2002: Rilo Kiley - “A Better Son/Daughter”

For a hot minute in my mid-20s, I taught 6th grade at a private elementary school in the Chicago suburbs. While I found the work incredibly fulfilling, it didn’t change the fact that four separate preps (five, counting a double-period for English) made 60+ hours a week my new normal. I was working constantly but never felt like I was getting ahead, never felt like I was able to give my students the classroom experience they deserved. At the time, I was living with my sister, her husband, and their five kids. She had offered to put me up through grad school, but three years later, she was expecting her sixth child and I was still living in their spare bedroom. On top of all of this, I had been seeing the woman who’d eventually become my wife for some time, and my living arrangement was starting to wear thin on everyone concerned. But with my generous salary of $26 grand a year, I wasn’t sure how to change it. My life felt like a noose tightening around my neck: there was no one in my life who I did not feel like I was letting down, and the five-to-six hours of sleep I was getting each night only served to magnifying every difficulty I encountered into an insurmountable obstacle.

Through all of this, Rilo Kiley’s “A Better Son/Daughter” emerged as a personal ward against constantly encroaching despair. I do not suffer from clinical depression, but there were days when I felt like I could see it from where I was standing. That moment when the alarm went off at a quarter to seven was the worst, when the lids would peel back from my eyes like the skin from a fresh wound, and all the anxiety from the waking world would come flooding back on me. When Jenny Lewis said, in her gentle sing-song voice, “Sometimes in the morning I am petrified and can’t move,” it was a position I recognized all too well.

I would play the song incessantly as I went through my morning ritual — buttoning up my shirt, fixing my tie, gathering all the books and binders and lesson materials I’d need for the day. I would play it when I was alone in my car, the volume cranked up to the max while I shouted along with the words (that first line when all the instruments kick in — “And sometimes when you’re on, you’re really fucking on” — contains one of the best-placed and most cathartic “fucks” in the entire history of songwriting in the English language). The shift from first person in the song’s opening lines to second person created a sense of universality, like Lewis was singing not just about herself, but about me and by extension everyone like us. On days when I didn’t know how to prepare a face to meet the faces that I’d meet, I’d steel myself with her assertion that “You’ll fight and you’ll make it through/ You’ll fake it if you have to/ And you’ll show up for work with a smile.” I would run through her litany of all the things that I could be, and then I’d surrender myself to Blake Sennet’s arena rock mini-solo.

“A Better Son/Daughter” is a unique entry in Rilo Kiley’s discography (nothing else from the band ever hit me quite the same way). It’s not just some crowd-pleaser to be trotted out for an encore. It’s a desperate yawp of defiance torn from the most broken part of you and thrown back into the face of everything in your life that makes you feel small and stupid and inadequate. It’s a celebration of the herculean effort that is sometimes required just to walk out your front door and face the day, a reminder that, even when you feel the odds are hopelessly against you, there’s a dignity to be found in going down swinging.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

Most Read