Thursday, June 4, 2009
Sitting here this morning, listening to The Pretenders, I realize I have not been entirely fair. David will argue with me about this, but I think that I do owe my father one very important thanks. Probably a great deal more, but right now, I am thinking of his record collection.
He didn't leave it for me. Rather, when he moved to NYC, he left it at my grandparents' house. There, it sat in a cabinet in the basement until I rediscovered it one day.
One of the few interactions I can remember having with my father was about Heart of Glass by Blondie. He was a big music fan and fancied himself a musician. Still does, apparently. It's not that he was any good, but he did have good taste in music. I think he had good taste in lifestyle as well. He was a young man in the early 80s, when there was so much good music, and New York City looked as glossy as it did gritty - just the right mix. And who exemplified this more than Debbie Harry? I think no one.
I don't remember how old I was, but I do remember him listening to the record in my grandparents' living room. And I remember standing in the doorway, listening. I really liked Blondie, the way a young child likes music. Like my daughter loves The Scissor Sisters, Weezer and Vampire Weekend. The lyrics of songs do not inform her life as much as they are informed by it. There are a great many things about which my 7-year-old has no idea. And those things are the topics of a great many good songs. She makes up pictures in her head to make sense of the words. I did the same thing.
I guess I was singing or something. I don't recall how it happened, but for just a moment, my father spoke to me like I was really there and like I mattered. He seemed slightly impressed. Maybe he thought I was something like him after all. I don't know. Maybe he realized we were actually related for a second and I just didn't appear from nothing to send his life skittering off track. I really can't say.
But he gave me his two Blondie albums. Maybe it's because, like any little girl trying to stand out to her father, I seemed awed a bit by him. If anything, that is probably what he liked best. Little children can make small grown people feel mightily important.
When he left for NYC, he didn't take a lot with him. There'd been this incident a few years before in which he threatened to kidnap me and never let his parents see me again if they didn't give him some money. It didn't go well for him. His parental rights were taken away, according to my mother, and I wasn't allowed to be alone in a room with him. Before that, he'd sometimes come take me to a movie. I can remember the previews of a movie I saw with him. A huge paper cup emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo spun slowly on the screen, condensation pouring down the sides. That's what I remember, Coke. More often than not, he'd not show up and I'd sit at the end of the sidewalk of our house on Fairmont Ave. and wait.
After the "threat", though, even that didn't happen anymore. It's hard to sit now and piece all of that together. It was so long ago and I was a kid. I guess I was somewhat protected from the truth, but then, my mother wields her personal truth like a cudgel and no one is immune from its blows. Probably I knew more than I should have. Probably I struggled to make sense of it. At any rate, I didn't really see him anymore after that. Except that one time in my grandparents' living room, even though he lived in an apartment in their basement, until he left for good.
I don't know why he didn't take his albums with him. He left most everything behind. Breaking free, I think. Starting completely over. Reinventing himself into a person more to his liking. There were hundreds of albums left in the basement. My grandparents' kept them forever, because they were his and one day, he might come back for them. I knew that wasn't going to happen, but I was glad they were there.
I was like a mini-archeologist, in search of some previously unknown, forgotten people, sorting through all the albums, meticulously scrutinizing every inch of cover art. The Tom Tom Club. Talking Heads. The Clash. Elvis Costello. The Pretenders. The Police. It was years before I actually took one home and listened to it. For the longest time, the records, stacked in the cabinet smelling of cardboard and Ivory Snow, existed for me in every way except the one in which they were most intended.
The music became my father to me. Although I could not picture him or hear is voice (and still can't), I could hear the voices and sounds he chose to surround himself with.
And they were good. Any port in a storm. I took what I could get.