Our listener Thomas is turning 37 this month and in anticipation he wrote this letter reminiscing about his father.
Dear Bob and Coe,
It's my 37th birthday in 5 days. So hard to wrap my head around the reality of it all. How exactly does one one go from a happy 7 year old fishing and camping with his Dad, to a young aspiring 17 year old still fishing and camping with Dad, but more and more interested in sitting around with my Dad possessed by the blue glow and sound coming from his Mirantz system while we played cards.Then a 27 year old playing guitar, drinking beers, fishing, camping, playing cards and still of course listening to the magic that came from my Dad's sound system.
My Dad introduced me to, educated me on, passed down and bestowed the privilage to hear the greatest sounds known to man. An arrangement of words, beats, notes, chords, noise, that for the right listener at the right time could transport you to to a different place and time, a different universe even. Nurture and sow future dreams and aspirations. Heal from wounds, failures and let downs of the past. Feel the touch and presence of a loved one long gone. Engulf you as love forms and cuddle you as hearts break.
From Elvis, Ray Charles, Diana Ross, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Hollies, Dick Dale, The Ventures, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Linda Ronstadt, Heart, Bonnie Raitt, Maxx Webster, Poco, Outlaws, Marshall Tucker Band, Bob Seger, Elton John, Living Colour, Ratt, Rossington Collins, Skynard, Stone Temple Pilots, Van Halen, Blue Oyster Cult, Kiss, The Eagles, REM, John Denver, Doobie Brothers, Foreigner, Fleetwood Mac, Jim Croce, Joe Satriani, Alice in Chains, Neil Young, Roy Buchannan, Steely Dan, Chick Corea, Dizzie Gillespie, Clint Black, Randy Travis, Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams Sr., Jr and III, U2, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Amos Lee, David Bowie, Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane, CSN (and Y mentioned twice), Sheryl Crowe, Natalie Merchant, Supertramp, Mountain, Deep Purple, Hendrix, Ethridge, Joplin, Dylan, Haggard, Tower of Power, Abba, YES, ELO, AWB, BeeGees, Dave Mason, Frank Zappa, Guns N Roses.
For the sake of your time (and of course you know this, that's why I love listening to you two) I could go on and on and on...
Oh yeah there is one more that deserves a very special mention. Maybe the most influential musician and songwriter to me personally... The one and only Billy Joel.
I think I knew the words to My Life and Big Shot before I could tell you our first 5 presidents or my multipication tables.
I remember watching Billy Joel play Yankee stadium on HBO in 1990 and 20 years later Last play at Shea. My Dad and I standing up, rocking out, beers in hand. We were equipped with Air guitars, head nods and a sometimes missed lyric but undoubtedly in perfect unison and harmony with our band leader, Billy Joel.
There was just something so timeless, so epic, just so damn cool about Billy Joel. His real, raw, refined connection he made with me on every song he ever put out. that connected me to every song I ever had heard from the Piano Man.
I also distinctly remember playing pool with my Dad in our garage and my Dad breaking out his brand new River of Dreams CD that my Stepmom Pat had bought him. I don't know if it was me being an awkward 13 year old trying to rebel and branch out, but I told my Dad that I hated the song River of Dreams. I said it was so cheesy. For some reason I aquainted it with The Lion King, Elton Johns 'Can you feel the love tonight' and that corny 'Meem-A-wap-a-meem-a-wap' In the Jungle song.
I remember my Dad sighing and saying "Oh son, I'm dissapointed. I thought Dad taught you better then that."
My Dad tightened up and ran the table as I sat back and without any choice was humbled as the soulful essence of what became one of my favorite songs had me longing for more.
After my Dad sunk the 8 ball (side pocket)and River of Dreams ended I proclaimed to my Dad proudly, loudly and with no uncertain doubt that 'Billy Joel is the all time greatest American songwriter' and asked if I could borrow his new CD. To which he smiled and did indeed lend me.
