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  • Writer's pictureThe Rough & Tumble


We are ending where we began this record-- on leaving. This is the final post of the We Made Ourselves a Home When We Didn't Know blog (and livecast!) series. And we are completing it with the first song we wrote, years ago, in a yellow house in East Nashville. This song was the floodgate opener that brought "Tiny Moses" later that week, then "Take Me With You" just a week after that. It was where we started to leave the homes we had been living in, and began dreaming of where we would live next.

But first, we had to write down why we were leaving. Or rather, I (Mallory) did.

You remember our references to the house-- the one we shared with our buddy Mike and our first road dog, Butter. It was the house that consisted of late nights drinking and early morning scrambling to get to work. But mostly, it's where I began the emotional unpacking of my divorce. I was unsure of who I was, and worried about what people were saying. But also, I began to not care, anymore. Feelings were hurt, rumors were spread, mud was smeared. And feeling no interest in slinging any more mud, I finally doubled down on paper. Or rather, in song. To canonize the mud, instead.

"Barney" is a break up song. An agonizing, desperate break up song. But it's also based on a children's song called "Barnacle Bill." I distinctly remember singing it on a homemade metal merry-go-round we had to push ourselves with my brother and sister, moving faster as the numbers got higher--

When Barnacle Bill was one, he learned to suck his thumb!

Barney over in the clover, half past one.

When Barnacle Bill was two, he learned to tie his shoe!

Barney over in the clover, half past two.

And up and on went Barney's adventures-- mostly just until twelve, as rhyming schemes and cadence became less sturdy in the teens. I remember this song as clearly as the feeling in my legs as I pumped and pulled the old metal merry-go-round-- hearing my sister and brother laughing and screaming to stop. But I wouldn't stop. Not until the song was finished.

When I sang this song to Scott, he said he'd never heard of it. I couldn't believe it! So I checked the internet. Nothing. Then I called my mom. My sister. My brother. No one had any recollection of this song. I felt crazy. I still haven't found a trace of it.

Which brings me back to that yellow house. I was digging up bones in the muddy mess I'd made, pulling out all sorts of odds and ends that didn't seem to have meaning. But that little phrase-- Barney over in the clover, half past one-- felt true. When I pushed this phrase around and around, I seemed to watch this person I had split from wander away. And it felt sad and hopeful and like it didn't need to be complete-- it just needed to be spoken. Maybe I was wrong, maybe I was bad, maybe I was all the names he called me. But I didn't need to be the right thing to him or to anyone else, anymore. Because I wasn't his, anymore. I wasn't anyone's.

I didn't need anyone to believe me. I just needed to finish the song before the spinning could stop.

I took to it immediately. And the more I wrote, the more that strange figure crossing the clover field blurred in my mind-- just like the world around me did on that merry-go-round. When it felt about time, I called Scott in to show what I'd made. We finished the structure before I left for work, and I completed the words by the time I got home that night.

Even if "Barnacle Bill" wasn't a real song, somehow it was planted there in my memory. And Barney would carry all this mess over the clover just the same. And it's strange-- now that it's all out there, now that this song has existed for a couple of years, sad and uncertain-- all the pain that made it possible has seemed to slowly dissolve from memory without a trace.

To hear "Barney" and other songs found in other songs, go visit this week's playlist, Songs Within Songs.

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