Arts, Music, Column

An Ode to My Father, and All His Songs

My father has always been a musical person. When I was little, and I mean really little, he would play the most unusual variety of songs while I rode around in the back seat of the Lincoln Navigator. Sometimes it was “Brown Sugar,” others “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” I remember my 4-year-old self finding great joy in Bob Dylan’s “Man Gave Names to All the Animals,” especially the verse about the pig—what can I say, I’m easily entertained.

The first time I remember being scared, post monster-in-the-closet days, was when I was 14. The year was 2012. “Gangnam Style” was all the rage, Obama had just been re-elected. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had just released “Thrift Shop.” It was a much simpler time. Little freshman Emily was aboard a canoe with nine classmates, all of them hot-headed and a total mess. We were on Outward Bound, the dreaded week-long mandatory school trip to the Everglades during which we were paired with classmates we appeared to not know, forced to eat, sleep, and God knows what else on a raft made of five canoes tied together with wooden planks teetering on top—all for the sake of “bonding.” I clearly remember being on the verge of tears for much of the trip. I knew out of all the sunburnt, unshowered high schoolers stuck on this trip, I wanted to go home the most. I couldn’t not think about going home, and in my somewhat delusionally battered state, I’m pretty sure I believed I would die in that damn canoe.

By the fourth and final night of the trip, we had been trekking on for hours and hours on end. At 11:30 p.m., we were still headed nowhere, trying to find an island with some conspicuous name like White Horse Key. My racing, exhausted brain was absolutely blank—my tired arms were seemingly stuck in a rhythm of paddling. My eyes followed the blade as it sunk into the dark water and pulled back up, flinging a stream of salty water outward. I distinctly remember the only thing my mind could conjure up was the sound of my dad playing “Light My Fire” on the guitar, for whatever reason. I could hear him singing the same line over and over, and I could hear the place where he messed up on the transition between chords. It was the same two lines playing on repeat in my head, putting me in some sort of weird paddling trance featuring The Doors.

Later on, throughout high school and into college, I continued to associate certain songs with emotions. Just about each song that is hardwired into my brain in this way has been introduced to me by my father—“Don’t Dream It’s Over” is a standout classic for every single one of my bad days. “Carolina in My Mind” has become my all-time favorite song, although I must admit I complained about him playing James Taylor in the car throughout my childhood. He introduced me to The Beatles and I distinctly remember him playing Magical Mystery Tour—clearly their best album—pretty frequently. “All On Me” by Devin Dawson has been a song we’ve both come to love within the past year or so, and for whatever reason it has become the song I absolutely must listen to during takeoff on a flight or else (I get really superstitious sometimes, sorry). In recent years, he told me to listen to Carole King’s Tapestry, and being around 17 at the time, I was reluctant to do so. Now, I think I own two hard copies of that album (and the Broadway musical Beautiful soundtrack) and listen to the whole thing straight through all the time.

My dad has been a complete music lover all his life. I’ve come to realize that in this sense he might be way cooler than I will ever be. One time he was at a blues club in Chicago, it was a long room with a stage on either side—I always remember that detail from his stories—and he saw John Mayer play. He opened up for some other band when he was just 13 years old, and blew the crowd away. According to Himes legend, he had to stop playing at midnight because he was too young for the club. My dad didn’t know that all these years later he’d have a daughter who’d kill for a ticket to a John Mayer concert.

It’s not uncommon for me to receive random and spontaneous texts from my dad. A few months ago, I found this classic message on my phone at 9:21 a.m.: “There’s a prophetic line in “Burning Down the House” for you—‘Hold tight, we’re in for nasty weather.’” That’s his weird way of saying “there’s a snowstorm headed to Boston.”

Dad, you’re a total rockstar, always have been and always will be. And what can I say—like father like daughter, am I right?

Featured Image by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor

February 25, 2018

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