My childhood had a soundtrack. Saturday afternoons with my dad’s records on in the background: Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Neil Young, Paul Simon. He had a huge boom box too, a silver and black monstrosity with a tape deck and AM/FM radio that he lugged outdoors for projects like car washing and garage cleaning, but it also came with us on summer vacations. When portable CD players were first becoming popular he would hook his up to the boom box with some kind of audio cassette contraption that I guess took the place of an auxiliary cord. He would light our small charcoal grill and blast what we called his “cooking music”, usually a group called Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (otherwise known as the band Yes minus one member), but sometimes other conglomerations of names, Fleetwood Mac or Crosby, Stills & Nash. I came to love my dad’s music. I memorized Phil Collins songs and aspired to play my flute on one foot, just like the guy in Jethro Tull.
Unsurprisingly, my sisters and I fell asleep to music each night. Sometimes we would pop in a tape that one of us had purchased with our own money, Amy Grant, perhaps, or Bryan Adams. More often you’d find on our bedside tables an open cassette case with words scrawled in my dad’s all-caps engineer’s handwriting: Billy Joel, “Storm Front”. Don Henley, “The End of the Innocence”. Carole King, “Tapestry”.
As we grew, my dad supported his daughters’ evolving musical tastes. When I was in my early teens he brought me to see Ben Folds Five and Beck, and even sat with me in the fourth row of a Bush concert so I could drool over Gavin Rossdale and tearfully proclaim my love for him. I could thank my dad for a million things, but the way he encouraged and cultivated my love of music is high on the list.
It was no mistake that I married a fellow music lover. When I met my husband in 2005, Phish was in the middle of a five year hiatus. It wasn’t until 2009, shortly before the birth of our first child, that I was even aware of the depth of his love for a band I knew very little about. It’s hard to say how our courtship would have turned out had they been touring at the time, but as it was we spent our dating years attending live shows that appealed to one of us or the other: Nickel Creek, Less than Jake, Old Crow Medicine Show, Tom Petty, Birdmonster.
When we married, my husband and I walked down the aisle to a Trey Anastasio instrumental. At the reception, my dad toasted us with lyrics from “Mekong,” one of our favorite songs by mid-90s band The Refreshments, who my dad and I had seen perform live when I was in the 7th grade: “As cliche as it may sound/ I’d like to raise another round/ And if your bottle’s empty help yourself to mine/Thank you for your time/ Here’s to life.” That chorus still gives me chills. It was the most appropriate way in the world for my dad to give me away, a symbol of all we shared and all I would continue to share with my new and growing family.
When our first baby was born, we named her Magnolia Joy. Matt sang her “Sugar Magnolia,” “Maggie May,” “Joy,” by the newly reformed Phish: “We want you to be happy, don’t live inside the gloom/ We want you to be happy, come step outside your room/ We want you to be happy ’cause this is your song too.” My choice was Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”, but I couldn’t make it through without tearing up: “Well, I’ve been afraid of changing/ ‘Cause I’ve built my life around you/ But time makes you bolder/ Even children get older/ And I’m getting older too.”
Her lullabies were the songs we wanted her infant ears to hear and remember always, and though the catalog has grown, she still asks for her favorites, “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Wagon Wheel,” “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” “Hallelujah”. And now there are special songs for Ceci, too, the obvious Simon and Garfunkel tune, and a new one, “Cecilia and the Satellite,” by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. When I asked her, just now, what song she likes best at bedtime, her answer was “Lean on Me”. (Alex’s lullabies, thus far, are the sound of us watching The Walking Dead while she drifts off in her bouncy seat. Such is the life of a third child. But we’ll get there.)
Like my dad created my childhood soundtrack, we are creating our children’s. There is music in the kitchen as we cook, playing while we swim in our pool, music to accompany us on the car ride to and from school each day. We dance, in our house. We sing. We usher in the night the best we can, with the sounds of our own voices. We don’t always remember to say our prayers, but we never forget to sing. I suppose they aren’t that different.