No cat and no cradle
Growing up, my father had a game he played whenever in the car with his kids. He would tune the radio to a classic rock station and play “Name That Band.” I think he took a subtle pride in flaunting his musical knowledge over his pre-teen kids.
The game was played in good spirit, and my dad’s ultimate goal was to teach me, my twin brother and younger sister about music. He challenged us to learn a band’s sound, rather than memorize their songs. That way, if we heard an unfamiliar song, we could determine the band based on the guitar style or the vocals.
The game ultimately became a competition: Which of us could correctly identify the artist and earn a pat on the back from my father. Eager to best my twin brother (with whom I was constantly competing) I began to study. When I was 12 I stole dozens of my father’s CDs, from Pink Floyd to Clapton to U2. I listened to them with an academic attention to detail. I studied the album covers and read booklet inserts from cover to cover. I memorized guitarists, drummers, and even lowly bass players. I was receiving a self-taught crash course in rock and roll history and I didn’t even know it.
As I got older I began to deviate from my father’s music collection and build my own. I used a $7 weekly allowance to buy albums by The Who, Queen, The Eagles, The Beatles and The Grateful Dead. Out of habit, I listened to them with purpose and studied the musicians in each group. I was 14 when my hard work finally paid off.
While in the car alone with my father one afternoon, “Baba O’Reilly” by The Who came on the radio.
“Name the band,” my father challenged.
“The Who,” I replied confidently. “Name the bass player.”
Immediately I knew I had won. His forehead wrinkled and his eyes narrowed as he searched for an answer. I let him squirm (as I had squirmed countless times before), knowing he was stumped. After about a minute he conceded defeat. Grinning ear to ear, I casually informed him it was John Entwistle.
I sat silently awaiting his reaction. Rather than looking annoyed or defeated, as I had expected, he surprised me with an “attaboy.”
He was proud.
In his Oct. 11 address to Syracuse University students and faculty, David Sedaris read multiple pieces about his relationship with his father. In a question and answer segment following his talk, Sedaris answered a question about their relationship by saying he wouldn’t change a thing.
“My father helped push me to become who I am today,” he said.
Last week my dad and I caught a Keller Williams concert together on a Friday night. We make a point to see about a dozen shows a year together. This one was his choice. Before the show we talked over drinks about articles we liked in Rolling Stone and what we love about Dark Side of the Moon.
Later that evening, as Williams plucked out the opening notes to a cover of the Grateful Dead’s Scarlet Begonias, my father leaned toward me.
“Scarlet Begonias,” I said, before he could ask. He smiled and we enjoyed the rest of the show together in silence.