Ohio living room,1970
Songs tend to get stuck in my head, becoming earworms that linger for what seems like hours. I’ve even woken up in the middle of the night with music on my mind. I can’t help but wonder why the underpinning of my consciousness loads a particular piece of music.
Sometimes I try to figure it out. Maybe I heard a slice of it when a car stopped next to me at a traffic light or it burbled from restaurant speakers when I stopped for lunch. Sometimes I make a game of trying to find a hidden metaphor in lyric, mood, or memory that’s relevant to my day. This is surprisingly easy to do.
Today, simply walking into a room, my mind’s playlist came up with a tender song I haven’t heard in decades: Never My Love by The Association.
It took me right back to my childhood home. Most evenings my schoolteacher father sat in an armchair grading papers. I liked to sit on the floor with my back against his chair, reading a book in the same warm circle of lamplight. On those nights he played music like Only You by The Platters, Happy Together by The Turtles, Cherish by The Association, Both Sides Now by Judy Collins, So Far Away by Carole King, and just about anything by Burt Bacharach.
My father loved all kinds of music. In college he was nicknamed “Pitch Pipe” – a play on his surname Piper and an homage to his perfect pitch. When my siblings and I were tiny he’d turn the stereo up so we could dance to big band music, the score from a musical, or a classical standard. He’d sing along, harmonizing against the melody. Without a shred of self-consciousness he’d lift up his arms to conduct a particularly tantalizing portion of Bach or Mozart. And sometimes after dinner a song would come on the radio and he’d dance with my mother, both of them smiling as they swooped around the scuffed kitchen linoleum.
My father’s father died when my dad was only five years old. The rest of my father’s childhood was steeped in poverty and shadowed, always, by his father’s absence. The only thing my dad owned of his father’s was a guitar, which he taught himself to play. Supervising little kids’ baths was one of my dad’s chores in the parental division of duties, so he’d sit on the toilet lid singing and strumming that guitar while we played in the tub. My splashy siblings and I sang right along with him to tunes like You Are My Sunshine and Let Me Call You Sweetheart. We also sang college fight songs he remembered from his student days, lyrics edited for little ears.
I don’t know what it means that I’m hearing Never My Love. Most likely something below the surface of my awareness triggered a childhood memory. But I prefer to think it’s a form of connection that lasts even when death separates us.
I’m singing it aloud Dad. I’m singing it for you.