Saturday

You’ll never know: A Father’s Day Tribute

1975. I am six years old and I am riding with my dad in his Buick Skylark. Maybe it’s a Chevy Malibu. Whatever the car, it’s the size of a small tank with an endless front hood, Batman-like tail lights, and bench seats that are equal parts cushion and spring, and 100% bounce.

It is a moment that is forever etched in my mind.

carseatMy dad and I are riding in the car. It is a Saturday morning. I know this because the mood is light–the weekend is here and the day holds much promise and possibility. It is summer because I am wearing shorts and the windows are cranked all the way down. I don’t remember where we are headed. I don’t care. I am riding with my dad–alone. ALONE. Not one of my 6 brothers and sisters to bother me. No one to share the front seat with. Yes, the front seat.  I sit across from my dad in the front seat, my legs dangling over the edge of the embroidered nylon bench. No seat belt to trap me in. Just me and my dad cruising on a weekend morning.

The car glides around a bend and I fly across the seat, toward him. I stay there. My bony leg next to his. My elbow resting on his lap. I watch his hand dance along the steering wheel, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He’s so cool. He’s my dad.

As I bask in this time alone, he starts to sing:

You’ll never know just how much I miss you

You’ll never know just how much I care

And if I tried, I still couldn’t hide my love for you

You ought to know, for haven’t I told you so–a million or more times

You went away and my heart went with you

I speak your name in my every prayer

If there is some other way, to prove that I love you, I swear I don’t know how

You’ll never know if you don’t know now

I am awestruck. “Again!” I cry. “Sing it again!”

He protests, realizing he is vulnerable now.

“Please?” I beg.

He obliges. You’ll never know…

We drive on. A dad serenading his son. I feel like the most important kid in the universe.

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For a while after that, on the rare occasions when my dad and I would be driving alone, I would ask him to sing that song. It turned into our little duet, as I would echo the last part of each line. HOW MUCH I CARE…MY EVERY PRAYER. It always made me happy, and could serve to draw him out of a mood if he was a little brooding that day.

And then, like too many things in childhood, it just stopped. One day, I stopped asking and he stopped feeling comfortable singing it to me. There were many times when we would be driving in the awkward silence of my teenage years, where I would think about that song, where I would wonder what would happen if I requested it, where I would laugh in my mind at the absurdity of my dad singing to his son, now almost an adult. I never asked, though, and as the song implies, now I’ll never know.

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About nine years ago, I heard that song in, of all places, Disney World–the happiest place on Earth. The land of make believe? I was walking down Main Street by myself. It was nighttime and the crowd was thin. I had never heard the song performed by anyone but my dad, yet here I was, being serenaded by the lilting voice of Alice Faye–I checked. My dad had long since passed away, and now I had an infant of my own. I looked up in the night’s sky from the streets of the Magic Kingdom. You went away and my heart went with you…

Yes, a piece of it did. But larger pieces remain behind. Embedded in my first-born son, and soon thereafter, his brother. There are many car rides for us now–smoke free with them tethered safely in the back seat. But I try to remember the glory that can transpire between a father and his son in the more subtle moments of life, on an insignificant car ride, on a random weekend morning.

Car rides that may, in fact, last a lifetime.

 

 

The Sounds of the ’70s

My car became a time machine last week. On Wednesday, when I was driving to work, I heard a news clip on NPR about the death of singer Patti Page. I was not familiar with this artist, who, apparently, is the top-selling female singer in history according to the news. But I did grow up with one of her songs: How Much Is That Doggie in the Window? When a snippet of that song was played on the news report, I was immediately transported back in time to our purple station wagon. Or maybe it was the Gran Torino with the panel sides. Whichever car it was, those lyrics echoed throughout its vinyl seat interior. My sister loved that song, and would often sing it around the house, while playing outside, and, of course, in the car. Truthfully, I thought it was pretty annoying as a six-year-old, but I would tolerate it because she always let me do the dog bark: “Arf, Arf!”

Hearing these lyrics over thirty years later, I got to thinking about the songs that made up the bizarre soundtrack of my youth. The songs I recall are as farout, groovy, and downright trippy as the seventies themselves. Here are my top ten:

10. One Tin Soldier, by: Coven

I loved how this song took me back in time to a place of kings and knights. I always imagined that I was that one tin soldier who rides away–off to do more battle. In researching the song for this post, I realize why we went around singing it back then. It was a cartoon that was aired during Saturday programming. As I watched the YouTube video, I was certain that I viewed this cartoon in our Rec Room (which I always thought was spelled WReck Room because we always made a mess out of it). The cartoon is a mashup of Schoolhouse Rock and George Orwell’s 1984. This was the first war song I remember from my youth.

