I remember once in middle school I raided my dad’s record collection. It was all the beautiful old fashion vinyl. At the time, it was the ending of the era of the cassette tape as CD’s were taking over. While there was something satisfying about the clicking sound a tape made when you put it in the player and closed the little door, it couldn’t even compare to vinyl. There is just something intimate about having to gently handle your musical selection in both hands after undressing it from the album cover and slipping it from its sleeve. It was almost a dance to get it out, set it on its player and then precisely, with great care, place the needle in just the right spot. The pros could complete the whole process with one hand but I will never know why you would want to. I loved how involved you personally had to be to simply get the music from its resting spot to the point that it was filling in the empty spaces of not only the room but also of you. By the time I was old enough to be a listener the art of turning music on was dead. I discovered it for the first time that day and have mourned it ever since.
I sat all afternoon listening to Simon & Garfunkel, Alice Cooper, Queen and Cat Stevens. That day taught me two truths about music that I still hold firmly. First, variety is everything. Second, it has to move you. It has to tell a secret to your heart. But other than that there is no good or bad when it comes to music. It is only a matter of what touches me as opposed to what touches you.
I will never forget when my dad walked into my bedroom to find me sitting on the floor with my little record playing singing along to “Wild World”. In just those few hours I began to understand how delicate old albums were and how deeply personal one’s music collection could be. So I was certain that he was going to be very upset that I took his albums from their, not too well thought out, hiding spot without my dad’s permission. He never was one to yell or scream nor did he hit so I wasn’t worried about any of that but I did expect a stern, “What are you doing?” or “Who told you you could play with these.” At the very least I knew I was going to be told to put them away and never touch them again. I not only expected one of those, I knew I would deserve them. Up until that afternoon I didn’t give much actual thought to music. I didn’t consider what the music I listen to says about me or what I could tell about someone else by scanning through their music likes and dislikes. I hadn’t realized when I took his albums from the cupboard they had been safely stashed in what I was really doing. I was violating his privacy. It was like I was reading his diary or looking through an old yearbook. These albums had been the soundtrack of my dad’s life up until the time that he hid them away. Here I was listening to his personal soundtrack. I thought he was going to feel that violation and I wouldn’t have blamed him. From the time I was born I knew that his life was all about me but until this point it hadn’t occurred to me that he had a very different life before me and that he might just want to keep that one for himself and he would have had every right. I was frozen, starring at him and feeling just awful. I was preparing myself to jump up and carefully, but quickly, gather up all my newly discovered treasure and return it to its rightful owner. I couldn’t read his face and instead of saying anything, for a long time he just stared taking it all in and then finally, he laughed. The one reaction I didn’t know how to take. He surveyed the albums of his youth all around his daughter’s bedroom floor, it must have seemed like time was folding in on itself.
“I haven’t seen these old friends in a lot of years” he smiled. He leaned down picking up Peter, Paul and Mary turning it over in his hands laughing. “You know what Puff the Magic Dragon was really about?” he asked lowering himself into a seated position beside me.
“Oh baby, baby it’s a wild world…” he sang along. “I’ll always remember you like a” he chokes up looking at me and lets Cat Stevens solo for the “like a child, girl.”
Then he began rummaging through the huge stack of records asking if I’d heard this one yet and “Oh, you’ll like that, put that one on.” For the next couple of weeks every night after work my dad and I sat on my bedroom floor going through every album. He told me the stories from his life about when he bought this record or that and what songs he liked the most and which songs reminded him of someone from his past or something that had happened. He was completely opening his old life to me. I was grateful. We made our own little jokes about “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Mansions in the Sky”. I listened intently when he told me for the first time about his past with drugs, mostly just marijuana, and when and why he decided to stop and put all that away. It wasn’t a drug lecture, I’m not even sure he ever told me not to try them; he just told me how it was for him, no judgments. By opening up so honestly like that with me I knew that if I ever needed, I could do the same. I loved all that old music and found myself listening more to it than anything else. What I didn’t really understand until after he was gone was the real significance of that experience. I never properly thanked him for not only giving so much of himself to me then, but also for opening up my own world. Through that music his youth and mine became intertwined in spite of being so far removed from each other by time and circumstance. It showed me that he not only wanted to be a part of my life but he equally wanted me to be a part of his, something I doubt a lot of parents think about with their kids. He wanted me to know him as much as he wanted to know me. It worked.
That year for Christmas unknowingly, we both bought each other the same gift, Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman on CD. I think the fact that we both wanted the same thing at the same time meant more to him than the CD itself, I know it did to me. Still when I listen to certain songs I see us sitting there on my pink shag carpet singing and laughing and having a whole world open up in front of me with the most amazing guide to show me the way. I fell so deeply in love with his music that now, some 17 years later, looking through my iPod it is hard not to notice that it has actually become the soundtrack of my life as well. I am so much like him and I do believe he would enjoy that fact.
“Oh baby, baby what a wild world. I’ll always remember you…” I choke up.