Flash foward 23 years later and one of the greatest days of my life was about to present itself in form of a present from my Dad and my Stepmom JoEllen. Two tickets to see Billy Joel for the first time in our backyard at Petco Park the day before my 36th birthday.
My Dad told me he wanted me to take a friend, a date, who ever I wanted and he meant it. Well I also meant when I said there was only one choice I would ever, could ever want to make. My Pops and I were going to Billy Joel and oh did we ever.
Admist a period that had become my most lonely, sad, disconnected time here on earth as I was going thru a divorce, had my babies taken from me (my dogs and cats), lost my job, was for the first time in my life I was becoming unwillingly and unwantingly more and more distant and shut off from everyone and everything in my life. Even my favorite Man in the world whom I love the most, my Dad. The magic of Billy Joels song, in that atmosphere with the man who had given it to me all was the most wonderful, uplifting, spiritual, rejoicing revival and celebration of life, love and liberty.
Words can never quite capture the hairs standing on edge, the gratefullness of another day here on God's green earth in my hometown with my Dad and Billy Joel.
There were two sad moments during that concert in which my Dad and I both wept tears of joy and sadness. When Billy Joel played 'Only the good die young' (heck, the flood gates opened up right as I write this listening to Joel and putting myself back there) and we both instantly thought of my Grandpa Bob Atkins and wished he was there with us and again when 'She's always a woman' played and I could see my Dad tear up and he said "This was Patty's song" referring to my Stepmom Pat who had passed over a decade before and we both missed and wished she also was there.
Then River of dreams hit, and I nudged my Dad thinking about our family, life in general and our pool game that one Sunday afternoon.
"Ehhh, this isnt my favorite song. Kind of a dud." My dad said nonchalantly.
"What Dad? Are you kidding me? You loved that song. You played the hell out it." I shot back.
"Ehhh, it's pretty bubble gum..." he insisted.
Jaw dropped, I found myself in a minor debate with my Dad in the middle of the Billy Joel concert.
"Oh Dad, I'm dissapointed." I said simaltaneoiusly recognizing the slight sadness in my Dads face uplift coinciding with the sudden stoppage and change in the music right dab smack in the middle of 'River of Dreams'. For whatever reason, I never heard him play it before, Billy Joel stopped River of dreams and played (i'm quite sure just for us) what is a family anthem of ours, the first song my Dad taught me to play on the guitar and a reminder of in life to "Take it Easy"
It might not seem like anything to anyone else, but for my Dad and most certainly I can speak for me say this was the most wonderful, unexpected birthday present I had ever received as I knew Grandpa Bob, Pat, and all of our loved ones gone from earth or not were right there with us in the presence of God and Billy Joel.
I had my arm around my Dad, both of us singing as we were as always 'Keeping the Faith' and knew that no matter what the true greatest gift was this blessing granted to us; life and the solace we keep in knowing that thru each other; our family and friends, and all of his children we were all connected by love, compassion and music -nothing could break us.
I even told my Dad, as I pointed up to the San Diego Skyline and pointed at the top floor penthouse of the tallest one that 'Someday Dad, I promise, all of this is going to be ours. We are going to be the ones living up there.'
It wasn't just lip service, I meant it and have carried that renewed spirit the absolute best I could ever since. It hasn't happened yet, but in this River of dreams as we yearn to be closer to God seaching for his presence and makeup of our souls anythings possible.
A year later if I could have one birthday wish come true for me this upcoming 37th, it would be to be able to treat my Dad and thank him for being the man he is and to let him know he is beyond a shadow of a doubt the greatest Dad a son could ever hope for. Capture some more time together and a little bit more of that Piano Man Magic.
Life is great! Love you guys, thanks for the positivity and love you put into the world.
PS- My Dad bought me a poster that night and the next morning I asked him and my Stepmom to sign it. He laughed, I assured him I was serious as I handed him a sharpie. Would I want Billy Joel's autograph? duh of course! but if I have the greatest man in the worlds signature on there that would mean EVERYTHING!!! And it does!!!