Friday, July 15, 2016

Music I Love

I grew up a musician's daughter. Any time the subject of music comes up, my father comes attached. All of my very first memories have music in them ... a soundtrack of my life if you will. My father was talented; gifted at not only playing the guitar and singing, but at song writing as well. Perhaps he unknowingly planted the seed of storytelling deep inside me. He was a creative man. Mean as the devil and just as hot tempered, but creative as hell. I won't thank him for sharing his love of the written word. If it was a gift he gave me, let me reassure you, it wasn't given intentionally.

My dad sometime in 1975
As hard as being my father's daughter always was for me, there is something I took away from our tumultuous twenty-one years together that I will always be grateful for. Out of all the memories I have of my dad ... not one of them that has anything at all to do with music is a bad one. Music was the only thing he and I agreed on. Music was the only thing we could easily share. Music was the only good bond the two of us ever had.

I don't know how succinct some of my very first memories are. The details are a little fuzzy with some of them, but I remember going to listen to my dad play in a band when I was very, very young. I had to be younger than five because I was with my mom at the time, and my parents divorced before I began first grade. 

Me and my parents in the house on Bradburn Blvd. in November 1975
I recall with the utmost clarity the house we lived in when I was that age. It was a green house with two enormously tall pine trees at the end and on either side of the front walkway. There was a large, snowball bush to the side of the drive, it's green leaves full of rounded spherical flowers made of tiny mint green petals that fell to the ground like a summertime snow shower. The steps that led up to the wide porch were cement, all except the top one. It was wooden, just like the porch itself, and there was an overhang that I once raked my shin on so badly that tears immediately sprang to my eyes and blood poured from my torn skin down into my sock. I was following my dad into the house when it happened, me running to keep up with him and hitting the step in just the wrong way. When he turned and gruffly asked what was the matter, I remember shaking my head and telling him, "Nothing"  before closing myself behind the bathroom door to nurse my wounds without his scrutiny.

The house was built in 1920, and my parents rented it from a man who had since moved out of state. Years after my parents divorced, my dad bought the property. It sat on half an acre of land; overgrown, wild and wonderful for a small child to play in. There was a tall tree that shaded the back. It dropped tiny, tart green apples from it's boughs, and there were cherry trees we picked fruit from in a fenced off area at the far end of the land. One day I will write a book about that yard.

A lot of bad memories still live in that house on Bradburn Boulevard ... but there are a few boxes of good times tucked away for me there, too. The carpet was gray and thin, and the windows were tall, letting in a lot of buttery tinted sunshine. There was a big square of stained glass in the front window made by a friend of my parents' when I was very young. There was a broken pane; a jagged mistake in an otherwise beautifully choreographed piece of colors and shapes. It was left there when my dad, in one of his countless drunken rages, got angry with my mom and threw his keys. I don't know if they were thrown at her and he missed, or if he was aiming for the window. Nonetheless, I remember the scar his anger left there.

From the front door you could look straight through the house to the back; the living room, then dining room on the left, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the right. The kitchen was a bright, sunny space my mom painted a happy combination of bold orange and yellow with a built in eating nook tucked into one side. 

One of the most memorable places in the house was the corner of the dining room. It didn't hold a table or any chairs. In fact the only pieces of furniture there at all were an elaborate stereo and a set of powerful speakers. There in a semi-circle stacked against the walls were easily a hundred or more albums, all easy to flip through in order to find the one you wanted to listen to. Also in this space were several guitars laying in black cases lined in orange and red felt. This was a happy place. It was really the only happy place my dad and I shared.

My dad named a kitten I had given him Winston after John Winston Lennon.
I remember hearing about John Lennon's death in December, 1980. I was nine years old  and I was with my dad in the passenger's seat of his old Dodge van. We were sitting in his driveway when we heard the news. I'd grown up on the Beatles and knew exactly who John Lennon was. I've listened to and enjoyed them my entire life ... even had posters of them on my wall as an older teen, and I've always been quite fond of Paul McCartney and Wings. I had a good friend in high school who used to sing Beatles songs with me all the time. "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" was a particular favorite of ours back then. It's still one of my favorite songs today.

