In July of 2011, I went to Austin, Texas to make my first solo record. It was a fun record to make, both musically and socially. We recorded quickly and pretty much cut the record live to tape. I was in Austin for three weeks, and came home to Brooklyn with a record I was really proud of. I played it for management and the label and we made plans for release. But there was one last thing: the record needed a title.
I wanted something that spoke to the themes on the album and possibly pointed towards the Austin location. I thought of the television show Friday Night Lights, which was set in Texas and filmed in Austin. I always loved when the team would say "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" before taking the field. I wrote these words down in my notebook and started playing with them. I came upon 'Clear Heart Full Eyes' and decided to go ahead with it.
To me, "Clear Heart" represented honesty and transparency. "Full Eyes" signified experience and age, some who has seen a lot. Thus, the title to me is about keeping optimistic as life tries to wear you down. It's about not becoming jaded. That said, I know Friday Night Lights was a show that resonated with a lot of people, and I knew I would be talking about it a bunch when the record came out.
Truly the only thing that really connects my record to FNL is the nod and wink of the deliberately juxtaposed title. There is no song that relates in any way to FNL. That said, the show is one of my all time favorites and it brought me a ton of joy and inspiration. And as I thought about it, the experiences depicted in FNL oftentimes relate to rock and roll and my version of it.
I think the greatest thing about the show is the way it deals with both youth and adulthood. While at first glance the action takes place around the kids on football field, the show is also very much about the adults in Dillon, Texas. While high school kids have to deal with their own set of problems, adults have their own issues. The relationship between Coach Taylor and his wife Tammy is a central part of the show and it highlights the sacrifice and struggle that any marriage requires. While they are held up as beacons of a small town, it does not always come easy. They have ups and downs with their careers, parenting, and their own relationship. Coach Taylor might be unquestionable on the field, but in his home he must often play a different role. Buddy Garrity might have money and a beautiful family in Season 1, but by Season 5 he is humbled and dealing with consequences of bad decisions. The show reminds us that while teenage problems seem immense to teenagers, adulthood isn't necessarily smooth sailing. It also speaks to the idea that adults often have a hard time acting as role models for their children, despite good intentions.
This gap between youth and adulthood also arises often in rock and roll. For one, rock music is mostly thought of as youth music. The early rock and rollers often sang of teenagers, and rock was something parents could not possibly understand. But as rock and roll aged, topics grew more mature as well. The protagonists in songs of lifetime artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen have grown with their audiences. As for myself, I am a 40-year-old singing rock and roll songs, attempting to age gracefully in music that is often best rowdy and dangerous.
Friday Night Lights also succeeds in the way it deals with its students and the way they move on. There is an undercurrent of coming and going that informs each season. I really appreciate the way that the writers moved the students along. So many television programs have failed in attempting to follow the characters to the next place, college or otherwise. Instead, FNL accurately depicts the role of an educator, where one group of students moves on and another comes up. Teachers or coaches have a new set of students to deal with each year and can't be too focused on what last year's bunch was doing. They have a responsibility to this year's group. FNL took that responsibility seriously. As much as I loved the football action, I never rooted harder for anything than for Matt Saracen to get out of town and start art school in Chicago. It was easy to understand the things pulling him back to Dillon, Texas but it was impossible not to see how Chicago was the right opportunity for him. Similarly, it was a Super Bowl-sized triumph when Tyra was accepted to college and drove out of Dillon towards bigger and better things. We hoped that college might work out for Tim Riggins but that one didn't seem as likely.
Coming and going. Getting away and coming back. These are huge themes in literature as well as song. Some of the best rock and roll songs concern themselves with trying to get out of town. "Born to Run" comes to mind, but there is also "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and many, many more. We are all trying to break out of our lives, and we are all pulled back to our roots. This isn't something we outgrow; it just takes on different shapes.
Lastly, Friday Night Lights felt like a true community. No matter how compelling the off-field drama in Friday Night Lights, I always loved seeing the big Friday night game. It was a reminder of how the town lived for football, and pretty much every character in the show was in the stands for the football contests. I found this to be really exciting because it brought me back to my own Friday nights in the bleachers. While Minnesota is hardly the football mecca that Texas is, going to a high school football game was an ideal Friday night in my youth. We can all appreciate something to get behind, whether it's a team or a band. In fact, one of the best parts of rock and roll is the community that comes up around it. When a band plays a show, it's not just about the band members themselves, but all the people in the room and how they get together. Similarly, the teams on FNL weren't just playing for themselves but for their school, their loved ones, and the people who lived in their towns.
Friday Night Lights drew to an end after the fifth season, but I continue to think about the characters and the show quite a bit. And with my new record's title, I'm spending a fair amount of time talking about it. I just returned from England where I met a bunch of kids who were just starting the DVDs and I felt a little jealous that they had all five seasons waiting for them. Mostly, I think about how a show that had so much struggle and some very negative situations left me feeling so good about myself. Struggle and sacrifice can pay off with hard work, and we can all work to become better people. Clear Eyes. Full Heart. Can't Lose.