Only Children

Songfacts®:

  • Driven by a quiet acoustic guitar, this song is a look back at a childhood relationship. The track originated during a holiday that Jason Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires took on the Greek island of Hydra. They were there with a couple of friends and everybody was sitting around reading and sharing what they were working on with each other. Isbell recalled to Apple Music:

    "It occurred to me that you don't do that as much as you did when you were a kid, just starting to write songs and play music with people. It started off as sort of a love song to that and that particular time, and then from there people started emerging from my past, people who I had spent time with in my formative years as a creative person."
  • Remember when we used to meet
    The bottom of Mobile Street
    Do what the broken people do?


    The characters in the song are composites of several people, but the main one is based on a childhood female friend of Isbell's. "We spent a lot of formative time together, back home in Alabama," he recalled to Austin City Limits Live. "When somebody has the same interests as you in a small town, they can be like an oasis."
  • Sadly, Isbell's childhood friend passed away several years before he recorded this song.

    Heaven's wasted on the dead
    That's what your mama said
    When the hearse was idling in the parking lot
    She said you thought the world of me
    And you were glad to see they finally let me be an astronaut


    Said Isbell: "That connection never leaves you. If you lose them sometimes you wind up addressing their ghost for the rest of your life."
  • Isbell told Apple Music he hadn't realized he was writing about his childhood friend until after he'd finished the song and other people heard it. He explained: "They asked if that was who it was about. I said I guess it was - I didn't necessarily do that intentionally, but that's what happens if you're writing from the heart and from the hip."
  • David Crosby and Jason Isbell's fiddle-playing wife Amanda Shires contribute the harmony vocals. Crosby, an early hero of Isbell's, also sings on "What've I Done to Help?."
  • Even after Isbell recorded "Only Children," the singer wasn't sure it would make the album. It was his wife who insisted he include it on Reunions. "You want these other songs on there and not this one?" Shires recalled telling her husband to Uncut magazine. "I told him that was the dumbest idea ever and I actually got him to see the light. Now the song is the heart of the record rather than an outtake."

Comments: 1

  • Jasper from HydraI cover many Jason Isbell songs and have been working on OnlyChildren for the last weeks. Anyway it gave me goosebumps when I read this article while BEING AT THE ISLAND OF HYDRA!!! How amazing is that?
see more comments

Editor's Picks

90s Music Quiz 1Music Quiz

First question: Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson appeared in videos for what artist?

Dave Pirner of Soul AsylumSongwriter Interviews

Dave explains how the video appropriated the meaning of "Runaway Train," and what he thought of getting parodied by Weird Al.

Director Mark Pellington ("Jeremy," "Best Of You")Song Writing

Director Mark Pellington on Pearl Jam's "Jeremy," and music videos he made for U2, Jon Bon Jovi and Imagine Dragons.

Director Wes Edwards ("Drunk on a Plane")Song Writing

Wes Edwards takes us behind the scenes of videos he shot for Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley and Chase Bryant. The train was real - the airplane was not.

Donald FagenSongwriter Interviews

Fagen talks about how the Steely Dan songwriting strategy has changed over the years, and explains why you don't hear many covers of their songs.

Eric BurdonSongwriter Interviews

The renown rock singer talks about "The House of the Rising Sun" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."