“Sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”
—“Spin” by Tim O’Brien
One of the themes of O’Brien’s Vietnam “memoir”/short story collection The Things They Carried is that the book’s events might not have actually happened, or happened exactly as they’re written, but that this didn’t violate the “truth” of the stories. A far cry from the self-deluding “truthiness” popularized by satirist Stephen Colbert, O’Brien’s aim is to shine a light on the true essence of an experience, a life, or a death.
To some extent, this is what Patty Griffin accomplishes on American Kid. Griffin began writing the album shortly before her father’s impending death in 2009. She then put the songs away while she toured with Robert Plant and released 2010’s cover-dominated Downtown Church album. As she told Rolling Stone, “I didn’t feel like singing anything about my life, at all, after he died.”