The must-hear song of Mother's Day 2022 contains a weaponized melody bound to make adults of all ages weep like small children. Consider this a warning.
I want to fistfight Chris Janson. Not sure I would win, but I'm willing to find out. It's not that I have anything against the guy. As far as I can tell, he's a sweet soul with a delicate voice and a kind heart. Unfortunately, he's also the man responsible for the song "Bye Mom," and for that fact alone, we must battle.*
You may be asking, "Why?" What could drive someone to pick a fight with a total stranger over a song meant to celebrate the immense love a mother feels toward her child?
Country music has a long history of falling in love with songs meant to break your heart. Perhaps the best example of this is Red Sovine's hit 1976 single, "Teddy Bear," which is still breaking hearts today. Running nearly five minutes in length, a time that seems unfathomable in today's music landscape, the track details an exchange between a long-haul trucker and a disabled boy playing on his dead dad's CB radio.
Other iconic hits are more subtle in their effort to break your heart. Bob Carlisle's mid-90s hit "Butterfly Kisses," for example, celebrated father-daughter relationships while mourning the passing of time.
Country radio loves to add songs that double as acts of emotional terrorism. After all, what could be more exhilarating than starting your car each morning before work, not knowing whether or not you'll devolve into a puddle of tears and snot before clocking in? No other genre regularly promotes material with the potential to completely derail someone's day more than country, and in 2022, it's "Bye Mom" you have to watch.
"Bye Mom" taps into the same universal heartache typically reserved for songs about fathers. The track details the seemingly insignificant moments in our lives that mean everything when the people we love die. Whether it's those blurry memories of your first days at school and the comfort your mother provided or those awkward teenage years when you foolishly acted too cool to be seen with her. The Sunday mornings she dragged you to church against protest and the kisses you shied away from because your friends were watching.
You probably didn't think twice in the moments about these actions, but time has a way of reframing our memories following a tragic loss. As our hearts and minds strain to pull whatever they can from our memories, we cannot help thinking of the things we would do differently. We obsess over the phone calls we wouldn't have ignored and the chats we wouldn't have cut short. We consider all the moments we did anything less than the best possible thing and those thoughts inevitably become regrets that we carry with us.
But your mom doesn't care about that. Living or dead, your mom only ever cares about you and your well-being. As Janson so perfectly states in the song, moms love us more than they could ever love themselves, and there's a beauty to the finite nature of existence, even if it breaks your heart.
"Bye Mom" exemplifies everything Chris Janson gets right about songwriting, country music, and life. Whether it's fixating on the minutia of existence as he does here and on tracks like "Cold Beer Truth" or relishing in the catharsis of giving your all to something that means everything to you like he does both here and on the titular song "All In," Janson seeks to drink from the well of life until he is full. He understands that the highs and Lows will come and go, but what we cling to are the tiny details that make even the most mundane moments unique for us. It's the way the dust from your dad's truck tires kicked up as you were driving home from school and the way you still remember how your grandmother's cooking smells. The nights we thought would never end and the experiences keep us feeling young today.
There's also no denying the genius of Janson's songwriting from a business and marketing standpoint. Perhaps the biggest problem facing artists in any genre is getting people to care about the folks behind the music. How to bridge the gap between someone enjoying a song and making that person a lifelong fan of the artist behind it is an ever-shifting puzzle that everyone in music is constantly trying to solve. Yet, you can find everything you need to know about Chris Janson in his music.
Listening to more than 10 seconds of any song on Janson's upcoming album will tell you something interesting about the man behind the music. You can learn where he's from, what he's into, who he loves, and how he spends his spare time without looking at social media or engaging in an interview. As those tidbits and insights pile up, listeners feel they've known Janson for years, strengthening their bond to the music. His material may be relatively new, but audiences see him as an old soul, and that gives his music a timeless feeling that is almost impossible to fabricate.
The one detail suspiciously missing from Janson's material thus far is information regarding his fight history. I don't blame him for not wanting to share his losses, but I have to consider that the opposite may be true. Anyone raised in the country knows a thing or two about throwing hands, and I suspect Janson is no exception. Would my Appalachian roots be enough to match his small-town Missouri bloodline?
I've witnessed Janson's devastating might firsthand. During Country Radio Seminar 2022 (CRS), an annual gathering of country music radio professionals, Janson performed "Bye Mom" during a lunch hosted by Warner Nashville. To get the full experience, please imagine a massive hotel ballroom filled with hundreds of radio professionals ages 20 and up eating catered lunch in the middle of a weekday in late February. It's an afternoon like any other for this event, filled with panels and a midday label showcase featuring the latest singles and talent from a major roster, And everyone is waiting to see who will come on stage next.
After a brief introduction, Janson performed an acoustic rendition of his ode to mothers everywhere as the people who would decide his track's fate on the radio dined. You could hear the forks and knives clinking against glass plates during the opening lines of the first verse, but before the chorus came to an end, you could hear a pin drop. Everyone was hooked on Janson's soft voice and delicate playing, and many were doing their best to hold back emotions that were welling up within.
However, a few moments later, the soft yet undeniable sound of adults gently weeping began to permeate the room.
Think about that for a moment. In less than four minutes, Chris Janson transformed a room of cynical music professionals into a gathering of adult children blubbering over grief, both real and imagined. As Janson sang about growing up with a mother who raised you right and eventually lowering her casket into the ground, people began to weep over their flank steak. The room was devastated. I saw at least three people reach for their phones and text their mothers before the song ended, and you can make that for if you count yours truly.
But I cannot hate Chris Janson, and there's no way I could ever punch him in the face. For starters, I've never actually done that to anyone, and it feels weird to do it to someone who I hold in such high regard. Second, it would probably hurt my chances of landing my dream job at Warner Nashville (Espo, if you're reading this—I'm available). Third, it would probably upset my mom, which would make me feel worse than listening to "Bye Mom" ever could.
So here's to you, Chris Janson. May the tears cultivated by your wonderful songwriting fill a lake where you can float the boat you purchase with your song streams.
*This applies to you as well, co-writer Brandon Kinney.*
As The Year of Yee-Haw carries on, I will be rolling out many new ideas, including random pieces of merchandise inspired by the content you read on the blog.
This week, there's this shirt:
I am not making any money from these shirts. Any revenue generated by my silly ideas will benefit The Cat's Cradle Foundation, a nonprofit organization helping senior cats live their sunset years in peace and comfort.
All In, Chris Janson's new album is available now wherever you enjoy music.