Uncle Alvarez (3:52) is the eighth song on Liz Phair's 1998 album whitechocolatespaceegg; it was written by her, as well. It is a Carribean-influenced song about a picture of a long-forgotten relative, hanging on the wall in the hallway. It's a really interesting song, done in a mellow and interesting musical fashion, but what really gets you are the lyrics. There are many, many layers going on in this song, and as the gentle Carribean music with soft vocals on top drift into your ears a few times, the real beauty and elegance of this tune shines through. Here are the lyrics, with some extended comments below.

There's a portrait of Uncle Alvarez
Hanging in the hall
Nobody wants to look at it
But Uncle Alvarez sees us all

Ho ho ho imaginary accomplishments
Hey hey hey you visonary guy
You might even shake the hands of presidents
Better send a postcard and keep the family quiet

He's not really part Cherokee Indian
He didn't fight in the Civil War
He's just Eugene Issac Alvarez
We feel sorry for the wall

Ho ho ho imaginary accomplishments
Hey hey hey you visonary guy!
You might even shake the hands of presidents
Better send a postcard and keep the family quiet

And it's a long way down, you're hoping for a heart attack
Running around, investing in this and that, and your
Beautiful wife keeps your life on a shelf for you
Safe in the bedroom where there's no dust or mildew and it's
Hard to believe you were once a
Beautiful dancer

Better just to shake it off
As you write your resume
Don't think of Uncle Alvarez
And the price he had to pay!

Ho ho ho imaginary accomplishments
Hey hey hey you visonary guy!
You might even shake the hands of presidents
Better send some money to the alma mater

Ho ho ho imaginary accomplishments
Hey hey hey you visonary guy
You might even shake the hands of presidents
Better send some money to the alma mater

The calm, mellow, contemplative mood of this song fits it well, as the lyrics to this song are absolute genius. It is one of those songs that has a beauty that does not come out on the first listen; no, instead you start to get your first real glimpse with the tenth or twentieth listen, and by the time you know the lyrics and can hum the song, it seems like a gift from heaven, full of a deep understanding of love, hope, relationships, family, and so much more.

I picked up the album shortly after its release and listened to it a few times all the way through. This song struck me more as a mellow "middle of the album" pleasant filler type of song, not one that I paid a whole lot of attention to. After the newness of the album wore off, it sat around in my CD collection for a while, occasionally reaching the friendly confines of my CD player.

One warm summer afternoon I was laying flat on my back upon my bed, half dozing with my mind drifting in and out of a number of things involving my family and my friends. whitechocolatespaceegg happened to be in the CD player at the time, and just as the song began playing, I started thinking about how I wished my family was different than they were and that when I showed people the portraits of my family, I could tell them something entirely different than the often ordinary and often sad story behind them.

And suddenly I understood this song.

In actuality, this song has very little to do with Eugene Isaac Alvarez, even though he is the central focus of the actual words themselves. What's behind this, though, is hopes and dreams and how they sometimes don't turn out the way that you want them to. The family looks at the picture of Uncle Alvarez on the wall and sees someone who went away to chase his hopes and dreams and failed. His picture casts a pallor over the entire family, reminding them of what can happen when you follow your dreams on a lark.

It seems very pessimistic, but the third verse saves it. Basically, the verse is a call to arms to forget those who have failed before and go onward, trying your best at whatever endeavor you dream of. It is that basic premise that I have tried to live my life by no matter what; perhaps that is why this song clicks for me on such a basic level.

When I look at the pictures of my family, I see people I love dearly. I see people that tried to chase their dream and failed. I also see people who never had the courage to take that leap at all. Now when I look at those pictures, I think of this song, and together they inspire me onward to greater things.

In the end, the cool Carribean sounds of this song remind me of the amazing potential music has to enrich a person's outlook on life, and Liz Phair's simple voice reminds me that it's okay to dream, even if I stumble.

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