My dad was a huge fan of Elvis Presley, too.

He bought me "Elvis Golden Records", a two album set of many of the King's greatest hits. I remember singing "All Shook Up" and "Teddy Bear", dancing around that long stretch of living/dining room on that gray carpet in my stocking feet. I made a reference to Elvis in my first novel, The Color of Thunder. There is a lot about my dad in that book. Elvis is one of the good parts.

There was the Steve Miller Band, Poco, The Who and The Rolling Stones. Steely Dan, Grateful Dead, Cheap Trick, Santana and Supertramp. Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrison and The Cars. I listened to Blondie, The Bee Gees, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and one particular song, "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon that my father particularly liked. Kansas, Billy Joel, Dire Straits and Elton John. He introduced me to one of my all time favorite songs; "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynard Skynard, and I remember how he loved listening to "You're the One That I Want" from the Grease soundtrack because he found the piano in that track so appealing. The list of artists and songs we listened to together goes on and on and on. 

One of my favorite dad/music memories was him playing with his band Freeway. He played at the Goodsport Lounge most weekends, and I always looked forward to going. I can't remember exactly how old I was - somewhere between the ages of seven and ten I think - when he played with this group. Weekends were an event for me back then. My parents were divorced and I opted to spend most of my time with my mom. I did enjoy going to the Goodsport, though. I felt right in my element there somehow. My dad was singing, playing his guitar, and I knew all the words to every song he played, (even the ones that weren't appropriate for a younger child to know.) I had a younger stepbrother whom I adored back then. He was four years my junior, and I would take him out on the dance floor and we would jump and dance and run around. We always sat in a circular booth right on the edge of the dance floor. We'd eat enormous cheeseburgers and a ton of fries and drink Coke's with a heap of sugary cherries in them. When one or two o'clock am would roll around, the band would pack up and the crowd would disperse. I was shaken awake and escorted, sleepy-eyed and exhausted, back to the car for our ride home. Was it the best environment for kids our age? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. All I know was that it was an absolute blast. 

Anyone who knows me at all knows how much I've always loved Duran Duran. Guess who introduced them to me? Yep. My dad. (That might be a new piece of information for most.) D2 released their album Rio in 1982. I was eleven at the time, and I had no idea who they were. My dad was a night owl who played his music loudly at all hours of the night. One early, early morning, I was awoken by a song that he was playing on repeat. It happened to be "Hungry Like the Wolf", and that was my first introduction to Duran Duran. A couple of years later, Duran Duran became my favorite band for all kinds of reasons; most of which are too hard to explain in the context of this blog. (Yes, I found them to be very attractive ... I was twelve at the time ... and I did use every picture of them I could find to wallpaper my walls and ceiling.) It mostly had to do with the lyrics of their songs. I wrote a lot of poetry of my own back then. I used their music as a form of therapy to help me through some rough times during my pre-teen and teenage years. Duran Duran are still my most favorite band today, (although I haven't collected pictures of them for at least the past quarter of a century.) I was so excited to learn that they were playing Red Rocks this past September, (a venue they'd never played together as a group before) and there I was; back in Colorado again and able to go see them. 

My daughter, my bestie and me at Red Rocks for Duran Duran. So. Much. Fun.
I grew up in the 70's and 80's ... and I love so much of the music that came from those decades. Chicago, Pretenders, Boston, Genesis, Eagles, Journey, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Thompson Twins, Howard Jones, INXS, Adam Ant, Laura Brannigan, The Doobie Brothers ... there's no way I can include them all here because there are just too many of them. So much of the music from the 70's gets a serious head shake now, and I have always been embarrassed to admit to one of my most favorite songs because of that. I'll admit to it now. It's "Brandy" by Looking Glass. I'm not sure why I love it so much, or why I get a good feeling every time I hear it. Whatever memory I have attached to it is elusive ... it could be my dad, but I really don't know. It wasn't until recently when a good friend of mine told me he thought it was one of the best love songs ever written that I decided I was going to own up to my fondness for it. Is it cheesy? Quite possibly, but it's still on my short list of top ten songs I absolutely adore.

