Arts / Entertainment

“No Hard Feelings”: America needs this Avett Brothers video right now

A song and a video that may be perfect for this post-election Thanksgiving

There will doubtless be a lot of uncomfortable and heated moments at Thanksgiving tables across America this year.

In part, this is because bringing a family together is always a complicated business. It can be a time of incredible joy and laughter, of revisiting past memories while making new ones. At the same time, the situation can also be volatile. It can reopen old wounds, reanimate old grudges, and reignite old enmities.

But that inherent precariousness will be compounded a hundredfold by the political atmosphere in the country right now. It used to be said that that you should avoid talking about two things: politics and religion. But politics has become a sort of national religion, and between the 24-hour news cycle and social media – well, good luck avoiding it. The odor of ideology is everywhere, and forcefully separates us into two groups based not only on our ideas but on our identities. Whether the media is causing this division or is simply reporting it doesn’t matter; the reality is that for countless families, it spells trouble. Political bombs will be passed instead of the turkey, and plates will fly.

I think the Avett Brothers must have had this in mind when they unexpectedly released a video for “No Hard Feelings,” the third track off of the Rick Rubin-produced True Sadness, right between the election and the holidays.

The video opens on bassist Bob Crawford and Scott and Seth Avett, all three seated on stools in an empty room, hands at rest. A tracking shot brings us closer, showing three drained but attentive faces. Crawford never says anything – his face says it all – but as family videos of the men crackle, burn, and vanish, the two brothers offer a reflection that’s both tender and sobering:

When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?
When my feet won’t walk another mile
And my lips give their last kiss goodbye
Will my hands be steady?

When I lay down my fears, my hopes and my doubts
The rings on my fingers and the keys to my house
With no hard feelings

When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest
Won’t be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it’s ash and dust for cash and lust
And it’s just hallelujah
And love in thoughts and love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings

 

Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold

When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south
Through Georgia grain or tropical rain
Or snow from the heavens?

Will I join with the ocean blue
Or run into the savior true
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night
Straight to the light
Holding the love I’ve known in my life
And no hard feelings

 

Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold

Under the curving sky
I’m finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as it’s been to me
I have no enemies

Like all great songs, “No Hard Feelings” is about a great many things. It’s about gratitude for having been given the chance to live in this world and experience all its pain and beauty. It’s about the power of mercy and letting things go, and the way arrogance, resentment, and rage never deliver on their promises. It’s about how so much of our discord with each other (to paraphrase Thomas Merton) really comes down to discord with ourselves, which is ultimately discord with God.

At the heart of all of this is really a song about finitude. “No Hard Feelings” is a reminder that life is beautiful because it ends; that letting things go is good and necessary because eventually we have to let everything go; and that if we don’t unmask the source of discord in life, we might find ourselves surprised by it in death. Facing this fact – that all our projects (including our politics) end in “ash and dust” – impels us to be humble and empathetic; to treat each other not as abstract enemies (political or otherwise) but as brothers and sisters; and to know God now, harvesting the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control while we still have breath in our lungs.

As America sits down together to talk over what might be a very contentious meal, that’s exactly the kind of reminder we all need.

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Matthew Becklo

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.