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Making Something Out of Nothing With a Scratch and a Hope: The Ballad of Shovels and Rope

Shovels and Rope at the Wildwood Revival in September, 2019. Photo by Krista Stevens.

This is no mere profile of the hardest-working duo in music. David Ramsey‘s notes on Shovels and Rope at Oxford American are a poetic testament to the passing of time, to commitment, to raising a family yet carving out the time you need to be creative, to “how to build a life,” to how music lifts us and helps us to cope.

“Partnership for survival in the world—that is romantic to me,” Cary Ann said. “We’re going to get down here in this ditch and we’re going to shovel together until we get to the other side. I’m digging on this side and you dig on that side. Hopefully we get to the other side intact.”

When interviewers like me ask them how they do it, a touring rock band with two kids, they say they’re still figuring it out. That sounds like something you just say, but actually this is precisely what parenting is like, at least for me. You have a problem, you solve the problem, you feel right proud, your solution is rendered laughably irrelevant one day later because your child changes altogether. You are as plucky and as hopeless as a medical researcher hunting a cure for a bug that evolves faster than every breakthrough.

17. The infant’s state of existential bafflement—Who am I? Why am I here?—seems basically correct, if inefficient, and I always feel a little guilty as a parent training it away.

What is the correct answer if your toddler hears the rain outside and asks, is it music?

When Marigold first started talking, I remember taking her to the playground and she approached a lizard and said “hi.” Then she got on her knees and said “hi” to each and every ant that crawled by, one by one, and I had a feeling in my belly: Pride.

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