My father’s watch was not an expensive one, but all our time is worth the same – priceless – and he at least lived a good long life. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 81, and it was hard losing the father I loved so much, who had such an impact on who I am, but I recognize that is the natural order of life. This song is about someone taken well before their time, and the tragedy of parents having to outlive a child. The blurred photos on the upper left of this shot are of dad’s dad Hugh Henry Perry, who knew loss very well, two children taken at 5 and 9 in accidents, and a couple more stillborn – the hard life on the frontier. And he was a tough old man by all accounts (my uncles used stronger words than this to describe him!), who probably took everything in stride and got on with what had to be done.
Still you have to wonder how he felt about these deaths, how it affected him in ways he likely wouldn’t admit or couldn’t see. Even my grandmother seemed a very stoic hardened frontier woman (though she was absolutely lovely in her later years when I knew her, she was still very direct and not afraid to call it like she saw it), so I don’t know exactly how she took these tragedies at the time. Of course it must’ve broken her heart but such things just weren’t spoken of. The family in this song does not take it well, as I know many do not. The premature death of your offspring would cause strain on any relationship I think, but must really have a terrible effect on any existing strains a couple might already be experiencing.
“All Seas” started with that opening riff played on guitar, and I needed to sing something over it to start to build a verse or something. A phrase came to me, “I broke it to her,” and I thought what comes after that, deciding on “…could it ever be gently?” as a play on the common phrase (and getting a little nod in to Burton Cummings). But they were really just random words that sounded good, without any plan or idea whatsoever. I had to go from there, and imagination took over, painting a picture of a couple getting the worst news possible and going through that process.
Empathy is important, it’s how we truly connect as human beings, that ability to see things from another person’s perspective, walk in their shoes, understand what about them is different from ourselves, and what is the same (much more, usually, the more you look). So this was an exercise in empathy for me, fully giving in to the situation and pouring out what I felt I would feel if it happened to me. I have to admit I was conscious while writing this of not having experienced any major loss in my life, let alone the horrific one of losing a son or daughter.
Days after I wrote this song, generously extending my empathy to all those who’ve gone through such tragic loss, I learned my mother had cancer. It’s tempting to think things happen to you for reasons, or that what I was doing somehow affected the world outside me and led to my first major loss (as my mother died a year later in May 2015, followed by dad in June 2016), but I resisted those thoughts. Despite the awful coincidence, I never cursed my imagination for stirring up the darkness.
A quick note on the title phrase: I have no idea what it means. It popped out as these words that made that melody work, and I know I was generally going for the feeling of being trapped, or lost (like “at sea”), but I recognized it’s not an existing phrase or saying. I even tried to change it (“high seas”? “and at sea”?) but nothing worked except what I originally sang, so it stands as is. Maybe the uncertainty of its meaning even suggests the life-shattering confusion such a death brings.