“Irene pulled in at midnight Lit on the smoke and beer Proudly crawled To the porch and called ‘Your favorite child is here’…”
As a listener, I immediately wanted to hear more about this unfortunate character, Irene. And as a parent, the image of someone’s “favorite child” “proudly crawl(ing) to the porch” packed an immediate emotional punch.
According to Noe, the song is about his alcoholic cousin who showed up to Thanksgiving one year. The first track on his 2019 album, Between the Country, it walks through that fateful meal as the family tries to reconcile with Irene’s conspicuous issues.
Ma and Pa play key roles as they try to talk around it. And after she laughs them off in one last effort to hide her problems, the last verse opens a window into the pain behind her outward, hard-partying persona.
It’s one of the many, nightmare outcomes that a parent might worry about while they try to raise a fragile, vulnerable human being. In Noe’s brilliantly written words, you sense the parents’ complex emotions: disappointment, tension, and guilt.
As a parent, I can’t help but feel those too, and hope that I’m doing everything I can to lower the risk of that outcome for my kids.
What makes this a great song is its ability to simultaneously tap into several emotions all at once. It’s absolutely a sad country song (especially for parents), but with a playful, light sound that evokes the good times out on the town that Irene is known for.
When Noe talks about the back story, it’s clear that Irene caused an awkward and painful memory for the family on what would have otherwise been a happy holiday filled with warmth and gratitude. Yet the song ends with sympathy for Irene as you’re left wondering (like her parents probably did at the time) what could possibly turn things around for “Old Irene.”
There’s a lot of pressure on parents to get things right. But at the end of the day, you never know where that little human being may end up, despite your hopes, dreams, or well-intentioned efforts. So, if you have young kids, hug ‘em close, do your best, and don’t forget to send up some prayers.
And if you’re in the mood for feeling your feelings (whether you’re a guilt-ridden parent or not) give talented singer/songwriter Ian Noe a listen.