This post is a mixtape. All links open to delightful little YouTube treats.
I did not grow up in a family of musicians. Mom is a teacher who specializes in talented and gifted education. From her I gained a teacher’s instincts and an appreciation of learning styles. We both have the “life is a classroom” mentality (more on that in another story).
And Dad… well… my father was a pop song aficionado who had a talent for listening that no one can match.
My musical journey began with listening. Dad had every album by The Beatles, The Moody Blues and Simon & Garfunkel, to name a few. We made mixed tapes of the best songs from each album and drove around for hours, letting the melodies be the soundtrack for the scenery. He quizzed me on the structure of a pop song, making sure I could identify the verse, pre-chourus, chorus, and bridge (in Dad’s opinion “a great band like The Beatles can get away with going to the bridge twice”). He told me the “ad lib to fade” was a great way to keep listeners singing the melody long after the song was over. Together we learned harmonies and discovered that you can usually sing the chorus over the guitar solo chords. And while it was cool to hear that a good song could stand on its own merit when covered by other artists, we also learned that most tunes became unpalatable to us when Willie Nelson sang.
My father instilled in me an appreciation for intelligent and singable songs. We listened to Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 in the car in the parking lot of Prospect Congregational Church, trying to predict the top three songs in the nation. Dad usually guessed better than I did, but it was always such a fun game. Then we’d have long talks about why each one was popular: Was it the hook? The lyrics? The shock value? Even if we hated a song – and that was easy to do in the 80’s – we wanted to understand and appreciate what made it pleasing to so many ears throughout the country.
I have no idea what other Prospect families did with their kids on the weekends.
When I got a little older we would go to Cutler’s Records in New Haven to buy 45″ singles. Dad was interested in new music but wasn’t about to buy any “crap,” even if I assured him it was quality music. So I would pick out songs I thought Dad would like and the staff would play them on the store’s record player. The customers must have enjoyed seeing a twelve year old and her Dad evaluating new bands like Crowded House (“Wow. That’s good.”) and Motley Crue (“Melissa. NO.”).
Listening to music together started conversations we otherwise would not have had. I learned a lot of history when we talked about music from the 1960s. Some of my absolute favorites from the 80s and 90s led to father/daughter talks about behavior, respect, and censorship. We had a great debate over whether “I Want Your Sex” should be on the radio. I was anti-censorship (and thought George Michael was talented). Dad was anti-smut (and “that guy is a punk”). I think he got me to agree it wasn’t that good of a song anyway and then we got some pizza. No matter what, we learned a lot about each other.
These moments are among the most joyous of my life. Dad and I were 100% connected and 100% in the present moment when we listened together. We had our share of family heartache and disappointment. But our relationship with each other remained grounded, open, honest and simple.
The last concert we saw together was in 2009 (one year before he passed away at the age of 67). I took him to see Kicking Daisies, a band of teens I had started vocal coaching earlier that year. The members at the time were Cait and Carly (now in Like Violet) and Ben and Duran (joined by Richie and Jeff in KD). They had become like family to me (and still are). So, I found myself nervous about Dad’s opinion of their music. At the end of the show he guessed which songs were their hits. He said he loved the show and believed they would all be very successful musicians because their songwriting and playing was superb. Joy! I felt like that twelve year old at Cutler’s Records being given the thumbs up. When we went backstage he was deeply touched that the band members all knew about our musical adventures together.
Listening with my father turned my love for singing into a more profound understanding of music and a deeper appreciation for the way we connect with our favorite songs. More importantly, it created a bond with my Dad that enriched both of our lives more than lyrics can say. I treasure this connection with every song I hear.