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Me in the hot seat, chatting with Taylor. (Photo credit: Zac Hanson, @hansonmusic.)

Alright, alright, alright! So, this year’s journey down to Tulsa, Oklahoma for Hanson Day 2015 was certainly one for the books. I’ve been asked to share this story quite a few times by now, so I thought maybe maybe I should just blog about it. I am such a sporadic blogger and it’s one of my goals to become more consistent. So, here’s another attempt!

Those who know me well: you are well aware of the fact that Hanson is my all-time favorite, do-anything-for bands. I only have one – and I proudly and excitedly see them every single time they’re in Minneapolis and it’s a great time. When they don’t come through town during the year, I then can totally justify making plans to trek down to Tulsa (their hometown) for their annual Hanson Day /Hop Jam weekend. (It just so happens that I also have part of my Mom’s side of the family in Tulsa, so driving 10 hours to Oklahoma so doesn’t faze me anymore.) Tulsa has always felt like home to me, in a way – so I really really look forward to it! For the record, Hanson does fan appreciation SO WELL. I have not heard of any other artist or band who willingly hosts hundreds of fans in their hometown and wants to hang out with them for more than just an evening of music. This entire experience has quickly become one of my favorite traditions to do with some of my very best friends.

One of the unique parts about the Hanson Day weekend experience is that we get to interact with the band in a way so vastly different than the typical concert experience would let us. Lectures, for example, are one of the weekend’s highlights – and they are by far, one of my personal favorite moments. Each brother takes the stage and walks us through different behind-the-scene looks into their musical expertise. This year, Isaac showed us rare, stripped down elements from their second studio album, This Time Around. Zac recorded a brand-new song in its entirety, inspired by questions he polled us on online. And finally, Taylor asked for fans to send in stories of Hanson songs that inspired their life the most – while also sharing with us how those songs came to be. Halfway through reading the description for Taylor’s lecture, I already knew what song I would write about. Here’s my submission below. (The 300-word limit was so restricting!)

Middle of Nowhere was the first CD I ever owned. It literally lived in my Walkman for the entirety of 1st grade. MON was also my introduction to the music world. I grew up with Deaf parents and happened to be the first of three hearing kids in our family. I never grew up listening to oldies, or inherited any real sense of music appreciation. All I knew about music came straight from Disney, until MMMBop. (Later on I learned that we lived right down the street from Prince’s Paisley Park studios – another life changing musical experience in its own.)

On MON, With You In Your Dreams always struck me as one of the most heartfelt songs. While at six, I had yet to learn the devastating pain of loss – there was a part of me that understood that loss was inevitable, that this song would one day relate. At 22, this song ended up being the only song that I could let myself listen to after my Dad lost his battle with Multiple Myeloma cancer. All other songs about loss had wrecked me so much, that I started to avoid them all together. However, WYIYD felt different because the lyrics so beautifully addressed that never-ending question of “What would my loved one want me to know right now, while this loss is overwhelming me?” It speaks from the narrative of the one who has passed and is paired so wisely with such an uplifting, driving rhythm. And the gospel! “I’m not sleeping an endless sleep” is such a brilliant line. It is exactly what one needs to remember while riding out the sadness. I am honored to have Hanson be my introduction to music and to have learned from you just how healing music can be. Thank you!

So! I submitted that brief story a month before we headed down to Tulsa, and we actually arrived that Friday right before lectures started. (We chose to forego the Meet & Greet line to see the Bonnie & Clyde Hideout Apartment in Joplin, the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, and a very necessary photo op with the Blue Whale in Catoosa. #worthit).

We arrived at the lectures and we already were starting to get a little bit hangry (we totally forgot to eat lunch). Taylor’s lecture ended up being the first of the three, so I forced myself to not think hungry thoughts and focus on possibly going onstage, remaining composed and normal, etc. Ha! Taylor started to call people up to share their stories and before I knew it – we were already about halfway through the lecture. I then started to joke with Katie and Kallie that this whole waiting-to-hear-who-was-next process was good practice for my Tony Nominee face – politely smiling, clapping, and keeping your cool – and as I was excessively gesturing all of this to them, Taylor announced my name. I immediately yelled something unintelligible, and then somehow started to make my way to the stage. (All the while, Katie and Kallie are totally freaking out behind me. Please imagine what Katie’s voice would sound like right now, because it was the most hilarious thing and I can’t recreate it.) I got about halfway to the stage, then realized Zac was crouched down on the floor, taking pictures on his phone, and I forced myself to be like “oh cool okay hi you’re there taking photos that’s not at all something that would arise any kind of reaction from me wait actually this is a really bad angle please no pictures sir byeeeee” and then made my way up this ramp with actually the most absurd incline I’ve ever seen, to the stage. Taylor gave everybody hugs when they got onstage because he’s great, and then we began the most high-profile interview of my 24 years. Ha!

