Music to roll you into your weekend ….

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This post was all set to go last week, and then got sidelined by an annoying commercial. Now, though, the music is demanding its fifteen seconds, and nothing can stand it its way. