James Taylor wrote “Enough To Be On Your Way” following the 1993 death of his brother Alex. He’s said in interviews that he wanted to make sense of the event without making it very obviously about Alex’s passing, so created some narrative distance by changing some details and singing about “Alice” instead of “Alex”. However you slice it, “Enough To Be On Your Way” is the emotional center of 1997’s Hourglass and a sobering song about loss that cuts way deeper than the big pop hits of the era focusing on similar topics. I can’t say I have much use for “One Sweet Day”, “I’ll Be Missing You” or “Together Again” these days. Of course, you also have to consider the fact that the three aforementioned songs were widely played #1 hits, while “Enough” is a rarely played album cut-Hourglass‘s platinum-plus status notwithstanding.
I’d imagine seeing a close relative off would have elements of majesty as well as a tangible heaviness. “Enough To Be On Your Way” has elements of both. I’ve been fortunate so far that I haven’t had a lot of experience with the death of a close family member. That may also be because I don’t have many close family members. My maternal grandfather (who was the closest thing to a father I actually had) passed away back in 1992, when I was 16. His passing came as something of a shock to me, and I didn’t know much about illness and death. I also was too young to understand family dynamics very well. His death affected me profoundly, and viscerally-I lost it at his wake and was shaken enough to not attend his burial-but I was still wet behind the ears and really had no concept of life’s finite nature.
The opening lines of “Enough To Be On Your Way” punch me in the gut every time I hear them, especially considering how emotionally affected I am, generally, by James Taylor’s voice (something I’ve discussed in previous posts.)
So the sun shines on this funeral just the same as on a birth,
the way it shines on everything that happens here on Earth.
It rolls across the western sky and back into the sea
and spends the day’s last rays upon this fucked-up family
I’ve been thinking about this verse a lot lately, as I get older and my family members do the same. I don’t have a sitcom family or anything remotely approaching the typical sitcom relationship with any of my relatives. There’s a lot stored in mental closets, a lot unsaid, a lot that’s still unpacking and is yet to be unpacked and processed. Despite the pain with which James sings “Enough To Be On Your Way”, I am grateful to him for writing this song as it will help me process my own emotions the next time I lose a relative, which-given current circumstances- I fear will be sooner rather than later.
I went to YouTube to link to the video and found this quote in the comments, which is a pretty good encapsulation of why James Taylor’s music means as much as it does to me.
James Taylor songs hugs you like a hug from a love(sic) one.