For My Dad
After being diagnosed with cancer in February and after what was only a few months of fighting, my dad died this Saturday, August 10th.
I owe my eclectic taste in music to both of my parents, really — from a young age, my brother and I were introduced to their favorites on cassette tapes and on the radio in the car. They would say, “Jam out!” and we’d do a little toddler headbang. I have very early memories of music videos from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and George Harrison’s “Set on You.” As we got older, my dad would quiz us on classic-rock bands; when asked who sang a particular song, the answer was most often Styx or Journey. Growing up, he’d drop tidbits of knowledge about things like the fact that MTV’s first video was “Video Killed the Radio Star” or that Def Leppard’s drummer lost an arm in a car accident. I can remember sitting with him in the living room when he realized I was probably a Fleetwood Mac fan after hearing “Don’t Stop” in a campaign ad, and it remained my favorite Fleetwood Mac song for years and is now a song that makes my three-month-old niece smile. I inherited his appreciation for big-band and swing music, like The Andrews Sisters’ “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” and because of him, I discovered the weird fun of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at an undoubtedly way too young age, ultimately leading to annual Halloween trips to see it live from the time I was in high school up to now at age 30. In my teen years, when I fell into the pop-punk craze, he came into my room while my CDs played as I wrote a book report and said, “You want punk? I’ll show you punk,” and promptly took me to the mall and bought me my first Sex Pistols and Ramones albums. He (often begrudgingly) drove me, my brother, and our friends into Pittsburgh to see our favorite bands live, first spending the concert in the venue with us at a bar, if the venue had one, and later nearby restaurants until finally, we got our drivers’ licenses and took the car into the city for the night on our own. When he deployed to Italy and then later Iraq, my brother and I burned CDs of his personal favorites while throwing in a few of our own, eager to share the music we loved while also hoping to get him to realize that yes, good music was, in fact, made after the ’80s ended.
He told plenty of stories about the concerts he’d seen — every time Glass Tiger’s “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” came on the radio, which is not particularly often, he’d talk about how he saw them open for Journey and the lead singer yelled, “Pittsburgh! Don’t forget me when I’m gone!” When he returned from one of his deployments, we attended a Journey concert as a family, and from there, a new family pastime was born. In the years that followed, we went to show after show, seeing a number of classic bands as they played their biggest hits across America — Def Leppard, Styx, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Cheap Trick, Rick Springfield, even Frankie Valli, and more, including annual Christmastime trips to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra and new rock discoveries like The Darkness. The concerts were our Thing, and when my brother and I met our respective spouses, they came along, too.
Of course, after his cancer diagnosis and as treatments began and ultimately his health declined, the concert trips came to an end. Last Tuesday, he came home from the hospital and spent his final days at home peacefully, and as I drove home from helping my mom get him situated, a live version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” came on the radio that begins with Stevie Nicks dedicated the performance to her dad. I don’t believe everything is coincidence.
I’ve often said that I hope heaven is a place where we can all see our favorite concerts for eternity, so I hope he’s up there rocking out to the musicians we missed out on — in particular, Queen with Freddie Mercury, of course — and I’ll meet him up there one day. Before the show, we can enjoy another thing we shared a mutual love for — a good meal.