The story behind the Carry On song lyrics: Lay back, float

I’ve always hated swimming. I’m not really sure why though because I actually spent a lot of time in pools when I was growing up. Whether it was my grandparents’ neighbor’s pool next door or a hotel swimming pool on a family vacation, I’d typically just follow my sisters and go swimming.

For me it was more like wading in the water near the shallow end. You’d find me sitting by the stairs that led into the pool a lot, like I’m pictured here with my Grandma:

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This was at some hotel, I’m not sure where. It’s definitely not the neighbor’s pool. That pool was absolutely immaculate! Cleanest pool I’d ever seen. I remember when they got a fancy under-the-water pool vacuum! They were always cleaning that pool.

The pool next door
The things I remember about going swimming that were fun was how we’d even go about going in the first place. We lived in Madison, and if we were visiting my Grandparents in Milwaukee it went like this: Grandma would typically let the neighbors know we were in town. She’d tell them ahead of time or call them on the phone.

The neighbors would always say something like “Have the girls come on over! We’d love to have them use the pool.”

Grandma would be on the phone with them to see if it was a good time to come over and she’d hang up and say something like: “Grandpa, you comin’?”

We’d squeal and go run to pick out our favorite colorful terry cloth beach towel. They were always up in the upstairs bathroom at the end of the hall. I loved wrapping one around my waist like a skirt.

Swimsuits and flip flops on, we’d all walk over together past the two big pine trees and special climbing tree that was a pussy willow. Grandma loved to cut branches from that tree and put them in vases in the house. We’d sometimes climb it, but there were always ants on it so we didn’t do it a whole lot.

We’d walk down a small hill and around behind the house over into the neighbor’s backyard. There was a tall black metal fence that wrapped around the pool. We’d either see someone opening the gate for us and wave at them, or grandpa would unlock the gate.

I remember picking out an outside clock for the neighbors as a thank you gift with my grandma at a pool store. That clock hung on the fence just inside the gate. I liked seeing it as we used the pool. It made it feel like the pool was just a little bit ours. They were so kind to let us use it. Looking back I never realized how fortunate we were. Pools in the Midwest just aren’t that common. But I never thought about that.


I liked the shallow end

There was a deep end and a diving board on the far end back towards my grandparent’s house. It was shady over on that side. I liked the sunny side where there was a picnic table and chairs, and my favorite shallow end with steps and a railing.

My sisters and I’d play Marco Polo and sometimes float on the inflatables the neighbors would leave out for us. There was always a rope that attached to show where the shallow end ended and the deep end began. I never liked going past that rope.

I only really knew how to doggy paddle most of the time we’d ever use the pool. I had a few lessons here and there, but I just wasn’t that good at swimming. I didn’t like getting water in my ears or getting my face wet.

I believe I was in middle school when I made myself re-take swimming lessons at the East YMCA in Madison. I told my mom I just had to learn to swim. My goal was to learn to do the breast stoke as best I could because I hated the front crawl. I also wanted to learn to tread water, that way I’d at least be safe in a boat and survive if I had to I guess. I did eventually learn to swim, but I hated swimming lessons with a passion.


Reach out and swim, she’d say

Grandma loved to swim. She’d get in the water and encourage us to swim laps.

She’d say “Come on girls! Reach your arms out and swim for a bit!”

My sister Sarah loved to swim so a lot of the time she’d do it, but I wouldn’t. I guess I figured if one of us did it Grandma would be satisfied. I always felt like I was gonna sink to the bottom. I preferred that my feet could touch.

I might try some stokes to show Grandma how I wasn’t all that good at it. But it never lasted very long. I just always wanted to get back to my shallow end games.

What inspired a lyric for the song Carry On
I remember one day in the neighbor’s pool Grandma said, “Annie, just lay back, float.”

She put her feet up in the air and laid back with her arms in the water like she was sitting in a chair.

She showed me how to float!

Here’s a picture of her doing this and me cheating with one foot on the ground. I’m smiling of course, but I know inside I was probably just doing it to please her. Look how happy she looks though.

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When I think about my Grandma I see her floating in a pool like this.

When I went to write the song Carry On, that is inspired by her and the things she used to say to me when things got tough, I struggled with one line over and over.

Then I remembered this memory and “lay back, float” came to mind. It was way more than her just saying something like: just do like I’m doing in a pool right now. It came to mean to me that life is about relaxing, enjoying the moment and not working so hard.

After I wrote the line, “floating” became a theme for me. There’d be times I’d sit down to practice playing the song and the image helped me get though a difficult time in my life. “Floating” started to symbolize just doing my best to keep going. It kinda just worked, and I liked how it made me feel. I realized that it is possible to not feel grounded, to be out of sorts and unsure, and to still be okay. Having trust, faith, hope… all these things can hold you up and keep you afloat.

What’s next after Carry On
I can’t believe how these types of phrases have stuck in my head all these years. But having done my blog over a year now I realize how memories can stir up all sorts of things. It helped me write a song I’m going to release into the world. How cool is that?

Like I said in the beginning, I’ve always hated swimming. But if I’m going to continue to try and find meaning in all this, I guess it’s to say that maybe it’s just because I’m still learning how to float. Maybe it’s redefining what “swimming” even is.

This girl in the picture is floating, maybe with a little help, but she’s floating.

And I don’t look scared. In fact, I’m way out in the open, and there’s no stairs or railing to grab in sight. There are ripples coming out all around me and my arms are up to the sky as to say, here I am!

I’m laying back, floating.

Watch and see where this river is gonna take me.

I’m just as curious as you are.

Carry On Inner Tube picture

What’s a phrase someone special to you said to you once and it’s stuck with you over the years? I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below.

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