My dad owned a lot of 8-track and cassette tapes. He loved music. Sometimes he played his favorite songs on our piano. He didn’t need the sheet music. He just played them by ear. I didn’t realize this was special as a kid. It was just something my dad could do.
When I was seven or eight, he passed along a cassette to me called Cruisin’ Classics. It had songs on it by the Supremes and Jackie Gleason and Marvin Gaye. I fell asleep listening to it all the time. There was a time in my life I couldn’t go to sleep without listening to music. It’s possible that falling asleep to that cassette, and all the others like it that my dad passed along to me, led directly to my dreams of one day falling in love with someone so much that it broke my heart.
One of my dad’s favorite songs I never remember him playing on the piano. I don’t remember ever hearing it on a cassette tape, either. I remember him whistling it all the time, though. And I remember those happy moments when he and I would be driving somewhere, and it would come on the radio and we would sing along to it. The song was Otis Redding’s “(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay.” I can hear my dad whistling it whenever I think about it. Sometimes if I listen really hard, I can hear us singing, too. The whistling is louder, though. I don’t know why that is.
When he died, my sister and I found all kinds of music on my dad’s computer. Stuff I never really knew he loved. Songs like “Hurt” by Timi Yuro. “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian. So much ABBA. It turned out my dad had the heart of a fourteen-year-old girl. I felt closer to him that day than I had in a long time. I don’t know why death sometimes brings people to life the way it does, but it does. So it goes.
There was a lot of music from the film Easy Ryder on his computer, too. The Byrds did that album. There’s a song on it called “The Ballad of the Easy Ryder,” and we chose it to play at his funeral.
Here’s how part of that one goes:
The river flows
It flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes
That’s where I want to be
Flow river flow
Let your waters wash down
Take me from this road
To some other town
Go river go
Past the shaded tree
Flow river, flow
Flow to the sea
Flow to the sea
It wasn’t until I started writing this that I realized the song we picked for his funeral took me and my dad back to sitting in his truck, driving down some open road, dreaming about sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away. The two of us together at the edge of the world. Just wasting time.
I started writing and thinking about all of this when I listened to Otis Redding: Live in London and Paris. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” isn’t even on this album.
Ghosts live in the strangest places.
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