Ian Coss is the only person I know who writes his own Christmas music. Maybe it started out as a lark. But Coss has stuck to the bit for 15 years, writing and recording a new batch of holiday tunes that he sends to family and friends, unfailingly, every December.
That is to say: Ian Coss is the kind of guy who commits. Even when the project seems quixotic. Like trying to figure out the secret to a happy marriage by interviewing everyone in your family who’s ever been divorced.
That's exactly what Coss sets out to do in his new podcast, "Forever Is A Long Time."
"My parents had divorced and all of my parents siblings had divorced and some of my grandparents had divorced," Coss says, by way of explanation. "Some of my great-grandparents had divorced."
Coss is a musician, podcast producer and sound designer from Medford. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Coss for almost a decade — we worked together on a podcast years ago.) Recently, an email from Coss landed in my inbox with the subject line: "An album & podcast about divorce" — a tantalizing hook, to say the least. Was this five-part podcast some kind of elaborate divorce announcement?
"That’s a good promotional strategy, I guess," Coss says with a laugh. "But I’ve gotten that response from a couple different people, where I mentioned that I was doing this project. And the first assumption you leap to is, 'Oh, you must be getting divorced.'"
Spoiler alert: Coss is not getting divorced — he’s been married to his wife, Kelsey, for six years. But marriages in his family don’t tend to last. And lately, he’s wondered if he’s doomed to repeat the family curse.
"I just...have this fear that relationships are just gonna hit a wall at some point," he says. "That no matter how strong it is, how close you are, how compatible you are, that I won't be able to carry that with me in the long term, because, you know, so few people in my family have been able to."
In "Forever Is A Long Time," Coss tries to figure out why so many marriages in his family failed. His interviews with his divorced relatives are intimate and surprisingly candid. There is the aunt who admits she married her ex-husband because she liked his family’s beach house. There's Coss' father, who talks about his fear of repeating his own parents’ messy divorce. There's his grandmother, a German Jewish Holocaust survivor who tried to get her husband, Coss' grandfather, to agree to an open marriage before she left him. For her, divorce was a form of liberation during an era when women's lives were far more circumscribed. "Oh, god," she says. "Marriage really doesn't mean a thing to me."
Coss also interviews his wife, Kelsey Tyssowski, who is surprisingly cool about the whole is-my-marriage-doomed-to-fail line of questioning. She listens patiently as her husband outlines his anxieties about their relationship, and deftly prods at the assumptions underpinning his fears.
When Coss wonders if he is "bound" to repeat the mistakes of his forebears, Tyssowski is skeptical. "The way you say 'bound to' makes it sound like you feel like it's your destiny, [that] you will do it, whether or not you step back and think about it," she points out.
Despite its focus on the failure of marriage, "Forever Is A Long Time" is, at its heart, a quest to learn what makes a marriage work. If Coss can just figure out what went wrong in his family's relationships, he can prevent catastrophe in his own. He can avoid pain, and always feel secure in his choices. It is, in some sense, a search for certainty. Even though, Coss admits, nothing in relationships — nothing in life, for that matter — is certain.
"There is no 'supposed to,'" he says. "There is no way to say for sure when when you need to work through those challenges, and when it's time to call it quits. And that's just one of those choices you have to make yourself."
Every episode ends in an original song, by Coss. In the first episode, it's a country-tinged acoustic number called "Come Back Later." "I can tell a lie/ Right into your eye/ You can look away/ Hide it with a smile," Coss sings forlornly. "Would you do me the favor/ And remind me it'll come back later?"
"Come Back Later" is a warning: not to let resentments build up, or to let feelings go unsaid. Coss says he wrote it to remind himself that every fleeting feeling will return — the doubts, but the joys, too.
This segment aired on August 5, 2021.