I love 90's stuff, too, and current music as well. I'm lucky that a lot of my favorite groups from when I was younger are making new albums right now, (that would include Duran Duran and Rick Springfield, whose album Rocket Science, released in early 2016, is one I listen to nearly every day.)

My dad had his famous Farah Fawcett in her red bikini poster, and I had this on my wall, just like so many other adolescent girls did. Okay, so my poster might not be as equally iconic, but I'm certain that it's close.
Rick Springfield, coincidentally, is also my dad's fault. Springfield's album "Living in Oz" was another one both of us loved and listened to together. 

One of my more recent favorites is Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. They started up  in 1989, but I didn't hear them until about 2008. They're called a contemporary swing revival band, and they cover artists such as Cab Calloway and Bennie Goodman. They make me want to dance. I have a really hard time listening to BBVD without moving. They are my happy, feel good music. I welcome happy, feel good music. Everyone needs a hearty helping of that in their lives.

I love Broadway musicals and jazz, I love listening to piano and classical. I even (gasp) enjoy country. I like harder stuff, too, although it's not necessarily my favorite. (I did say I grew up in the 80's, didn't I? Hairbands galore... oh, yes, and AC/DC and all that amazing classic rock.) New music is wonderful, too. I'm introduced to a plethora of current artists via my seventeen-year-old daughter and my almost daily perusal of Spotify. I enjoy so much of it. The only kind of music I can't get real excited about is rap.

I know this post was supposed to be an easy one. When Sophia Valentine chose this topic for #LifeBooksWriting, it was most likely meant to be fun and simple, but music isn't any of those things for me. It never has been. Music, to me, is my dad. It's the very best part of my dad. It's the only part I want to keep hold of. Music, just like the relationship he and I shared, is anything but easy or simple.

My high school graduation and one of the last photos ever taken of my dad and me.
After many, many years of an incredibly difficult and painful relationship, I decided to estrange myself from my dad and that side of my family. I was not quite twenty-one years old when I did that. Eight years later, on August 19, 2000 he died of a heart attack. He was only fifty-two years old. I don't know the details surrounding his demise. I heard that he'd suffered one attack that put him in the hospital, then a second one that killed him, but that's only from second-hand knowledge. That was nearly sixteen years ago, but the time I spent with him, the experiences I had with him and because of him are all still fresh in my head and in my heart. 

This post was supposed to be about the music I love. I didn't write about the details of the incredibly dysfunctional and abusive relationship I had with my father for various reasons ... but I did take advantage of this topic in order to unburden myself of thoughts I've been carrying around of him lately. Even though I haven't spoken to him in twenty-four years, I think of him almost daily ... and I can't write about the subject of music without also writing about him. They are tightly linked, the two of them, and they always will be.

Shortly before our estrangement I learned that my dad was converting his garage into a recording studio. I'd heard a few of the songs he was planning to record. One of them was about having too many chiefs and not enough Indians. I've since looked it up, curious to find out whether or not he'd actually made an album. Seems to me that I heard somewhere that he had, but if that's true, I wasn't able to find it. I did, however, find a couple of other songs about chiefs and Indians; one recorded by Brant Bjork and another by Dean Martin. I remember listening to (and enjoying) the song my dad wrote and know that, while the titles are the same, his was an original. My dad believed himself to be a chief, and those around him were Indians. 

My father was a really difficult human being ... dominant and scary and so many other awful things ... but he did have exceptional taste in music. He knowingly shared his love for it with me, and for that I owe him my thanks..