A Father’s Day Blog
Last month, I wrote about the connections that my mother and I have found through music. That led me to thinking this month about me and my dad. Although I had thought about it for awhile, I couldn’t quite figure out how we had forged a musical relationship, and it should have been more obvious to me because he was the person in the house who could always sit down and play a song.
Then yesterday, I went out to two free concerts. I couldn’t believe these happened on the same day, both for free, because the two artists are the ones who are never taken off my mp3 player, ever. That’s what happens when you live in Toronto I guess. First, I went to see Kathleen Edwards downtown as part of the Luminato Festival, and then I raced over to the Roncy Rocks Festival on Roncesvalles to see NQ Arbuckle. (An aside: these two acts share a bass player, John Dinsmore, who, despite a broken finger, seemed to get there faster than me and zip through the sets no problem.)
They were two very different venues. The square where Kathleen Edwards played had a big stage around which the audience gathered on grass, benches, concrete, etc., and we were all surrounded by L’Oreal tents where people were getting their hair done, Kia displays of cars, and general city traffic. At times, she was drowned out by passing fire trucks. I think the band was hot (like, boiling in the sun) because they were pretty subdued and avoided the uptempo songs. It was still a good set, and surprisingly enjoyable with a big crowd there.
NQ played on a side street, with the stage under a tent only three feet away from the crowd, who sat on a small incline of grass. Cyclists paused behind the band to watch before they went on their way, dogwalkers anchored their pets to a tree and laid back on the hill, it felt all community and local, you know, those things we think are great and ‘lost’ to the typical urban experience these days.
I think the dogs are a nice touch.
That feeling was exacerbated by the arrival of lead singer Neville Quinlan’s wife and son, who he greeted early in the set. The two of them sat down at the front on the curb, and then his son leaned his little three-year old self into her to watch his dad perform, a scene that briefly made me teary. And then I realized, ah, that’s it. My dad is what NQ is to his son. Somebody that you watch play music, in awe.
(That said, I don’t quite remember running fast, giant, almost-accident-causing circles around my dad while he performed on an outdoor stage, but anyway it was the same general experience.)
My dad didn’t play a lot when we were growing up, what with his full-time job and several kids demanding to be driven to activities when he got home, but when he did, he typically knocked out a rendition of the theme to The Apartment, or another song whose title I can’t remember now, on the piano:
to which we would all dance or hum along, depending on where we were in the house. It’s still one of his signature songs, just like “Axel F” is for my brother.
Other times he would drag out his guitar and play some rollicking, finger-picked tune and we would look on in amazement at how fast he could pluck the strings.
On rarer occasions, he would (and still does) burst into song (and sometimes chortle away halfway through) or dance to whatever was playing on the TV or stereo.
So while my mother and I talked about our teen idols or gossiped about the latest pop music stars, and sometimes sang along to the radio, my dad and I had a different musical relationship. Strangely enough, even though we now spend a lot of our time talking about artists and music history, him telling me tales of how he followed Leonard Cohen through Montreal one day or organized music cafes with his friend in university, we didn’t actually talk that much about music when I was a kid. Our talking time was largely spent in the car, driving from activity to school to activity again, and was dominated by other things: jobs, homework, books, stories from the day, the family. I’m sure he was very grateful when I stopped making the absurd request that we take a particular route home that went by the house of a boy I had a crush on, a request that went on for several years in elementary school.
Still, I wanted to be able to play a powerful piece by memory on the piano the way he did with “The Apartment”. And I wanted to be able to pick up the guitar and play it. Indeed, it was my dad who taught me my first chords on the guitar with Rod Stewart’s “Reason to Believe”, and then taught me Travis picking soon after, using his old nylon string that was a gift from my mom when they were dating. I’ll always be grateful that the first chords he made me learn were C, F, and G, because I probably would have been afraid of bar chords otherwise. Since it was all I had, I was forced to practice F the hard way.
When I moved out, he let me take that nylon string guitar for awhile, I’m sure knowing that I’d never even come close to being the rock (or folk) star I envisioned I’d be, but not wanting to discourage any progress I might have been making. For years, that was the guitar I’d drag out at parties when several beers had convinced me that I could sing. And when I finally got my own, it went to my brother and then the brother after him, who each created their own bands, then after a series of personnel changes, formed what I call a ‘supergroup’ of the remaining members of both.
See what you did, Dad? Good job. Even if we’re not rolling in rock (or folk) star dough, we’ve all made music a central part of our lives and are all the richer for it. Wonder if you thought that would happen back when we took this picture: