I’ve touched on music quite a bit in my posts, but I don’t think I’ve fully conveyed how important of a presence in my life it is.
I grew up listening to mom’s oldies, Motown and others from that era, and Dad’s classic rock. I also grew up listening to him play his guitar, and his side of the family playing songs from their childhood together.
I remember my first radio, and listening first to Country because that’s what I knew from riding the bus. (I wouldn’t even dream of listening to that genre now – unless I’m drunk haha.) And then a local station that played newer music – Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, Seal, you know, safe to play in mixed company music. It wasn’t a key part of my life, however. I didn’t start to really appreciate music until I was in my early teens, and then it was pretty superficial pop music. My first CD’s were TLC’s CrazySexyCool and Mariah Carey’s Daydream. Before that my first cassettes were Hanson and Spice Girls. I knew music, due to my parents varying interests. But I did not hold their interests. Yes, I was that late 90s girl, with Backstreet Boys and ‘Nsync posters plastering my walls. The only difference between me and the majority of the girls of my generation were that I gravitated to the more rugged of the pop groups; the ones with the piercings and tattoos and wild hair. Soon I began to dabble in rap and R & B; Nelly and DMX, Eve, Trina and Lil Kim, and then I found Eminem. It seemed my parents varying interests had rubbed off on me. I could listen to anything and everything, as long as it had a good beat. I also sang in the choir and loved the feeling of the group’s acapella tones blending to become one sound. We competed in state wide competitions and while I was too shy to ever pull off a solo, my voice becoming weak and shaky and off pitch any time I tried, I was in the top choir in my school. Music is in my blood, it seems.
I did get up enough courage to do a piece with my best friend in high school, a piece I wrote the lyrics for and he came up with the melody for on his guitar. We did perform it, and there’s footage in school archives somewhere. I also got up the courage to sing it in front of family one night. It was Dad and one of my uncle’s, I know that for sure. And I was more nervous to sing it in front of them, acapella, than up on the stage in front of an auditorium full of people. The lyrics had something to do with self confidence, and my uncle commented on that, saying there was a problem if I lacked confidence. Later in life me and my friend made an attempt at a band, him still on guitar and me still on vocals. We were called Victim of Environment and sang angsty, sometimes angry songs about hardships. I specifically remember sitting in a park in Adrian at night, him on a park bench, me on the ground, singing. We had a handful of songs and did a handful of practices, but then I became pregnant with Matt and we abandoned the idea.
Between my pop/rap/R & B days and my friend and my band, I found rock music. I knew the old stuff from Dad, and some of the new from my brother – AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin from dad and stuff like Prong and Tool and Marilyn Manson from Aaron, but none of it really spiked my interest. Until my first break up. And then the angry lyrics hit home. I was 16 and starting to find that someone wrote about all of the unspoken stuff I felt so often. Anger and hurt, sadness. Pop music was a lot of the good feelings, the school dances and cute boys, and being in love. But life has a darker side. Rejection and unpopularity, people not really getting you. I found Staind and Creed and Disturbed best described these feelings for me. In Incubus I found lyrics that explained how ugly the world is but how you can overcome it by being yourself, and loving, no matter what. Once I found music, I always had headphones in. I played soccer, so I ran a lot. Always with music. I rode the bus and it was a long ride home. I had music. I had a lot of chores, and music helped me through those, too. I still listened to popular music, but not as frequently, because popular music didn’t really get me like rock and alternative did. I found Papa Roach and Godsmack, and Sully Erna was so much hotter than the guys in the boy bands. Slowly these posters replaced the others, and I wrote Limp Bizkit and Korn lyrics in marker on my bed frame, much to my mother’s dismay. “Do you even know what ‘Nookie’ means?!” She asked me upon discovering the graffiti. “Its just the name of a song I like,” I answered, diverting. If she knew that A.D.I.D.A.S. was an acronym for “All day I dream about sex” (another song title) and not referring to the shoe brand! I really had no interest in sex at the time. I genuinely just liked how the songs sounded. She took it to my dad, who just shrugged. He’d sat and watched Woodstock ’99 with us when they aired parts on TV – he liked a lot of the bands, too.
Dad always let us listen to what we wanted. He never payed attention to what was age appropriate, or gender appropriate. He believed that music is kind of a spiritual thing. You listen to what you’re feeling, and it’s beneficial for you. And really, who was he to limit what we chose to listen to, when from the ages of 6 and 8 we knew all the words to AC/DC’s album Ballbreaker, because that was his album of choice on road trips to my grandparents?
As I stated in the beginning, I grew up listening to my dad play his guitar. He was truly phenomenal. I would fall asleep to the strum of the strings and wake up to it. There were times dad would rush in the door from work and immediately pull out his guitar and begin playing something he had heard during the day or that had been stuck in his head. He originally played the violin, starting because he had injured a major muscle in his arm and the doctor recommended violin to strengthen it. He ended up with a guitar, and had an excersise from way back then that could have been a song itself, with how beautiful it sounded. I would watch his fingers slide along the strings, and jump from one chord to another in awe. To me, no one played like my dad. He regularly played “Red House” by Jimi Hendrix, and the first time I heard the actual song played and sang by Jimi I hated it. I hated the way the original performer played and sang because he didn’t sound like my dad. A little mind blowing, if you ask me.
