A Father of Inspiration
June will always be a month for my dad. Besides for the annual holiday commemorating fathers everywhere, my poppa also has the priviledge of having a birthday during this month, which kinda sucks for him since it usually lands no more than a day or two away from Father's Day.
There are also other points of nostalgia that help me reflect on my dad. June 11th, for instance. That was the day in 1993 when he took me to see Jurassic Park. It was opening night, and the culmination of a childhood spent wholly rapt by ancient lizards. He took me to the midnight showing even though I was 12 and it was a school night. After it ended we walked home from the theater, late as it was and far though we had to travel. In hindsight it sounds like poor judgment on his part, but I'll be damned if I ever forget the value of that experience, or how close I felt to my Dad in that moment.
That's the kind of whimsical reverie my Dad imparted to me, whether it was in film, art, comedy or music. In fact, I would not have developed such a refined palette for melody had it not been for my father's own complex tastes. Below are five artists that he has loved over the years, that in turn have become influential to me.
1. Electric Light Orchestra - "Fire On High"
Children raised in the '80s were still able to live somewhat dangerously, as the government had not yet gone full "nanny-state" over everything. Monkey bars were still wrought-iron, happy meals were still happy, and kids could still experience scandalous music and movies without proof of ID.
My dad took me to see Poltergeist when I was about 3. While I don't remember it now, it's further proof that I have a pretty cool dad. He never balked at introducing us to sensitive or otherwise challenging material, and always used such instances as teaching moments.
I'll always remember his fondness for Electric Light Orchestra, and songs like this instrumental track "Fire On High." While the opening minute and a half sound like the score to a horror film, it breaks out with the payoff riff at 1:30.
2. The Beatles - "Carry That Weight"
I can't imagine what it was like for my dad, having moved from Pittsburgh to New York City in the fall of 1966 to go to art school. The Sixties bloomed all around him like some garden of incandescent orchids, while rock music and civil unrest both got dialed up to maximum volume.
And while he missed Woodstock, he did attend student protests in DC, and naturally was front and center as The Beatles entertained the world in their heyday. I remember thumbing through his old records in my youth, vaguely aware of the memories embedded in their grooves like tree rings. When I was old enough, he told me that one of his favorite Beatles songs was "Carry That Weight." For him, it came to represent the birth of his first child (my sister in 1973), and spoke to the responsibilities that he accumulated as a young man.
That's kind of the 60s in a nutshell. Flower children come of age, realize war is hell, and learn to live with the rigors of society.
3. James Last - "Giant Man"
If you don't know James Last, I can't really help you. I don't either. He began as an earworm, with this song that I heard some early Saturday morning. My dad had a habit of waking us up by coming into our rooms and playing WFMU, a free-form radio station that broadcast at the time out of Upsala College in East Orange, NJ. At the time, we hated it. They played such weird stuff. Talked ceaselessly. It seemed like they did the OPPOSITE of what every other radio station on the air was doing.
Now I love it.
4. The Incredible String Band - "A Very Cellular Song"
This folksy psychedelic band out of the UK had a strong following in the 60s, and even performed at the legendary Woodstock festival. I can't say that I ever had profound love for the multi-musician unit, but hearing this definitely gave me a greater perspective than if I had weaned myself on Nursery Rhymes and KidzBop.
5. Butthole Surfers - "Pepper"
By the time I was into my teenage years I'd already begun crafting my own musical identity. I was more prone to rebel against anything my old man was listening to at that time, but when the Butthole Surfers had this unlikely hit in '96, he was all over it. Which was weird, because- well look at the tunes listed above, and then you have the Butthole Surfers. I, along with many others, had been steeped in grunge music up to that point, so it was strange to see my Dad really enjoying a song intended for my generation. It seemed so completely out of his usual repertoire, but after a while I came to respect the anomaly.
Dads sure can surprise you sometimes. To the great Eddie Tango, and brilliant fathers everywhere... Happy Father's Day.
Justin Starling (@RTNowRadio) for Cumulus Media © 2012