A stubby Lucky Strike dangling from his lips, clothes seemingly always grimy from working on a car (even if it wasn’t his) or some other machine or gizmo, my father was a “man’s man” indeed. Yet, he also had a deep empathy for others, a very genuine sensitive side and an appreciation for the finer things. He was a “blue collar”through and through with an affinity for classical music, love songs and a keen intellectual side. I think this was common with men of his era. They could not often express their thoughts and feelings openly so they escaped in other things such as sports, cars and music.
Fathers had their own way of letting off steam from the work day. Some dads had a belt of whiskey after work. Some dads read the afternoon newspaper. For my dad it was music. Music does indeed sooth the soul.
While he did use his “me time” to unwind with his 45’s and lp’s, he would never shoo me away, tell me he was busy or use any other excuse to get rid of me. He enjoyed sharing his music with me and I always had a partiality to the early days of rock ‘n roll. In fact, I would often make him mix tapes of our favorites for long vacation drives, at times to my older sister’s chagrin.
The music enveloped me with a sense of comfort, safety and happiness. At the time, I never really had an interest in the musical chops of Olivia Newton John, Linda Ronstadt, Cher or Stevie Nicks. I’d rather look at their album covers anyways. But, their music brought a special kind of comfort to me. Familiarity will do that. It still does.
However, I would enthusiastically play his Jerry Lee Lewis, Rolling Stones and Tommy James and the Shondells records. That is what I loved the most. Being a bit of a rebel myself in my childhood, I reveled in the knowledge that my dad, “Mr 9 to 5”, teetotaling dad listened to “bad boys” like the Stones and Jerry Lee Lewis. He was no milquetoast dad. Yet, his favorites were always the more unassuming, thoughtful, “aw shucks”, almost nerdy types.
Roy Orbison, with his angelic voice, no frills look and heart wrenching lyrics perfectly embodied what kind of man my dad was; deep yet not flashy. Neil Diamond, Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke and, perhaps best of all, Tony Williams (one of the original lead singers of the Platters) were also at the top of his favorite singers list. It was one connection we could have in a world that always seems to divide parents and children.
Dad’s music opened windows for me. Someone could sing about their broken heart, pretending to be someone you’re not and the various ups and downs of life that every pre-teenage boy feels that were bursting inside of me unable to be expressed. As I listened to his music I realized, “Sam Cooke got it”. He knew just how I felt. “Tears of a Clown” sent me reeling the way it hit home. These singers, while being vulnerable and hurt, were still cool, maybe even cooler, for it. It was possible to be cool and lost at the same time. I’m still working on that.
As I grew up and my musical tastes changed, I began to listen to rap, hip hop and top 40 music. My musical tastes was always changing and eventually I discovered Black Flag, Metallica and classic rock. I still do remember vividly hiding my Elton John cd’s in my closet so my friends wouldn’t see them. Imagine, hiding Elton John cd’s. Shaking my head indeed.
My dad never chastised or said anything about my changing tastes because, as he once told me, he remembered how he and his generation was chastised by the older generation about early “rock and roll” music.
Like most past times of our youth, there is only a certain window of time for these moments. Of course, you only realize the special times when they’re gone.
And it would delight him to no end when I could tell him who sang each song from his records, tapes and eventually cd’s. He would look at me incredulously as I ticked off the names of the bands or artists in the first few seconds of the song, as though it was my own version of “Name That Tune”. He especially liked it when I named some of the lesser known bands and artists such as; “The Left Banke”, The Del-Vikings”, “The Shangri-Las” (he especially liked the ladies of Motown),”The Diamonds”, Ray Peterson and even Jimmy Clanton.
I still listen to the same artists when I get a nostalgic twinge. I can still feel the plush carpeting, the up and down motion of the needle on his turntable, his strong arms around me as he hummed to the beat of a crooner singing about his “darling”. It’s not the same, though.