Note: Our father passed away unexpectedly a year ago. We wrote about him as part of developing the idea of this blog. He is responsible in no small part for both of us and everything we do. We miss him greatly.
Long before my Dad actually died, when we first came up for the idea of a doing a music blog as two brothers, one of our first topics was songs we’d play at our father’s funeral. It was supposed to be a joke as my father, the Elder, and I have always shared a morbid sense of humor.
Examples include: my father making us promise that we’d suffocate him with a pillow if he ever became what he called a “vegetable”; Dad daring my sister to touch our deceased step-grandfather at his wake; asking us to stuff his beloved golden retriever so he’d always be there with him. The retriever, now mine by default, is staring at me as I write this and I can assure you it would be funny, albeit very creepy.
My father died probably exactly the way he wanted except far too soon–but I’d imagine that’s the same for everyone. He didn’t suffer long. He was never a “vegetable” and there wasn’t a huge fuss over him because no one had any clue how sick he was until it was too late.
This is turning too much into a eulogy and I have already done that. Let’s shift to the actual topic of the day, songs for my father. I want to talk about songs I remember him really liking as well as some songs that were actually used at his funeral and his wake which was really more of a party (what he wanted when he died).
Before I launch into the songs and why, I need to emphasize that the man was deaf from a young age–so deaf at the end that there was no existing technology to improve his hearing. They somehow fucked up in the incubator and pumped in too much oxygen and it blew one of his ears out and left the other severely damaged. I had a friend who sells hearing aids test him last fall and he was 90% deaf at 61. Many people didn’t realize how deaf he was because he was crazy skilled at reading lips; talking with him one on one seemed no different from conversing with anyone else.
I was lucky to have a best friend for a father and this was hard fought. It wasn’t until circumstances dropped me in the parents’ house after grad school that we really solidified our relationship. I wouldn’t trade the last year and a half I got to spend with him for anything and I hope in some way this piece of writing will spurn people to get to know their parents if they don’t already.. Lastly and most selfishly, I need to write this as I am still having great trouble dealing with the loss and although I am crying as I write, I think it will be cathartic in the long run.
He once told me of seeing Jimi Hendrix during his opening slot for the Monkees in the Midwest sometime in the late 1960’s. Even with a head full of acid, he described the music to me as “a bunch of monkeys banging on trash cans in the jungle”. He couldn’t hear anything above the distortion.
Needless to say, he wasn’t into the jam like I was. He liked tight song structure and succinct lyrics like all of the folk songs he loved . That being said, I think one will see the amusement in some of the songs he enjoyed as it was very unlikely he ever had any idea what the lyrics were saying. He never explained why he liked songs the way the Elder and I will spend endless hours discussing minute details of long dead musical artists and this is one of the many small parts that made him who he was. He liked stuff and the reasons why either didn’t exist or not for us to know.
1. “What a Friend we have in Jesus/ Swing low Sweet Chariot”-Traditional
Christian Hymns: Both of these songs were played at the services for my father and for good reason. He loved the old spirituals and would always tell people that he and I had a Sunday morning choir group, followed by an off key hum before launching into either one of these tunes in his perceptably terrible singing voice. The man was very good at a lot of things but singing was never one of them. Hell, he was almost completely deaf, cut him a break. I sometimes sang with him because he found great amusement in it even if no one else did; other times, I just laughed because it never ceased to be funny to me.