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On 'Remember Me Beautiful,' Brandy Clark Processes Death And Celebrates Life

Jan 6, 2021
Originally published on January 6, 2021 8:21 am

Brandy Clark is known for her vivid character sketches. The Nashville artist put out an album in March 2020, right when the pandemic was starting to shut everything down. After her tour got canceled, Clark started seeing people less — a real problem for someone who likes to write about other people.

"I've seen how many songs have come from me through conversations — like meeting for coffee and talking to a girlfriend and she's talking to me about her marriage, and from that comes a song idea. When you don't get that, it does start to dry up a little bit. I need other people to inspire me," Clark says. "When this started, everything that I had on the books, as far as songwriting, switched to Zoom. I really hit a fatigue factor with it, like, wow, when are we going to get out of this?"

When Clark agreed to contribute a new track to Morning Edition's Song Project series, she wasn't sure what it was going to be about at first, but eventually landed on the idea of putting herself in the shoes of a person experiencing real loss. She put together some ideas and then took them to one of her songwriting sessions.

Clark spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about the grief process, celebrating a well-lived life, collective healing and her new song, "Remember Me Beautiful." Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Rachel Martin: Tell me about the title of this song, "Remember Me Beautiful."

Brandy Clark: Sometimes you have a title and you don't know exactly what it means, and you can't quite unlock it by yourself. I'd had it written in my phone: Remember me beautiful, remember me young, remember me in the sun was how it had started. I was writing, one of my last writing appointments of 2020, with Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna; they call themselves the Love Junkies.

I remember staying up the night before, just really trying to mine an idea. It wasn't "Remember Me Beautiful" that I was going to bring in there, but I got on the Zoom, and Lori was on there first. She said her aunt had passed away the night before. Then Liz and Hillary got on the call, and Liz's mom had recently passed away. Neither of them had passed away from COVID-19, but they had to deal with COVID-19 and not be able to maybe be with them as much as they would have liked in their final hours.

I started talking about having lost my grandma and my dad. And I had this picture from a Halloween party from years ago that someone had just sent me. Somebody said, "Wow, your grandma is really beautiful." And I said, "Well, I've got this idea — might work with everything we're talking about." At this point, everybody's like crying. I said, "I don't really know what it is, but remember me beautiful, remember me young." And it just went from there. A lot of that co-write was spent in tears. It was one of the highlights of 2020 for me, honestly, as far as writing.

I wonder, I mean, that kind of emotion when it happens, it can bring people together in this really intimate space. You weren't originally going to bring that idea to the group. Do you think it helped, even in that strange Zoom call setting, but to have these women open up and be so vulnerable with their own grief?

Completely. That always makes you be able to be vulnerable with your own grief. I mentioned my grandma and my dad — I lost them both several years ago, but when you're sitting there talking to somebody who's just lost a loved one, it brings that all back. The fact that both of them were so vulnerable, I think, is why the song got written and why it got written the way it did.

What was the process like? How did the song get built from there?

You know, we just started writing it about those people. To me it was most about Liz's mom, but I think we were all drawing from people we had lost, and it was kind of an easy song to write. It was so real to everybody. Even though it wasn't specifically about Liz's mom or Lori's aunt or Hillary's grandma or my grandma, they were all in there. We were all writing about somebody who might've been a different person, but meant the same thing to all of our hearts.

This the line in the song that goes, "fast car riding pretty," there's some joy in that.

There's nothing more beautiful than a well-lived life and somebody that can look back on it and say, "I was this and that and I made some mistakes, but I'd do it all again if I could."

How do you think about it in the context of this pandemic, when people have lost so much, lost loved ones to the disease or their rituals associated with grieving a loved one for a different reason have been affected? How do you place this song in that broader context?

I hope this song will provide people some comfort that they will remember who they've lost, or even what they've lost — not even a person, but people feel like they've lost a year of their life. But I do think, on the bright side, that there will be some amazing art that comes out of this. Because I feel like art always saves us. People will take the broken pieces of their heart and turn it into art for everyone else who's going through this. People will feel a little less alone and we'll get through it.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to pick up now with the MORNING EDITION Song Project. Remember, this is the series where we've been asking musicians to write an original song about the COVID era. Today's guest is Brandy Clark. She's a singer from Nashville who's known for creating these vivid character sketches in her music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMEMBER ME BEAUTIFUL")

BRANDY CLARK: (Singing) She pushed her wedding ring across the counter and said tell me that it's worth more than I think. There's a bus to Baton Rouge leaves in an hour. And $90 cash buys me a seat.

