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On Father’s Day: Looking Back at my Life’s Soundtrack

June 21, 2015

The concept of the mixed tape, now the playlist, can serve any number of purposes.  What I might put together as a gift would be selected to evoke memories. Such a compilation for my husband would include James Taylor’s “(Whenever I See) Your Smiling Face,” from the cassette we bought either on our honeymoon or just after. Kansas’ Leftoverture or ELO’s Ole might have to be included in their entirety, along with something from Art Garfunkel’s Breakaway (“I Believe When I Fall in Love”) and Leon Russell’s Will o’ the Wisp.

For my high school best friend, some of the songs would be favorites, while others might be the ones we mocked. I might include something from the Jacksons–“ABC,” for example, or even a few from the Partridge Family (“I Think I Love You”), music we heard on the radio when we drove around town or back and forth between my house and hers. These aren’t the songs that last in our record collections. Those spots are reserved for the Beatles (Abbey Road), Carol King (Tapestry), and Sweet Baby James Taylor, Three Dog Night, Creedence Clearwater Revival.

The dichotomy persists into college, when my musical tastes expanded.  If I want to remember fun weekends, I’d have to listen to Kiss singing, “I Want to Rock and Roll All Night (and Party Every Day”) or even (shudder) the Bay City Rollers “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!” The music I learned to love back then, though, was Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, Willie and Waylon, Emmylou, Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band, and Charlie Daniels Band.

It boils down to this:  a real musical time line of my life would have to play out in real time. There are too many songs, too many singers.  What I realized, especially with Father’s Day approaching, was the number of songs I associated with my parents, especially car trips.

One of the best memories of early childhood is my mother’s playing the piano. Back then–when I was perhaps second or third grade–Mother had the sheet music for “Memories Are Made of This,” a Dean Martin hit. She’s also play “The March of the Toy Soldiers,” which I think originated on the movie Babes in Toyland. She’d play as Amy and I marched around and around the round coffee table (the one that accumulated tooth marks of all the babies who learned to walk around it.)

When I entered fourth grade, our family moved to Columbia, Tennessee, leaving mother and almost two-year-old Becky behind at my grandmother’s house in Florence until baby Jeannie was born.  We drove back and forth each weekend the seventy-something miles with Daddy, listening to the radio.  We heard “King of the Road” and “Going Back to Houston” so many times we knew every word.

Most family car trips turned into sing-alongs too.  You could ask any of the four of us what song we remember from car trips, and we’d all say, “Pearly Shells,” Don Ho’s second best known hit. We’d sing it straight, then we’d sing “Shelly Pearls,” spoonerizing all the lyrics.

Probably the funniest memory is a trip from Florence to Nashville when Daddy was driving me to college. The way I remember it, we bought a Carpenter’s tape at a filling station and played it over and over and over….  I thought Daddy was going to throw it out the window.

Living in North Carolina, I don’t get to ride with Daddy as much any more, so the chance to ride with him and mother all the way to Cerillos, New Mexico, to visit my cousin Sandy and her husband Frank was a gem of an opportunity. But we didn’t listen to the radio.  For one thing, Daddy doesn’t like the noise of the radio these days.  As anyone with hearing aids will tell you, too many sounds at a time mean you understand none of them.  On that road trip we talked and talked and laughed and talked some more. That was music to my ears.

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