"Son" is the 3rd song (of 25) in the Atlas: Year Two series. (iTunes) It took quite a while for the pieces to fall into place on this song. But once they did, "Son" quickly became one of the most personal songs I’ve ever written. It’s rare when a song comes together easily, but this song felt particularly difficult to pull into focus. As I began to write, I couldn’t decide what this song should be about. Father/Son relationships? Masculinity? The origins of Mankind? Male “Initiation” traditions? After I read, watched and researched these concepts in various forms, it became clear that this song needed to be about a lot of things (which I’ll detail below), but mostly it needed to be about me figuring out who I am.

The first lyric came together fairly quickly, and postures the entire song into a prayer of sorts:

“Show me who I am and who I could be.”

Once I realized this song needed to be about my story of figuring out who I am, I thought it’d be a fairly simple song to write. No research needed to tell that story, I thought. Of course, I was wrong. As it turns out, I haven’t really spent a lot of conscious time asking myself that question: Who am I? And this song definitely provides more questions than answers, but it was very difficult to put it all into words. In the end, I think writing this song was a form of therapy for me- I came out the other side a little better for it.

"i’ll run the risk of being intimate with brokenness. through this magnifying glass, i see a thousand finger prints on the surfaces of who i am."

After staring at blank pages for weeks on end, I began thinking about the different mentors that have helped shape and initiate me into who I am up to this point. I found myself amazed thinking through the kindness it takes to come alongside another person younger than yourself, to offer wisdom and experience for no reason other than to help. It’s really beautiful to take someone under your wing like that, in spite of the risk of being exposed to other's baggage and brokenness. Aside from being inspired by the impact that each of these dudes have had on me, I thought it’d be a nice way to honor them by subtle but specific nods to them in the song. I texted several of them and asked “What are your 3 favorite words?” - in less than 24 hours each of them sent me their favorite 3. At least one word from each of them was woven into this song, which serves as a reminder to me of the many, many “fingerprints” that I have been so privileged to receive on my life so far- that have each helped me up, onto my own two feet.

I won’t go into detail on each of those nods (there are about 10 of them,) but I will share a couple. The mention of the “magnifying glass” honors my friend, Bob Goff. Earlier this year, I mentioned to him that I was feeling a little tired and less present in my life than I wanted to be feeling. He recommended that I carry around a magnifying glass, and each day study and remember my daughter’s fingerprints. Shortly after, I received a magnifying glass in the mail from Bob, and ever since I’ve begun a little collection of magnifying glasses - reminders to look a little closer at the world around me.

My friend (and life-shaper), Chris Heuertz recently gave me a Tibetan Singing Bowl as a gift. If you listen closely, you’ll hear it being played on a couple occasions throughout the song.

Since “Son” and the upcoming Atlas song “Daughter” are sibling songs, I had a lot of fun playing off one another. Both share an identical length, each: 4:04 long. (gender equality, of course!) They share a very similar song structure too, from the intro piano arpeggio to the overall blueprint of the song. Both songs have a thread of Piano in them (which I like to think of as the DNA of each song) but with different primary instrumentation. French Horns (Brass) Instruments to represent dudes in “Son” and Violins and Cellos (Strings) to represent gals in “Daughter.”

Speaking of Brass, I had my new friend Sarah Reno record all of those gorgeous French Horns you hear! She’s absolutely amazing - I sent her a synth version of my arrangement and a few days later, I received a gorgeous Brass (1-person) orchestra that breathes so much life into this song! Can’t wait to do more with Sarah soon! Check out Sarah’s music here, or hire her for your next project!

"the mercury keeps rising,’til the glass or my fever breaks.”

My Atlas: Year One song “Mercury” is my only other song in which I feature Brass as the primary instrumentation of the song. So the lyric above, nods to that song. It also refers to the mercury used in old thermometers.

Since this a song under the umbrella theme of Life, I thought it’d be fun to try to reference each of the 4 primary Vital Signs into this song. Here’s where/how they appear in the lyrics:

    • Heart Rate:   "initiate the heart within me 'til it opens properly."
    • Body temperature:   "the mercury keeps rising,’til the glass or my fever breaks."
    • Respiration Rate:   "i'll try, try, try to breathe ’til it turns to muscle memory."
    • Blood pressure:   "i feel the pressure in my blood, building up and liberating me."

I don’t know why I get such a kick out of creating those puzzles for myself in songwriting.. but I do. Easter Eggs are one of my favorite parts of writing and recording music!

Once the song was finally complete (felt like it took 32 years to write), I sent it over to Seattle to be mixed by my long-time friend and collaborator, John Goodmanson. He did a beautiful job, and it then landed into the inbox of Jason Ward, an incredible mastering engineer in Chicago.

The song ends with a bookend of the opening lyric: “Show me who I am and who I could be” because I think that’ll be a request I’ll be praying until my very last day.

Love, Ryan

show me who i am and who i could be. initiate the heart within me until it opens properly.

slow down, start again from the beginning. i can’t keep my head from spinning out of control. is this what being vulnerable feels like?

i swear i'll try, try, try to breathe ’til it turns to muscle memory. i'm only steady on my knees; one day i'll stand up on my own two feet.

i’ll run the risk of being intimate with brokenness. through this magnifying glass, i see a thousand finger prints on the surfaces of who i am.

show me where to find the silver lining as the mercury keeps rising, ’til the glass or my fever breaks.

show me how to struggle gracefully. let the scaffolding inside of me be strong enough to hold this tired body up once more.

and i will try, try, try to breathe ’til it turns to muscle memory. i feel the pressure in my blood building up and liberating me. so i will try, try, try to breathe ’til it turns to muscle memory. i'm only steady on my knees. but one day, i'll stand on my own two feet.

i'll run the risk of being intimate with brokenness. through this magnifying glass, i see a thousand finger prints

that ran the risk of being intimate with my brokenness. i was given a gift of hope in a thousand finger prints on the surface of who i am.