MARTIN: She put out an album in March right when the pandemic was starting to shut everything down. Her tour got canceled, and Brandy started seeing people less, which is a real problem for someone who likes to write about other people.

CLARK: I've seen how many songs have come for me through conversations, like, meeting for coffee and talking to a girlfriend, and she's talking to you about her marriage and from that comes the song idea. When you don't get that, it does start to dry up a little bit. I need other people to inspire me. And when this started, everything that I had on the books as far as songwriting switched to Zoom. And I really hit a fatigue factor with it. Like, wow, when are we going to get out of this?

MARTIN: When Brandy agreed to do a song for our project, she wasn't sure what it was going to be about. But we talked about doing something where she puts herself in the shoes of a person experiencing real loss. She put together some ideas and then took them to one of her songwriting sessions. This is what they came up with. It's called "Remember Me Beautiful."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMEMBER ME BEAUTIFUL")

CLARK: (Singing) I thought that woman would live forever. I guess I grew up, but I swear she never grew old. Sometimes I put on her favorite sweater when I'm all alone and the world feels cold.

Sometimes you have a title and you don't know exactly what it means, and you can't quite unlock it by yourself. And I'd had it written in my phone, remember me beautiful; remember me young; remember me in the sun, was how it had started. And I was writing - one of my last writing appointments of 2020 - with Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna, and they call themselves The Love Junkies.

I remember staying up the night before just really trying to mine an idea. And it wasn't "Remember Me Beautiful" that I was going to bring in there. But I got on the Zoom, and Lori was on there first. And she said that her aunt had passed away the night before. Then Liz and Hillary got on the call, and Liz's mom had recently passed away. Neither of them had passed away from COVID, but they had to deal with COVID and not being able to maybe be with them as much as they would have liked in their final hours.

And I started talking about having lost my grandma and my dad. And I had this picture from a Halloween party from years ago that someone had just sent me, and somebody said, wow, your grandma was really beautiful. And I said, well, I've got this idea. It might work with everything we're talking about. And at this point, everybody's like crying. And I said, I don't really know what it is. But, you know, remember me beautiful, remember me young. And it just went from there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMEMBER ME BEAUTIFUL")

CLARK: (Singing) Remember me beautiful. Remember me young. Remember me smiling with my face towards the sun. Remember me happy when you remember what was. Oh, but most of all, remember my love.

A lot of that co-write was spent in tears, and it was one of the highlights of 2020 for me, honestly, as far as writing.

MARTIN: I wonder - I mean, that kind of emotion, when it happens, it can bring people together in this really intimate space. Do you think that helped to be in this strange, you know, Zoom call setting but to have these women open up and be so vulnerable with their own grief?

CLARK: Completely. And you know, that always makes you be able to be vulnerable with your own grief, you know? Even, like I mentioned, my grandma, my dad, I lost them both several years ago. But you know, when you're sitting there talking to somebody who's just lost a loved one, it brings that all back. The fact that both of them were so vulnerable, I think, is why the song got written and why it got written the way it did.

MARTIN: What was the process like? How did the song get built from there?

CLARK: You know, we just started writing it about those people. You know, I think really, it was - felt mostly to me like it was about Liz's mom. But I think we were all drawing from people we had lost. And it was kind of an easy song to write. It was so real to everybody. And we were all writing about somebody who might have been a different person but meant the same thing to all of our hearts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMEMBER ME BEAUTIFUL")

CLARK: (Singing) I was a fast-car ridin', pretty - but I had a ball, and I'd do it all again.

There's nothing more beautiful than a well-lived life and somebody that can, you know, look back on it and say, you know, I was this and that, and I made some mistakes, but I'd do it all again if I could.

MARTIN: How do you think about it in the context of this pandemic? How do you place this song in that broader context?

CLARK: You know, I hope this song will provide people some comfort - you know, that they will remember who they've lost or even what they've lost, maybe not even a person. Just you know, some people feel like they've lost a year of their life. But I do think, on the bright side, that there will be some amazing art that comes out of this because I feel like art always saves us. And people will take the broken pieces of their heart and turn it into art for everyone else who's going through this. And people will feel a little less alone, and we'll get through it.

MARTIN: Brandy Clark's song for the MORNING EDITION Song Project is called "Remember Me Beautiful."

Brandy, thanks so much for talking with us and sharing this song with us.

CLARK: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMEMBER ME BEAUTIFUL")

CLARK: (Singing) I told her she could go if she was ready. And I promised her we'd all be OK...

MARTIN: You can check out the whole song at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.