In her five seasons as Scarlett O’Connor on the ABC (now CMT) series Nashville, Australian-born actress Clare Bowen has played out a number of dramatic emotional scenes and sung dozens of songs expressing her character’s sometimes fragile emotions. But with the just-released “Love Steps In,” written by Bowen’s fiancé Brandon Robert Young and the couple’s friend Justin Halpin, fans have their first opportunity to hear a song from Clare herself.
“Love Steps In” is an extraordinary personal tribute to her younger brother, Timothy James Bowen, who, in the latter part of 2015, at age 25, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma and given just two weeks to live. Accompanied by a music video, which combines in-studio and onstage performance footage with intimate Bowen family photos, “Love Steps In” marries Bowen’s delicate vocals with an upbeat message to “fight on” in the face of overwhelming adversity. (Watch the “Love Steps In” video above.)
What makes Bowen’s story all the more remarkable is that she herself experienced her own cancer scare at age 4. Diagnosed with end-stage nephroblastoma – cancer of the kidneys – her family was given the grim news that she, like her brother years later, was given just two weeks to live. The youngster would be in and out of hospitals for the next three years.
“I remember getting up one day and wondering why my legs didn’t work,” Bowen tells Rolling Stone Country. “There was nothing outwardly wrong you could really tell to look at me. I was just a little skinny, pale kid. But I remember the day my legs stopped working. Mum and Dad took me to the emergency [and] … I was actually diagnosed in the emergency room somewhere in Sydney. I remember overhearing the doctors tell my parents what the situation was. Seeing everybody’s faces I knew it was pretty terrible. But I had such wonderful parents that there weren’t very many times where I was actually scared. I just knew that I had to hang on real tight.”
Months before her brother learned he was sick, Timothy had been in a car accident, which likely shocked his system and allowed the cancer to manifest. During Bowen’s emergency visit to Australia with her fiancé, she was surprised by Brandon’s new song.
“We got Tim through the first part of chemo and then we had to come back because I was shooting [Nashville]. Brandon came to me one day and said, ‘Sweetheart, I’m not even sure if I should play this for you, but it was a song that I had to write. You don’t have to sing it if you don’t like it,'” Bowen recalls. “It was so cathartic for him – in the position of supporting somebody who was in shock of hearing that their brother was so sick – that he had to get it out.”
“We’re not doctors and we don’t save lives, but we move people.”
“Love Steps In” has since become one of the emotional highpoints of the Nashville cast concert tours, erasing the line of television fiction and replacing the audience’s image of the fragile, sometimes flighty character of Scarlett with the loving, supportive and resilient older sister Bowen has been throughout her brother’s lifetime. Tim, who has been in remission since March 2016, is seen in the clip making his triumphant “remission” debut on the historic Grand Ole Opry stage.
For Bowen, one of the greatest gifts of her celebrity is the opportunity to share what some would consider an unlikely story of survival – yet, since she knew no differently, was just a part of her childhood. Proceeds from the sale of “Love Steps In” will benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the leading treatment and research center in the fight against childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Although she has toured St. Jude, sung to patients and shared her story with them on a personal level, Bowen revealed even more details of her cancer struggle with patients during the hospital’s annual Country Cares seminar last January.
“I was very nervous,” she admits of the daunting experience, “but as scary as it was, it was really a privilege to share. I still feel like I am one of them… so it’s a strange kind of coming-home feeling. … People had lots of questions, there were tears and laughter and even a bit of the really dark humor that you develop when you grow up in a hospital.”
Sharing “Love Steps In” with audiences around the world has been a cathartic experience, Bowen says, and one that unfortunately illustrates the point that nearly everyone’s life has been touched by cancer in some way. That realization has sometimes made performing the song without breaking down more challenging for the uniquely sensitive singer.
“Our audiences know that I’m human,” she explains. “You’re still doing a show, but it’s not a song-and-dance for us, it’s a gift for people to come see us no matter what the reasons. They might want to hear stories; they might need to escape for a while. They might come away from our shows having shifted somewhere in their own life. We’re not heart surgeons and we’re not rocket scientists, we’re not doctors and we don’t save lives. But we move people.”
“Love Steps In” is a gorgeous and meaningful prelude to what awaits Bowen’s fans when she releases her debut solo LP later this year. It is, she says, “the beginning of me unchained,” adding, “Not only do I get to play all these characters but I also get to shed them all and let them lay down for a minute. You let go of the strings and you just get to fly as yourself.”