Like any good mix tape, you fawn over the perfect starting point. That first track is crucial. It sets the bar and the pace for everything that is to follow. You’re almost always making that mix tape for someone else. Whether friendship, a crush, for love or just simply for the road trip. Of course the ‘mix tape’ can be metaphorical nowadays. Even with it’s resurgence in recent times.
For me, the mix tape was something I always did for someone else. Not to say I didn’t benefit from the enjoyment of it after it’s creation. It was just always something I did selflessly really. Take for example, any time my wife and I have to take a long drive out of town or a day of running countless errands. I know I need music. Bottom line. Also, knowing at some magical moment our one year old son will fall asleep so the music will be enjoyed that much more in the silence. That last part is integral. The silence. I’ll get back to that later.
I know my wife doesn’t necasarily seek out new music much on her own. She has no need to. She has me for that. So when making the playlist on the ipod for the drives, I consider all the things new and old she would enjoy. Lay them all out in an order to flow like a dj set. I’ll slip in the odd track just for me of course. Usually something left field and out of sync with the rest. That’s just my taste.
The thing is, it’s been 2 years since I wrote a damn thing for this blog. Something I did religiously before, with fervor. But in that time span I realised something. I had made myself my own mix tapes. Mostly in my head. Mainly for navigational purposes. Life happened and it happened fast. Sometimes it was just fucking cruel and others made me believe in something again.
I can look back to my last post of reviews and instantly be placed in the time again. I tried to post monthly as best as I could while working full time and playing in a band along with all the other aspects of life. But sometime after the last post I was readying my next batch of reviews to share and life happened. I don’t know how else to say it.
It was late December into early January 2014. The War On Drugs had dropped ‘Red Eyes‘. Like everyone I was hooked. Little did I know the relevance and emotional weight this whole album would have for me in the coming months. My father had been diagnosed with stage 4 asophageal cancer. The news came a wek or two after Christmas. A massive shock and traumatic blow to family. I had snagged an early leak of the album and it was a steady repeat.
Time was an absolute prick for the next 6 months. It either moved way too fast or crept along through the worst parts, as if on purpose. To just taunt you and maul your emotions like fucking dubstep does. But by March I had basically nestled myself in with one song. It would play again and again and again … I’d be driving back from my parents house, almost nightly by March. Visiting my dad. Just to sit with him in the living room while he watch television, usually quiet as I would stab a fork over the usually flavouless food friends and family dropped off nearly on a daily basis.
There was something between my Dad and I. We weren’t close. Definitely not openly. I think we were both told by people, separately, how much we were alike. Somedays, for a only a second or two, when everything is still and I’m aware of me, as a husband, as a father, as a son and as just someone… I can almost see what that something is between me and him. And again, like before, that gut wrenching song plays in my head in reverse. It was my entire Side A for this time in my life. I actually don’t think I can tell you anything else that was being released.
By my dad’s birthday in April my wife could tell it wasn’t looking good and took to warmth in telling me to be ready and aware that ‘that’ time was coming and quick. Like a reverberating bow over distorted strings I could see what was happening. I remembered one song my Dad would play me when I was young. He would turn it up on the radio as Casey Kasem read the end of the letter someone wrote in requesting it … and he would look at me. Like I look at my son now and just think to myself “man, the cat’s in the cradle.
A month later my Dad passed. At home. With my mom, his sister, brother in law and my siblings all by his side. It was … it was surreal. He was sitting up leaning on my wife and her then pregnant belly and he was holding my hands. We locked eyes and then …
You see, I’m the first of four kids. My father fathered a son first. My wife was pregnant with our son. We only knew because we wanted my Dad to at least know what we were going to have, in case of the inevitable. So the whole thing for me was just a trip.
At his funeral we were able to do it our way. A massive room cut in half. One half for the funeral service the other half set up like a museum or gallery. An area you could walk around and check out my Dad’s favourite things. If you didn’t know him before you got there you certainly did when you left.
Three songs were played during the service that as a family we picked. One song was ‘Hell Yeah‘ by Neil Diamond. A song he told my sister a year or two before his diagnosis, he wanted it played at his funeral. I never liked Neil Diamond much but my respect has changed. Another song was by Celine Dion and Andre Bocceli. And by fuck I’ll tell you like anyone else would I could live in a world where Celine Dion doesn’t exist but she never sounded better to me than she did that day. The third song which was played second after Celine ruined me was Cat Stevens, Cats in the Cradle.
It’s absolutely bizarre sometimes how music that you despise is occasionally acceptable and even enjoyed. You sometimes need ‘that’ song to tie the mix tape together. Not for you but for your listener.
So a few months roll by. I’m catching up on music as much as I am reeling from the loss of my dad. Not so much the loss but what it’s done to my family. The whole 6 months he was ill this family was a rock. Completely indestructable. By the time time the funeral was happening the seams were unravelling already. I can’t say why or how nor will I get into it. It’s ugly and dark, basically depressing and the only soundtrack suitable for me was stuff like GY!BE.
Anyways, we’re into the B side now so things can take a turn here in almost any direction. My wife and I are soon expecting the birth of our son. A late August due date that was procrastinated into early September. I had already began compiling playlists for the labour so we (more so she) had something to focus on other than discomfort.
We had been making each other disgustingly adorable mix cd’s with hand made cover art ever since we got together. So that made up one really long play list. It was a safety move on my part. In case I was useless or I passed out or she was mad at me because “YOU DID THIS TO ME’. I figured all the fucking cute songs would just save my ass. She’d look at me between contractions and fall in love with me all over again because that Mount Eerie song or that Sufjan Stevens one she played in the car very early on in our heavier flirty days.
But there was one playlist I groomed even up to the night before. Just to get the right order. The playlist for the drive home with our son. Knowing she’d ride in the back with the baby. I needed to have a playlist that as each song followed the next it was her soundtrack while she gazed at her beautiful new son and began to imagine the future… or ask me to stop for ice cream. True story. But I needed it to be the soundtrack for my rearview mirror, as I looked at my family. My actual family. My wife. My son. Us.
It’s complex because the rearview mirrow is usually reserved for things like the break up song or the leaving it all behind stuff. But this was different. And like I said at the start. The silence. This was one of the last playlist I was ever going to hear in silence again. It had to hold up for me and for her. There was a lot of quietter stuff, acoustic type. Stand outs would have been by Bry Webb, The Walkmen and for good measure every new parent has to play Blind Melon. That was the song playing first as we pulled away from the hospital. Yes, I know. Appropriate.
So there it is. The ‘Father & Son’ mix tape in 1600 words or so. For the darker times I tend to latch onto a song or two, like a security blanket. I’ll wrap myself up in it. Maybe it’s because during those times I tend to feel so emotionally vast and lost all at once that I need that grounding and familiarity with something. the other times, like the good ones I’ll search and search for more. It only makes sense. I have an addictive nature and only want to make the good stuff last. You got to feed it with something right ? Why not more music ?