I don’t know if there is a more heart-rending song than “Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross.
To write a great song, you need to be able to look into your soul. You need to reflect on deep personal experiences. You need to be able to connect with other people who want to share your story.
Great songwriters do this every day. Most of the great records you can sing in your head have been written like this.
But every once in a while, a songwriter goes deeper than they ever have before…indeed deeper than nearly every other songwriter has gone before…and creates something so intense, so personal and so heartfelt that their song transcends anything else they’ve written up to that point.
“Dance With My Father” is one such song.
It was co-written by Luther Vandross and Richard Marx (a successful songwriter and performer in his own right, with hits like “Hazard”) and tells the story of Luther Vandross’s childhood.
Luther’s father passed away when he was just seven years old. I can’t imagine what he went through at the time. Those sorts of scars never heal, I guess.
However, as children often do, a particular incident stuck in Luther Vandross’s mind over the years. He remembered seeing his parents dancing together in the living room in their home and how happy that made them.
Although it was his mum, rather than himself, who was dancing with his father, by switching the characters around a little, Luther Vandross created a lovely metaphor for spending time with his dad as a kid, whether or not they were actually dancing together.
Because Luther Vandross was writing about such a deeply personal experience, the lyrics really get to you…
Back when I was a child
Before life removed all the innocence
My father would lift me high
And dance with my mother and me
Then spin me round till I fell asleep
Then up the stairs he would carry me
And I knew for sure I was loved
Especially if you’ve had your own challenges in life, knowing for sure that you are loved is all any of us are really looking for in our earthy existence.
If we’re lucky, that’s something we get from our parents. Perhaps from a spouse, partner or lover. Maybe a life-long friend.
If just one single person in the world makes you know for sure that you are loved, then the world can be a magical place.
So, whilst Luther Vandross is singing about his personal experience as a child, his song is so powerful because he’s really singing it for all of us. Reminding us what it’s like to be loved unconditionally.
Of course, all good things come to an end. Usually before we’re ready for them to draw to a close.
Maybe we get over it after a while. Perhaps we meet someone who helps soothe our pain and, gradually, we re-discover feelings we thought had gone for ever.
Sometimes we spend the rest of our lives wishing we could relive those days again. We never get over our loss. Numbness comes to define our lives and we go out of our way to make sure we never feel a loss like that again. We push people away who want to help and we retreat into a world filled with sadness and regret.
We all deal with situations like this very differently.
I wish I could tell you there was one “right answer”…one fail-safe way that takes the pain away and helps you get on with your life.
I’m sorry to tell you, there isn’t a magic answer hiding somewhere just waiting for you to find it.
Whether we’re able to move on with our lives or not, there will always be a memory inside. There will always be that feeling we’d give anything to recapture, even just for a moment.
I’m not sure anyone has described that feeling better than Luther Vandross in “Dance With My Father”…