[Brief disclaimer: This is, I think, the last post of this nature. I promise more lighthearted fare next week...]
I was back home taking care of my dad, then dealing with the funeral and otherwise putting things in order, for about three weeks total. (It felt like three months.) When I returned to work last week, greeted by flowers and cards and kindness from my many co-workers, one of them—who has no idea I'm a nerd for music or that I have this blog or used to be in a band or used to run a performance space—offered to make me a mix of cathartic music. She claimed that certain aggressive songs helped her get through similar times. I told her thanks but no thanks: I was in the country music phase of my 12 Stages of Grief Mixtape.
It was just an off-the-cuff joke, but it made me think about my listening habits not just over the last few weeks but the last few months. I've obliquely made mention of it here in the past though hadn't (until earlier this week) come out and said what it was I was dealing with.
I first noticed the way my listening habits were being affected around the beginning of the year. This is the point at which my dad seemed perfectly healthy, though the inevitability of what was going to happen had been made plain by a phalanx of doctors. Because he did not seem outwardly sick, visiting Dad was not a sad experience—we'd go out, barbecue in the back yard, watch sports on TV, do the usual. There was no dwelling on the bad news, no urgent heart-to-heart talks; just laughter and crossword puzzles.
Yet once I returned home, four hours away, I'd find myself gravitating to a certain kind of music. It was hazy, hypnotic, gauzelike, perhaps with some percussive undercurrent. So, a lot of krautrock. Animal Collective's "For Reverend Green" fit the bill in a big way. Of course I wasn't in the mood for happy music, but I also wasn't in the mood for sad music. I wanted some sort of emotionless music. Something that could enevelop me and keep the world on pause or at a distance. I took long walks with this kind of music droning in my headphones, not really seeing the world outside, simply trusting my body to take me down familiar streets.
- Animal Collective, "For Reverend Green"
- Can, "Father Cannot Yell"
- Leonard Cohen, "Avalanche"
- The Ruby Suns, "Remember"
- Spiritualized, "Shine a Light"
None of these songs fall into the same genre, yet they all have that sort of enveloping feeling. Sonically they somehow embrace you without feeling comforting.
By this time last month, though, I needed comfort. I coincidentally picked up Andrew Bird's Mysterious Production of Eggs just a few days prior to the call from home, asking me to come up. I listened to the album on the drive up more or less for the first time, easing into it the same way I did Armchair Apocrypha—that is, it felt inviting at first but exhausting by the end. I knew that repeated listens would heal that. Eggs is a slower album; it feels more like Armchair's second half than its first. For my state of mind, I welcomed the lack of faster-paced numbers.
- Andrew Bird, "Sovay"
I've already written about why the album turned out to be just what I needed. Dad was declining rapidly; he was mentally sharp but physically spent when I first arrived, meaning I had a lot heavy lifting to do—getting him from his bed to his wheelchair and vice versa. It was an emotionally draining experience, to say the least, and became harder and harder each day. I continued to take those long walks but this time I needed songs that felt more soothing, warmer.
- Andrew Bird, "Masterfade"
I listened to Eggs and nothing else for at least a week straight. I guess it turned out to be my wallowing record. I'm still listening to it almost daily, though at least now I'm alternating between that and other albums. It helps that I'm back in L.A. again, with my full music collection to choose from and more opportunities to be out, listening.
Thus I unconsciously started mixing country music into my daily consumption. And when my co-worker got me quipping about mixtapes I had a sort of Freudian epiphany—that maybe my listening habits were still being shaped by my dad. He was a huge country fan, mostly bluegrass and 60s-70s style. Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, old-timey stuff.
It's hard for me to get more specific than that, though. Unlike the folky stuff he liked (which I've already written about), Dad's country tastes were exiled to his car stereo. Neither my mom nor his second wife liked it, so he kept it there. I think of his country music tastes as being more personal to him and more mysterious to me. I can't go out and buy the album I know he loved. I just have to guess, and make due with my own meager collection, most of which comes from a fairly brief alt-country phase in the late-90s/early-00s and a spate of downloading over the last few months.
- Jimmie Rodgers, "In the Jailhouse Now"
- Neko Case, "John Saw That Number"
- Gillian Welch, "Winter's Come and Gone"
- Buck Owens, "My Heart Skips a Beat"
- Willie Nelson, "My Own Peculiar Way"
That's okay though. I'm not really listening to this stuff to continue wallowing. For the most part I'm skipping past the aching ballads, opting instead for the upbeat numbers. Those are the kind of tunes Dad liked, I know that much. Right now, me too.