. But in a way, you don't choose the way you look, right? We have to embrace it. How do you think about that?
I try to think really specifically of what's coming up. Like I know I'm going to go gray. My birth mother went gray like 25. I'm going gray now and I love it. I actually don't dye my hair because I want to watch every single gray hair come in like I feel like it's a silver medal for wisdom or aging or something. And same for the skin, you know, just kind of softening. I want to look forward to those things. I think just seeing women who love themselves is super helpful. I always say like, 'You have to see it to be it.' So, I just like to surround myself with women who are aging really gracefully and happily.
It does seem like, as as a woman — and specifically, I'm the mother of a young girl — you are constantly fighting with not passing those things, on the things that were bequeath to you from your parents about the way you look at and what you see in the mirror. Why did you want to write this now on Mother's Day? Why did you want this to be the message?
I feel like with most songs that I write, I start with something that's really hard or something that I don't understand. And by the end of the song, I have more of a handle on it or I've come out with an understanding.
So, I feel like the last lines of the song are where I landed. The lines are "All she has given / All I have taken / All is forgiven / All is forsaken." So, I'm trying to acknowledge that my mom, both the one who gave birth to me and the one that raised me, like they both gave so much and as a child you don't even know that you're taking the good and the bad. I'm trying to say thank you to both of them like for the good and the bad.
What did your mothers think about this song?
It wasn't easy at first. I actually haven't yet shown it to my birth mother because we are mostly friends. We don't see each other very often. We're getting to know each other. Still we met when I was 19. But my mom that raised me, I showed it to her and at first she thought that it must totally be about my birth mother and I don't think she wanted to take in or accept what I was saying or she just took it as a negative. Like the first line is pretty striking and it was specifically about her and even now I'm kind of scared to put it out and I feel like most my songs are about me and this is the first time I've really put someone else's business at the front, but I feel like it's our business. We've talked about it since and I think that she really appreciates the understanding that other daughters may get from this. And not just daughters, children at all are very susceptible to body image.
When you say that this is the first time that you have put someone else's business out there, that must be kind of scary.
It's so scary. [Laughs] I just want to do right by anybody that I'm going to speak for or about. But I do think it's important to look back to family and, like, see where I've come from and why I am who I am. I think that's fair to anybody that's going to listen to me, too. I want to give a full picture of myself, and, of course, that includes my mom.
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