This post is about the song “Brother In Arms” by the band Guise and it’s been long overdue. I first considered writing it in March 2020, but all of a sudden the pandemic became real and my mind was busy coping with that. Later I got sidetracked like so often and forgot about it. Until earlier this week, which I will explain about a bit further down.
Guise are a folk-pop band from the UK consisting of singer/songwriter Jess Guise, bassist Titus Halder, co-vocalist Laura Hann and drummer Keith Barry. They released their first EP in March 2020.
Disclaimer: I learned about this band and kept my eyes on their social media for any acitivities over the last few years, because Jess Guise is married to Frank Turner, who – as long-time readers know – has been my favourite artist since 2013. Frank produced this EP and Jess joined him as support on his UK solo tour in March. “Blatant nepotism”, I know *g*. I’m fine with that…
I really enjoyed Guise’s first single “The Fun Part” which came out in February 2020 and in early March they released a 2nd song: “Brother in Arms”. I thought “If this really is about a brother I can probably relate, after all I’ve got three of those”, so I sat down to watch the video and listen to the song. But when I realized what it really was about, my jaw dropped and I got quite emotional, because this song touched me so deeply and on such a vicseral level like little else before.
In case you’ve skipped the video (Why!? Go back and watch it!), the song is indeed written about and for Jess’ brother, but even more than that it is about the shared experience of having lost their dad, when they were younger. Jess was 18 according to some sources, I found.
I was barely 14 when my dad died unexpectedly. I’m 45 years old now, so this happened over 30 years ago. You would assume I’m over it. And I am. But also… I’m not. I don’t think you ever really ‘get over it’, because losing a parent at that age is such a traumatic experience, which shapes you like not much else. And to me that is what this song is all about. I’m now at a time in my life, where I only very occassionally think of my dad and this loss anymore. That’s why hearing my whole experience described in such fitting words all of sudden and quite unprepared absolutely floored me. Because for the longest time – the first few years after anyway – I did not have the words to talk about it neither to my siblings nor my friends. Looking back now I think grief counseling probably would have done us some good, but it was never considered nor was it done for a working / low middle class family like we were in the late 1980s. I don’t know. It is what it is and I’ve come to terms with that. We all grew up and dealt with the emotional fallout of this experience in our own way and we all made our way in the world.
I’m also well aware that I can’t blame ALL my emotional mess on this one traumatic experience. But recently I’ve started wondering if, for instance, I would seek a bit less external validation and would have less self-esteem issues had my dad been around longer to counterbalance the often fraught relationship I had with my mum for most of my teenage and young adult years. I’ll never know, I guess…
But let’s dive into some of the lyrics which resonated with me so much and made me remember things or still make me think about things I haven’t remembered or thought about for years.
He was born in different days
Before Bob or Dire Straits
Or the songs that he taught us
Music wasn’t something my dad and I shared. In his own way he got me interested in other things though: words and politics and language, English in particular. He was a very political person and I was just about starting to get interested in that when he died, but I think I got that bug from him regardless. I don’t know how he would have felt about me joining the Green Party in my early 20s, because he was a lifelong socialdemocrat. I’m pretty sure I got my love for all things English from him as well. He was an English teacher and when I was in 5th grade he took me along, when he went to a three weeks teacher training / seminar in England. I was enrolled in school, though I didn’t really speak much of the language yet and we went out to explore and did interesting stuff in the evenings and on the weekends. I remember that I didn’t want to go with him at first (for stupid reasons I admit quite ashamed now) and for a short while I was pissed at my parents that they arranged it against my will, like the bitchy pre-teen, that I was. I ended up having the best of times! It was a big adventure and I had my dad all to myself for three whole weeks. I had always been a daddy’s girl and he definitly spoilt me a bit, because I was the youngest and the only daughter.
We were never much the same
You were wise and I was vain
I was words, you were numbers
Little sister big brother
Little need of each other
Till the ground came from under us
My three brothers and I might be close in age, but we were and still are distinctly different, interest and career wise. Or not so much careerwise as three of us ended up working in public administration in the end. But as children or rather teenager, which we were when we lost our dad, we definitely didn’t spend more time with each other than necessary. They were teenage boys who had no need for a little sister and vice versa.
Until indeed the ground came from under us so utterly unexpected and that is an experience you really only share with those who have been there next to you as Jess puts so aptly in the song:
And the burden we felt since then
The burden that you share with me
‘Cause we both were a child
And we know all too well how our childhood died
A few days ago something in a contemporary romance novel brought this all back for me and made me finally sit down to write this post. In that scene two people bond about having lost a parent, when they were younger and it ends with this…
And I thought: Yep, that is so true. Nobody really gets it, unless they had to live through this themselves. And I was reminded of this song, so here we are…
‘Cause I don’t care what you decide
It only matters that we try
Throw the fight if you want to
I’ve got you I’m on your side
I assume siblings often have each others backs no matter if they share a traumatic experience or grow up in a regular family. What is regular anyway? But yes, in our case, I’m glad to say, that even though we might not be close in some ways, I know without a doubt that each of my brothers is on my side. I know that I could call either at any time and ask for help, whether I need some home improvement done in my apartment or my car broke down in the middle of the night or if for some reason I might end up in a relationship which turned abusive… they would come by the drop of a hat and help me out. When our mum was seriously ill about a decade ago we gathered round each other on instinct rather than either of us needing to ask the others to come over.
And we can always start again
Pick up the pieces just like him
Sink or swim
We can’t disappoint him
My dad started over again at least once in his life and I’m afraid I didn’t give him enough credit for that achievement while I still could have. I was a 14 year old girl. My dad’s youth and past weren’t really my concern at that time. He had been an industrial worker at some ironworks in the 1950/60s and then decided to further his education and went to night school to be able to sit the equivalent of A Levels. He then went to university to become a teacher and only started that job when he was in his late 30s. And he was a good teacher or at least a respected and beloved one, who really cared about his students, which is just as important. I’m not sure if he installed a similar kind of work ethics or life philosophy in us. I often procrastinate way too much to be able to claim good work ethics for myself, I think. On the other hand, my mum often states with some pride, that we children all managed to be successful in some way and she’s right. We all graduated from school, we all started (and finished!) some kind of further education path, whether practically or academically. We all have a steady job and a steady income. Looking back now with more insight in how such an experience could have knocked us off our paths – because we were teenagers and it’s so easy for teens to get distracted by booze or drugs or falling in with the wrong crowd, I can say: “Yeah, we did allright, all things considered.” Did we all succeed, because we didn’t want to disappoint him? I don’t know. Would he be proud of the woman I’ve become…? God, I very much hope so. I mused about that for a bit last year. But I think he probably would be, because deep down I’m sure I can’t disappoint him either.
For someone, who once lacked the words to talk about this, I sure used a lot of words here now. Thank you so much, Jess Guise, for putting these emotions into words much better and more beautiful than I could have ever done. Which is something that so far I’ve only ever said about some of Frank’s lyrics ;-). Thank you for sharing your experience and your words with the world and thus make me dig a bit deeper to find my own.