9. Lovin’ You, by: Minnie Riperton

This song was weird to kids, but we always had fun lip syncing the falsetto.

8. Dick and Jane (Look Dick Look), by: Bobby Vinton

My grandmother was a big fan of the Polish Prince, Bobby Vinton. I remember going around singing some gibberish for one of his songs with Polish lyrics: Yola shogga masha colta–these were the words I sang. But the real favorite was this one about two young people and love–ripped straight from the pages of our elementary school readers, Fun with Dick and Jane. This song made me ponder the meaning of the word “vain” every time I heard it (Then one day, he kissed her, but it was all in vain…) Poor Dick! Poor Jane!

7. Delta Dawn, by: Helen Reddy

Helen Reddy could rock this song–even though in this video she looks like she’s performing it at her 7th grade talent show. Everyone knew the lyrics to Delta Dawn. And I felt so sorry for her. Forty-one and not married. In my head, I would think “I’d marry you if I was older.” After all, in her younger days she was the prettiest thing you ever saw. Then there’s that faded rose–I could just picture Dawn and Barry Manilow’s Lola the showgirl commiserating with their faded rose and feathers over lost love at some singles’ bar in that mansion in the sky.

6. Muskrat Love, by: The Captain and Tennille

For anyone who did not live in the ’70s, please watch this video. It was a time so weird, so freakishly fun and uncomfortable at the same time. The video is classic kitsch from this wacky era. How could The Captain and Tennille make so many people care about rodent love? How could The Captain score a babe like Tennille? These are questions that still haunt me today.

5. Please Come to Boston, by: Dave Loggins

This song is in my top 10 because my brother and I would sing it all the time walking to and from football practice in grade school. But since we didn’t know the real lyrics, we made up our own: “Please come to Boston/ with me and Steve Austin (The 6 million dollar man)/ and we’ll have a party/ something something fart something.”

4. Dust in the Wind, by: Kansas

Even a straight-laced fifth grader wearing a tie to Catholic school everyday knew this song was about drugs. The lyrics were haunting and heavenly at the same time. I put it in my list because I remember driving home from a Saturday football game with my older brother’s friends and the mom who drove us sang this song like it was her job. Mrs. “H” was a large woman, and she could be rough and intimidating. She wore t-shirts that had cute animals on them that said things like: “I’m so happy I could shit!” Yet, when she sang Dust in the Wind she was as light as a feather, as gentle as a songbird…To this day, whenever I hear it, I think of Mrs. H.

3. Undercover Angel, by: Alan O’Day

I remember hearing this song while piled in the way back of our station wagon on the way to a pool party. There were 4 of us crammed in the back, and one guy started doing some inappropriate gestures in time with the lyrics–pretending his swim towel was a cover and motioning the angel to get underneath it. I had a confused look on my nine-year-old face. “The guy wants to have sex with this lady in the song,” he explained to me. I was shocked. What kind of angel was she? We’re all going to Hell, I thought. But it made me pay more attention to lyrics from then on.

2. Playground In My Mind, by: Clint Holmes

This song holds a special place for me because the beginning talks about a kid named Michael and a girl named Cindy who grow up and get married. It felt cool having my name in a song–a song that made it to number 2 on the Billboard Charts, believe it or not. And, the girl next door was named Cindy and we would go around singing the words and joke about getting married.

1. Seasons in the Sun, by: Terry Jacks

What a maudlin song. It captivated our minds in the ’70s as we went around on our roller skates and Schwinn bikes singing about death. I loved how this guy got to say “Goodbye” to people before he died (That’s my mother’s influence on me). I remember listening to this in a neighbor’s basement, and we all just started bawling. Such melodrama, but remember this was pre-cable TV, so we had to get our kicks wherever we could find them. Quick note–I hate the last line of this song–it’s silly: But the stars that we reached, were just starfish on the beach. Bad imagery. But not as bad as Jacks’ perm.

Honorable Mention:

Three Jolly Fishermen

This classic Boy Scout song is not one that I heard on the radio, but my family used to sing it on the ten minute drive to my grandmother’s house. What I loved about this song was we all got to curse. The last line talks about the three fishermen going down the AmsterDAM: AMster, Amster, dam, dam ,dam. Oh, how we screamed that part:)