Taylor asked me to introduce myself, where I was from – and he told us that Minneapolis was home to some of their loudest crowds (hey-oh!). We then got right into talking about With You In Your Dreams. I tried to glance over to my story that he had printed out, then realized that so much of it was bolded (!) and I tried to quick gauge what he wanted me to cover. Ha! Honestly – I don’t remember all that I shared onstage because a) I was really working hard to be calm, cool, and collected b) remember the points I made in my story c) I WAS HANGRY! d) Taylor’s face was really close to me. I am not used to that.

I shared how I first heard the song when I was about six or seven, and how it ended up truly impacting my life when I was 22, when I was struggling to be okay with the loss of my Dad. There are really very few things I remember from being six years old, and the emotional impact of this song is absolutely one of them. It would take 16 years for me to understand why this song impacted me in this profound way – but I always seemed to have this understanding as a child that I was going to understand deep loss, and that, I don’t know – these words Hanson put to music might help. The phrase “I’m not sleeping an endless sleep” is probably the most profound lyric in the entire song, and I got to share that with Taylor. I didn’t really feel like coming right out and saying “Hey! I’m a Christian, too! Heaven! Jesus! That’s why I love this song!” so sharing it in that way felt a little more subtle. I also really tried to be intentional in acknowledging that I was absolutely not the only person in the room who understood loss, and I wanted everyone else to feel included in the conversation. There were easily 500+ people in Cain’s at that moment – I felt a little intimidated by 500+ perceptions of what I was talking about, and wanted to make sure that I recognized all other memories of loss, as well.

Oh, and I also kept unintentionally making Hanson puns while I was talking (“This time around?” HONESTLY RACHEL? I’m not even a pun person!) so that was unexpected. Kallie pointed out that Taylor segued into talking about Dad being Deaf so flawlessly and I have to agree. “Was music something that you and your Dad bonded over?” Ha! I got to talk a little bit about how Hanson was my first independent music choice I made and how they became the foundation for my musical appreciation. Taylor shared a little bit of the perspective behind why and how they wrote this song (they wrote it for their Grandmother), and he told us that he wrote it when he was only 11 years old, and actually woke up in the middle of the night and just knew that he needed to write what would later become this song. Wow.

A few more stories were shared after mine, and THEN a keyboard was being brought out for Taylor and he joked about how this wouldn’t be complete without a performance. I recognized With You In Your Dreams from the first chord and just got to watch Taylor play the song from onstage. (I kept trying to decide what to do with myself: clap my hands? Sing along? Sway back and forth? Not cry?! Don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.) Taylor looked over towards my direction during my favorite lyric, and BAM – my entire weekend was made.

While I somehow managed to get through that entire experience smoothly – I later realized that I completely forgot to verbalize why the words in WYIYD were so profound to me now. Gosh! I really do this all the time – just because I acknowledge something in my head, does not always mean that I have said it out loud and that people get it, too. Or maybe I was unintentionally protecting myself from getting too emotional onstage? Who knows! The reason why these lyrics brought so much peace to me at 22, after my Dad had passed away during the summer of 2013, was because I never actually had a conversation with my Dad about how I was to rebuild my life after we lost him. I felt lost for a long time last year over this.

The doctors gave us a final prediction of two months left of Dad’s life, back in May of 2013. We had time to plan a Celebration of Life gathering, and had weeks of Dad’s continual presence to enjoy – so that seemed to be all we did. We never sat down as a family to talk about how to live in the months following his passing, because all we could focus on was the fact that Dad was so happy, so absolutely full of life – I don’t think that we wanted to interrupt a single moment of it by talking about the end. His steroids were giving him incredible stamina and energy, he was going for bike rides, still going to work every day – everything seemed to be “okay”. Then in what now feels like the blink of an eye, his health began to plummet. I ended up making the call of bringing him in to the E.R. for the last time towards the end of July and that was actually really emotional because everything changed from there. At that point, he could hardly communicate about his pain level. Signing was laborious. We ended up only being able to make sense of his emotional expressions, very brief fingerspelling or direct commands for his comfort. It was hard for him to stay alert longer than it would take for us to check-in about how he was feeling, so that became all we really had time to talk about and had no choice but to learn to be okay with the unanswered questions as we transitioned into hospice care. He passed very peacefully in the early morning, while we were all sleeping – so  the lyric “If I’m gone when you wake up, please don’t cry” holds great significance for me, as well.

My friends reading this are familiar with my Dad’s journey, but for the Hanson fans and others who aren’t – this period of my life was hell for more than the obvious reason. Dad was Deaf and we struggled a lot in the hospital with appropriate care for terminally ill Deaf patients. I had to translate the final message from my Dad’s doctor, look him in the eyes and tell him he was dying, because we couldn’t track down an interpreter fast enough. I think we all worked hard to protect him as much as we could during this last phase in his life, while forgetting to think about what we would do after this was past. The pain that still trips me up is the pain I have from not having the chance to know what Dad would have told me to do at this point in my life.

