Posts Tagged ‘Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’

Songs I wish my Dad had sung me

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

As Kurt Vonnegut Jnr. once wrote, children of suicides seldom do well. My own father took this particular option when I was eleven or so, and I guess I’ve done variably. I was angry with him for a long time, but eventually I started to miss him. One of the things I miss is that he used to be really fucking good on the 12 string. He sang beautifully too, and his music taste was about the same as mine eventually became. He had a band for a while (he was at University in Dunedin in the late seventies and early eighties, after all) but I haven’t got any recordings of that, nor any of his own songs, if he ever wrote them. The only tape I’ve got has him playing and singing ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘Sounds of Silence’ like a true-blue middle-class hippie. I play guitar and banjo but he and I never played together, though sometimes back then I used to sing along – I sang in church, and with choir, and for Christmas, and sometimes with him. Though not often, since he preferred an audience to a team.

So this post is for Dr. David Kenealy. There’s a lot I wish we could have said to each other, Dad. Here are some of the things I wish you’d said to me.

First off: Loudon Wainwright III, Rufus is a Tit Man

Okay guys, I know this is a creepy as fuck song, but this seemed far more appropriate than any of those ones where Loudon tries to prove that he doesn’t *ahem* suck as a parent. Dad didn’t smoke, of course (because it caused cancer) but he was a giant child, just like Loudon, as well as being reflexively sexist. I’d love it if, somewhere, there was record of him admitting that!

And while we’re listening to Wainwright, I’ll admit that I prefer his cover of

Peter Blegvad’s, Daughter

It’s the line “I lost every time I fought her” that really gets me. In my little girl heart, I sometimes imagine my dad would have been proud of how smart I am. And I know we would have fought like fuck about politics. But I would have won, because everything I believe is a logical extension of things he taught, or failed to teach me. He, like me, was a science fiction humanist, so he wavered between accidental libertarian-nerdcore and bleeding heart fucking liberal. In some quarters, particularly in low-income areas that weren’t getting the attention they needed from public health, my dad is still remembered as a hero. In this fantasy, he offers me his respect.

As I say, I’ll admit to preferring the Loudon Wainwright III cover, and I was going to compound the uncomfortably intimacy of this post by using on of the many YouTube vids made of people’s daughters, to the song (usually as gifts, apparently.) There are so many, but I couldn’t decide which one. Not to mention the fact that it seemed a bit off to imbricate a loving gift to a child into an adult’s blog post about suicide. So you’ve just got Loudon. (UPDATE: And bonus daughter, Lucy Wainwright Roche, singing with him on ‘You Can’t Fail Me Now,’ if you care to stick around.)

Next up we have Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus singing Butterfly fly Away

As my husband puts it, Miley is singing to everyone else, but Billy Ray is singing to her.

And now for Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Rest of the Dream

I wasn’t a planned child at all, it’s just that my dad was Catholic. But then, my mum says they really, really loved each other, so maybe it wasn’t all bad. Maybe they would have gotten married anyway, even without me. She says they were happy together, some of the time.

And then, Bruce Springsteen’s Long Time Comin’

We’re all fucked up by our parents, you know. I might have been fucked up by mine, but they were fucked up theirs just as much. Dad and I might have talked about that, one day. We’re pretty similar. I’m a lot like my mum, but I’m my dad’s kid too: a combination of comic books, Warren Zevon, and being extremely suspicious of people that love you. The difference is, I’m trying to change. Dad might have done that too, maybe.

Lastly, Dave Dobbyn, Beside You

I always liked this song, even as I fully acknowledge its twee, advertisey kiwiana-ness. It’s just that lyrically, it reminds me of my Dad. My mum agrees, and in fact that’s why I first heard it.

You see, Dad was pretty useless a lot of the time. He was wildly intelligent, but he was also very selfish, and applying his intelligence to overcoming this selfishness, for his kids, or for whichever one of his wives, never really occurred to him. I think he regretted that though, (in fact, one assumes that committing suicide was probably indicative of some of those regrets.) But that’s kind of what this song is about.

Also, I like it because I remember travelling with him on the “blinding Desert Road” when I was little. Dad liked James Taylor a lot, and I remember him thrashing the shit out of ‘Fire and Rain’ while the sky got darker and the layers of rock seemed higher than I could see. They were shot through with orange sunlight, like the dusk was carrying them away to some other place. I was so small then that the world was huge, and my dad always drove like he was in a road movie.

My Dad did a lot of shit like it was a movie. Then it ended. I guess that was what happened. Movies end. So do blog posts.