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The Music — And Mess — In Ben Watt's Long Goodbye To His Father


Finally this hour a story about saying goodbye. It comes from Ben Watt. He's best known as half of the British pop duo Everything But The Girl.


EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL: And I miss you. Like the deserts miss the rain.

CORNISH: That's their hit song from the mid-90s called "Missing" about lost love. Now, 20 years later, Ben Watt is singing about a different kind of longing, for his father. And their relationship was complicated.

BEN WATT: He spoke his mind very often. He spared nobody's feelings. Often not even my mother's. And especially with a drink inside him he could be a real handful.

CORNISH: Ben Watt tells the story of saying goodbye to his father on his new solo album. The song is called "Matthew Arnold's Field" and now he tells us the story behind the song.

WATT: It tells the story of the drive I made to scatter my dad's ashes up on Boars Hill, which is a beauty spot outside Oxford in England, where he'd lived towards the end of his life


WATT: (Singing) And up there on the hill, the wooden houses still, I took the plastic and how heavily we ...

WATT: and my brother met me and he brought the ashes up from the cremation and had them in the back of his car. And he handed them to me and I remember thinking how heavy it fell. I didn't think there'd be quite this much to it.


WATT: (Singing) And unscrewing the lid, the weirdest thing I did.

WATT: I was suddenly very aware of the actual trail of ashes that I was leaving through the woods where I scattered them. And all I could think of was the mess I was leaving and what people would think when they came along behind me half an hour later. And these are the kind of mundane things that go through your mind and that is just real life butting in on, you know, these supposedly symbolic moments. And I just think you have to accept that, you know, that's the way life is.


WATT: (Singing) And down in Mathew Arnold's Field, with somber cloud concealed...

WATT: Well, my father was a fascinating character. He was extremely charismatic, could be very funny, was always full of anecdotes but he was also difficult and he was a drinker and he could be very truculent and it wasn't until he reached his late 60s and early 70s, when he really was falling into ill health, that he decided that enough was enough and there was a famous evening after a flaming row that we had where rather than sticking to his guns he just said, from now on I defer to you. And it was like it was amnesist, he just put his gun down and just said, it doesn't matter you're in charge. And from that point on we actually had kinder last few years, even though he was in ill health, we had some good moments towards the end.


WATT: (Singing) It's silent all reviewed, as it was once to him back then, and was to me, that day again...

WATT: I think there are certain parts of my character which are probably identical to my dad in that around the family home I'm often the one with the self-deprecating comment or I can't help seeing the ironic side of things or being sarcastic. And that's something I think I've tried to self-correct with my own kids.


WATT: (Singing) On the day I said goodbye. As I tried to say goodbye.

WATT: The last two lines are about the actual act of saying good bye, but also the actual effort of trying to do it. And we just left the ending hanging like that with no resulting chord.

CORNISH: Ben Watt telling the story of the song "Matthew Arnold's Field" from his latest album. He's also the author of a new book about his parents it's called "Romany and Tom." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.