The last thing Dad and I ever signed to each other was the I Love You sign. It’s forever engrained in my mind. But for all the unanswered questions I had left in my head, mainly “how am I supposed to move past the emptiness you leave behind?” – this 1997 Hanson song ended up being the exact comfort that I was so desperately searching for. I needed to hear something from the perspective of the one I lost. (None of that Coldplay “Fix You” crap. That song wrecks me.) Relating to this song from my childhood felt like coming home in more ways than just one. Here’s a clip of them performing it in 2003 (oh my gosh -13 years ago). I’ll include lyrics below for Deaf/HH.

If I’m gone when you wake up
Please don’t cry
And if I’m gone when you wake up
It’s not goodbye
Don’t look back at this time as a time
Of heartbreak and distress
Remember me, remember me
‘Cause I’ll be with you in your dreams
Oh I’ll be with you, oh oh

But If I’m gone when you wake up
Please don’t cry
And if I’m gone when you wake up
Don’t ask why
Don’t look back at this time
As a time of heartbreak and distress
Remember me, remember me
‘Cause I’ll be with you in your dreams

Oh oh

Don’t cry, I’m with you
Don’t cry, I’m by your side
Don’t cry, I’m with you
Don’t cry, I’m by your side

And though my flesh is gone, whoa
I’ll still be with you at all times
And although my body’s gone, oh
I’ll be there to comfort you at all times

Oh oh

But If I’m gone when you wake up
Please don’t cry
And if I’m gone when you wake up
Don’t ask why
Don’t look back at this time
As a time of heartbreak and distress
Remember me, remember me
‘Cause I’ll be with you
I’ll be with you in your dreams

Oh, I’ll be with you
Oh
I’ll be with you in your dreams
I’ll be with you
I’ll be with you

I don’t want you to cry and weep, oh
I want you to go on living your life
I’m not sleeping an endless sleep, oh
‘Cause in your heart
You have all of our good times
Oh, all of our good times
Oh oh you have

And if I’m gone when you wake up
Don’t ask why
Don’t look back at this time
As a time of heartbreak and distress
Remember me, remember me
‘Cause I’ll be with you in your dreams

Oh
I’ll be with you in your dreams
I’ll be with you
Oh
I’ll be with you
I’ll be with you in your dreams
I’ll be with you in your dreams…

So, yeah. That’s my Song Story! Later that night at our hotel, a fellow fan called me a “Hanson Celebrity” (lol, I wish). In the Hanson Store, they even had a t-shirt with the WYIYD lyrics on it, and by the time I managed to drag Katie & Kallie there stop by – they only had my size left in stock. What! I was pretty over the moon about that! Gosh. These guys!

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I am fully aware that not everyone gets the chance to share with their all-time favorite artist how something they created impacted their life. The awe of it all probably won’t ever wear off, but man! I am so lucky to have had this band with me all this time, to have found healing through their music, and to have had them turn out to be the very conscious and grateful artists that they are now.

I’m always going to remain a little tripped up over never really having the conversation I wished I could have had with my Dad – that’s never going to go away. But at least I’ve started to create a way to redirect those feelings of despair and regret and reflect back on what I know to be truth: he is forever safe and secure and the absolute farthest away from pain. He is not sleeping an endless sleep, and he is always with me. These lyrics really help me remember.

Thank you, Hanson. You are the real deal – but I’ve always known this. Thank you for the outlet, thank you for the musical comfort, and thank you for the opportunity to share something like this with you and the rest of the Hanson community.

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5 thoughts on “Song Stories – Hanson Day 2015

  1. Wow. You left me teary-eyed (and I even squealed at the part where Taylor looked at you during your most favorite lyric). Hanson is my favorite band, even though I’ve only known about them since 2011 (I was only 2 when Middle of Nowhere came out) and you’re a great writer, too. God, I’m so proud to be a part of this musical fandom.

    1. You’re incredibly sweet! Wow, thanks! I love that you discovered Hanson post-Middle of Nowhere, it’s such a different (and awesome) era to join in on. I’m so proud to be part of this community, too :)

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I lost my brother suddenly in September, and as I drove home after hearing the news, I reached for this song. The boys are far younger than me, but they are amazing at conveying such strong, powerful emotions, both happy and sad. I feel blessed to be part of this musical community.

    1. Kasey – I’m so sorry that you had to go through losing your Brother just this fall. My heart goes out to you and I send so much love & support your way. So very thankful that this song was comforting to you, too! I feel so very blessed, too. :)

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