Brilliant Songs #39: Hayes Carll and Josh Morningstar’s “Help Me Remember”

I’ve become ever more convinced with age that It’s not so much the plain fact of death that people fear as they face the downslope of their allotted years on earth. It’s not death but the nature of the dying that furrows their brows during conversations about the end of life.

At least that’s how it is for me and most every aged peer I talk to when conversations—not all of them, but many—at least touch on who’s in the hospital now, who’s going in soon, who’s getting out, and whether the getting out is to go home, go to the nursing home, or go to the morgue.

And the last of those is the least of most everyone’s worries.

The thought of death is dwarfed first by the fear of unrelieved physical pain, though modern methods and attitudes toward pain management have significantly reduced the incidence and concern that one’s end may be accompanied by acute bodily suffering.

It’s another fear that strikes the most terror and incites the most vows to take dramatic action to avoid it. It is the specter of dementia, of losing the storehouse of memories and history that make up, truly, what and who one is.

No one wants to live in a combination “Groundhog Day” and “Twilight Zone,” caught between yesterday and tomorrow on a hamster wheel of only momentary experience that comes from nowhere and takes one there too at the end of each day.

“Shoot me first! we exclaim, darkly and comically. But underneath the nervous laughter, there lies a deep sadness that our living bodies may become empty vessels of who we have been to those who have always loved us—and to ourselves.

And it is the prospect of that sadness that is treated with exquisite, aching beauiy in the 39th song of this series.



Past readers may recognize Josh Morningstar’s name from the 33rd song in this series, “Pullin’ Weeds,” last fall. Got a chance to see him two nights ago in a small club in Greensboro, sitting in the second row, just one more affirmation of the unmatched pleasure and presence of experiencing live music.

All of Morningstar’s lyrics are worth a careful listen, their stories unfolding in alternately deep, plaintive and playful tones. But “Help Me Remember” is striking in its evocation of the tender sorrow in a man’s slippage into dementia, and a plea to his wife to, at least one last time, help him remember. 

Looking into the song’s history, it turns out that fellow singer-songwriter Hayes Carll and Morningstar are listed as co-writers, Carll as the lead. He debuted it as the third track on his October, 2021 album, “You Get It All.” Morningstar has yet to record it.

Carll, 47, is a Texas native who has been making albums steeped in the rootsy poeticism of a hero that both he and Morningstar share in common, the late Townes Van Zandt. He’s one of countless hard-working pros with a (relatively) small but devoted following, playing to consistent critical acclaim as they tour for their very lives in small venues and festivals.

Oh, but to have the likes of them as the true “Influencers” of modern life.

“Help Me Remember” was inspired by Carll’s own experience at age 14, stopped at a red light when his grandfather turned from the driver’s seat in the town he had lived in most all his life to ask where they were. “He looked scared,” Carll later wrote. “I know I was.”

Here, he sings with impeccable clarity of “what it must feel like to lose the thread of your own story.”  Let’s give it a listen.



I don’t think I need say much more about this exquisite song that stands as its own evidence of music’s power to move us to the core of our being. Except perhaps to note that the questions our hero asks as he searches for clues to his past are fit for nearly any time of life.

Change the singer’s “was” to “am” and we have a blueprint for all the todays that will add up, over time, to the yesterdays we will, if we are fortunate, be able to remember for ourselves.


              HELP ME REMEMBER

The leaves on that ancient old oak tree
Are starting to turn
The same shades as the flames of this fire
That I’m watching burn

There’s an unfinished crossword
Resting on the arm of this chair
And for the life of me, I can’t recall
If I’m the one who left it there

It feels so familiar as I watch you
Walk in the room
And at first, I don’t recognize you
But then I damn sure recognize that perfume

And you kneel down beside me
And gently take hold of my hand
I say, “Baby, I’m scared
And I’m not sure I know who I am”

Will you help me remember
Who it is that I used to be?
Can you tell me the story of my family
My hopes and my dreams?

Did I try to stand for somethin’, would I always fold?
Did I do things when I was young
To be proud of when I was old?
Was I a house on fire or was I just a slow-burning ember?
Could you, please, help me remember?

This ring on my finger is golden
Faded and worn
Like it was forged in the fires of love
And it weathered the storms

And I try to make sense
Of these old photographs on the wall
But they’re just faces and places
That I don’t know at all

Will you help me remember?
I feel like I’m losin’ my mind
I know there’s a story
It’s gettin’ harder to find

Did I protect my children
Stand up for my friends?
How much damage did I do?
Did I ever make amends?

Did I try to stand for somethin’, wor just not give a damn?
Was I a believer in God and his plan?
Did I light up your life
Like a full moonlit night in December?

Could you please, help me remember?
I need you to help me remember.


And to close on a lighter note: a beautiful tune on the fleetingness of romance, accepted in full by Morningstar, who shared it Friday night and does so with some artistic flourish here…


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3 comments to Brilliant Songs #39: Hayes Carll and Josh Morningstar’s “Help Me Remember”

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Haven’t we all known someone close to us who’s suffered from either dementia or Alzheimer’s? It allows “Help Me Remember” to take on both a universal and personal meaning. The song’s lines, “There’s an unfinished crossword/Resting on the arm of this chair”, unfortunately hits to close to home for me. Having done crossword puzzles for years now, I’ve noticed some of the clues that once came quickly are now in the slow lane or have broken down on the side of the road without a spare in the trunk. On a more serious level, I imagine this loss of oneself, particularly when placing loved ones and strangers in the same box of photos, can be as devasting as death itself. Finally, on a related musical note, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s recording of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” is one of my favorite country cuts. It’s well worth a listen.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Love “Pancho & Lefty,” Robert! Classic Townes. Pretty certain Hayes & Josh would heartily approve. As for waiting longer on crossword clues, there are supposed to be compensations for that sort of thing in righteously accrued wisdom, etc. So I’m goin’ with that until further notice…

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    Thanks, Andrew, I caught Hayes at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 6 or 7 yrs back, never heard of him, and 50 min. later I was a fan. I haven’t followed his recent recordings but was floored by this lovely gut-wrenching & haunting song. Appreciate having my connection re-activated! Hayes is married to another fine singer, Allison Moorer (formerly married to Steve Earle) Hayes and Allison do a lovely version of the classic Lefty Frizzell / Whitey Shafer tune, That’s the Way Love Goes:
    A staple for Merle Haggard, Janet Jackson (don’t find them paired up too often!), and countless other singers. Like many fellow aging boomers, the topic of memory issues often comes up. I find forgetting, and contemplating the eventual loss of all my precious memories/experiences unsettling to say the least! All of which gives me daily reminders to be so damn grateful for the gift of today, all the while knowing it’s ever so fleeting and temporary. In some respects, this makes the whole enterprise of living more precious. As the Buddhists say, “Everything that arises passes away”.

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