Tom Rush's Rite Of Passage Song

May 23, 2014

This is the season of high school and college graduations, a time when many young people are planning to leave home. The bittersweet mood of that time is captured in “Child’s Song,” which Canadian singer-songwriter Murray McLauchlan wrote and folk and blues singer Tom Rush made famous.

It’s a song he has performed for well over three decades, but as Rush told Here & Now’s Robin Young, he had a lot of trouble singing it at first: “I couldn’t get through it from top to bottom for about six months, I had to toughen up enough that I didn’t burst into tears somewhere around the third verse.”

We revisit our 2011 conversation with Rush and also give a shout out to graduates at WBUR, our home station.


Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit




And it's that time of year, parents and graduates gather around the radio for our annual rite of passage, a song that was written and first recorded by Canadian star Murray McLauchlan. Then was a hit for folk icon Tom Rush in 1970 when many parents and children were arguing over war.


TOM RUSH: (Singing) Goodbye Mamma. Goodbye to you too...

YOUNG: It's actually called "Child's Song." In it, someone's child is moving on. It kills. But what does it mean to the man who made it famous. We asked Tom Rush what he thought when he first heard it.

RUSH: Well, I think pretty much the same thing you did, Robin. It's just one of those songs that knocks you over. I remember clearly I was rehearsing my trio in Toronto and my lead guitar player was a fellow named Trevor Veitch, and he said my friend Murray's coming over. He's got a couple of songs you might like.

And Murray showed up, and we sat around the edge of the state, and he played the "Child's Song." And it was just, you know, bowled me over. I knew that I had to sing it, but I couldn't get through it from top to bottom. For about six months I had to toughen up enough that I didn't burst into tears somewhere around the third verse.

YOUNG: Why? What did it do for you? What was it getting at in you?

RUSH: It's such a true song. I mean it's so simple. But it's not an easy song to record. The recording that I did for Columbia, what you hear there is, I believe, take 96. It wouldn't sound like it should. It wouldn't sound true. And we finally got David Bromberg to play guitar with me as I sang it, and that elicited the performance that we were after from me. Then we took Bromberg off.

YOUNG: Oh, so having him play helped you sing.

RUSH: It did.

YOUNG: Well, we read that Murray McLauchlan wrote it in the late '60s when he would have been a teen. It was literally his letter to his own parents when he left home.


RUSH: (Singing) There ain't no use in shedding lonely tears, Mamma. There ain't no use in shouting at me, Pa. I can't live no longer with your fears, Mamma. I love you, but that hasn't helped at all.

For me, it's one of those songs, you know, Joni's "Urge for Going" will be a great song as long as winter comes. And I think "Child's Song" will be a great song as long as kids grow up and leave home.

YOUNG: You're referring to another Canadian, Joni Mitchell there.

RUSH: Yeah.

YOUNG: The song also reflects on age. The young man kind of saying I'm sorry to his mom if you're feeling older, but I am too.


RUSH: (Singing) I know how hard it is not to be younger. I know you've tried to keep me from the cold.

YOUNG: And I'm wondering, Tom Rush, you sang this song as a young man. You sing this song as a parent.

RUSH: It works. I think it also works as a child of parents who are growing older and leaving us forever.

YOUNG: How many years have you sung this song?

RUSH: Well, since 1970. You'll have to do the math. A lot of years, but I still love it. I still do it in my shows.

YOUNG: Oh really?

RUSH: It's one of my favorite songs of all time.

YOUNG: You don't get sick of it? 'Cause you tour a lot.

RUSH: I think it has a lot of resonance for parents, you know, as well as for kids.

YOUNG: Especially this time of year.

RUSH: Yes.

YOUNG: Well, I have to ask you, you've got the guitar. Can you do "Child's Song" for us?

RUSH: I can.

YOUNG: Okay.

RUSH: And I will.

(Singing) Goodbye Mamma, and goodbye to you too, Pa. Little Sister, you'll have to wait a while to come along. Goodbye to this house and all its memories. We just got too old to say we're wrong. I've got to make one last trip to my bedroom. I guess I'll have to leave some stuff behind. It's funny how the same old crooked pictures just don't see the same to me tonight.

(Singing) There ain't no use in shedding no more tears, Mamma. There ain't no use in shouting at me, Pa. And I can't live no longer with your fears, Mamma. I love you but that hasn't helped at all.

(Singing) 'Cause each of us must do the things that matter. All of us must see what we can see. Oh, it was long ago you must remember you were once as young and scared as me. And I don't know how hard it is yet, Mamma when you realize you're growing old. I know how hard it is not to be younger. And I know you've tried to keep me from the cold.

(Singing) And thanks for all you've done, it may sound hollow. But thank you for the good times that we've known. But I must find my own road now to follow. You will all be welcome in my home. I've got my suitcase and I must go now. I don't mind about the things you said. I'm sorry Ma I don't know where I'm going.

(Singing) Remember little sister look ahead. And tomorrow I'll be in some other sunrise, maybe I'll have someone at side. Mamma, give your love back to your husband. And Father, you have taught me well. Goodbye. Goodbye Mamma, and goodbye to you too, Pa.

YOUNG: Well, normally right now I say thank you, but you've killed me.

RUSH: Aw. It's one of those songs.

YOUNG: Yeah. Tom Rush with his cover of Canadian singer, song writer Murray McLauchlan's "Child's Song." Thanks so much.

RUSH: Thank you.


YOUNG: And as we do every year, a salute to our WBUR family. Graduating from high school, Teddy Borris(ph), George Albert Handy Brown(ph), Emma Costa(ph), Carly DeGrosia(ph), Chris Orlando(ph), Margaret Logie(ph), and Brian Tossie(ph).


Our college grads, Deanna Archetto, Boston University, Michael Mark DeGrosia(ph), Westfield State University, Timothy Hatch, UMASS Amherst, Alexander Murphy, Plymouth State University, Emma Marie Oaks(ph), Quinsigamond Community College, Anna Share(ph), UMASS Boston, Braiden Sunt(ph), Clemson University, and Tracy Wheeland(ph), Mount Holyoke College.

YOUNG: Receiving advanced degrees, Maggie Giorgio, New York University, Nancy Hagner, Princeton, Adrian Letoski(ph), Boston University, Erica Pullman(ph), Meharry Medical College, Cassidy Swanson, Emerson College, and Stefanie Wong, UMASS Amherst.

HOBSON: Congratulations all.

YOUNG: And fly away all.

HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service. I think I've made it through this. I'm Robin Young.

HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. Welcome today to our listeners on WBUH on Cape Cod. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.