My favorite memories are of my dad, aunts, uncles and grandparents getting together and playing old bluegrass songs. Once upon a time they played on a radio station quite regularly. Everyone played or sang, and it was absolutely amazing to see and hear and feel all of that talent in one space and know that’s where I came from.
As I grew older, I found more and more how music transformed me. I could go from feeling lazy to feeling ready to conquer the world. From sad to happy. A song could transport me, make me remember someone I hadn’t thought about in ages. I grew to love that classic rock my dad so often listened to, and I was enthralled with the history of Motown. As more tragedy filled my life, I searched for more raw sounds, finding Slipknot and Mudvayne, finally liking Tool. As I grew more experienced in life I found even more that rock and alternative explained my day to day. Occasionally I drifted back to more popular music, or back to the older stuff my parents listened to, and i have found some newer blues and folky stuff, but my go to has been rock for many years.
And I have a special fondness for guitar, because the instrument was like air in my home growing up.
Dad bought me a guitar shortly after Matt was born, and I gave learning a shot. Dad had started to teach me when I was about 18, and I knew a few chords, but not enough to play a song. He found a lesson book for me too, one that he approved of, when he gave me the guitar. I now lived too far away for him to teach me, but he gave me the tools. And what an enchanting instrument! I cried when he gave it to me, kind of honored that he wanted me to learn. I was probably 22 or so by then. And then when I got it home, I took it out and just stared at it. My very own guitar! Matt was little and kept trying to touch it. I playfully told him if he didn’t leave it alone, I’d break his fingers. He must have caught the serious edge to my voice – not that I would actually break his fingers, but that I really didn’t want him to touch it. Because he never touched it again. I commenced trying to teach myself to play, getting to a point where I could almost switch chords without looking at my finger placement. I would occasionally call dad and play the excersises for him over the phone, and he always said I was doing well. But my time was so limited – single mother with a full time job and a child in the beginning stages or ADHD and ODD wasn’t exactly conducive to learning an instrument. The progress was slow.
Dad got very sick, and was even hooked up to a ventilator. He had attempted to quit drinking, and it had thrown his body into shock and he literally almost died from withdrawals. He did pull through it though, and his first request was for me to bring him my guitar. I shamefully told him it was out of tune, and I had tried to tune it but made it worse. He asked me to bring him his wallet, and gave me enough money for a new set of strings, telling me specifically what type and brand to buy. Once I did that, I was to bring him the guitar and new strings. And a thin pick. Which I did. He wasn’t feeling well that day, and I set it in the corner of his room and kissed his forehead and told him to get some rest, promising I would call him later. Which I did. The nurse informed me he was sleeping. Apparently, despite feeling horrible, he had restrung the guitar, tuned it, and proceeded to go around to rooms in the Ann Arbor VA hospital, playing requests for people. I wasn’t even mad that he was asleep and we couldn’t talk. I knew then that he was on the mend, and was insanely proud to call that man my father, despite the rough childhood we had due to his addictions.
If you know anything about instruments, specifically guitars, you know that new strings go out of tune easily as they stretch naturally. So shortly after that, my guitar now home, I picked it up to find it out of tune yet again. I called dad to see if he could tune it and teach me to tune it next time I visited.
“We’ll just tune it right now, ” he said.
“I have to leave for work in like half an hour. . .? What do you mean tune it now?”
“Play the bottom string.” I hurriedly got the instrument out and did as he said. He instructed me to turn a specific peg a quarter turn. Then the top string and another peg. Then the middle string and then the 5th string and then the 4th string. Back and forth we went for about 3 minutes and then he instructed me to play a G. Perfectly in tune. Shocked, I thanked him and got off the phone to head to work. My dad just tuned a guitar over the phone. His talent never ceased to amaze me.
It’s been roughly ten years that I’ve been trying to play the guitar, and I still can’t play a damn thing. But sometimes I get it out just to feel the strings under my fingers, play a chord or two just to hear it. Dad never did teach me to tune it, but shortly after he passed I did successfully do so without the aide of anything but my ear. I guess if you study a sound enough, if it’s an integral part of your life, you can just pick a skill up.
I don’t know what I would have done with myself in so many of lifes battles and triumphs if it hadn’t had music to lean on. People come and go. People say things and don’t mean it, or don’t back it up, or bail when things get hard. People move or they pass away. But no matter what, music is forever. Music has never once let me down or broken my heart or disappeared. It doesn’t judge, or say nasty things or raise its hand in anger. It soothes and lifts my spirits and gives me determination and strength, or calms my nerves with just a note of a familiar song. It focuses me, and entertains me and is steady and reliable. Music pumps through my veins and keeps me going in the worst times and the best. And I will forever be grateful to my family for this undying love they have given me.