Sunday, June 19, 2016

Songs of my Father

Just two young former Marines building memories day by day

Memories of my youth are vivid, cherished and undoubtedly romanticized. Recollections - both my own and those told to me by my parents - have acquired a perfection only possible with the passage of time. The struggles have lost their immediacy and what's left is the idealized vision of a simpler time bursting with its own adored soundtrack.

Debut album released in 1965
It is through music that I visualize my mother's life in the mid 60s. A strong, beautiful, young woman making a go of it in a strange place with three small children.

Dressed casually but always "put together" her dark hair teased and curled with Dippity-do, she'd go about taking care of home and family while Sonny and Cher played on the console stereo along with The Supremes, Elvis Presley and the Golden Oldies.

In the warm days of summer, as the ceiling fan noisily called forth air from the open windows, Mom would keep house while I'd play in the yard with my brothers imagining we were soldiers in battle or Lost in Space or generally making mischief of one kind or another. The day would pass into evening and we'd eventually hear Daddy's truck approaching.

My parents were (and remain) two parts of the same sentence.  A team united in living the dream of a comfortable life lived in love. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing fancy.

Dad liked a neatly trimmed lawn.  A dog to greet him when he came home. A kiss from Mom. A cold beer. And a walk around the backyard. Those are the things I remember Daddy doing to unwind.

Oh, and like Mom, Dad played record albums.

After my parents built onto the house to accommodate their growing family (my little sister was born in 1971) Dad hooked up speakers in the backyard so he could enjoy his music, his beer and his walk all at the same time.

An album cover to remember!
There was jazz, Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass, Elvis, George Jones, Roy Orbison and also his adventures into what is now called Classic Rock with bands like Three Dog Night.

I loved hearing the music play as he barbecued, while we swam in the pool or played frisbee. In the summer the songs would play long after it got dark and the sound comforted me.

These days I encounter long forgotten songs everywhere. The grocery store plays "You Are My Destiny" by Paul Anka and I stop in the soda aisle thinking, "That is one of Dad's songs!" or perhaps it's Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham & The Pharoahs that starts me rocking (literally).

Every so often I will get a snippet of a melody in my head from those days but it is rarely enough to allow me to identify the song. Just this past week I spontaneously started singing one of the most elusive, a song that I have been trying to capture for decades. Only this time I held on to it long enough to conduct a Google search. After several misdirects I happily identified and downloaded "Only Love Can Break a Heart"by Gene Pitney. I've listened to it pretty much nonstop all week.

"I honestly love you"
Dad's most influential, long-lasting musical contribution in my life is that he introduced me to Olivia Newton-John courtesy of Columbia Music House and an 8-track tape. The album was If You Love Me, Let Me Know.

I was on my way out to play when he told me to listen because he thought I might like it. I figured I'd humor him and be out the door but he was on to something. I was hooked! This was years before Olivia played Sandy in the movie Grease so who knew what was in store. I just knew I couldn't get enough ONJ.

So, on this Father's Day I want to thank you Dad for the music that is hiding in the dark recesses of my mind waiting to catapult me back in time, for the music I still love and for the music that shapes my memories.

Note: The title of this post is fittingly borrowed from Linda Ronstadt's 1987 album Canciones De Mi Padre.

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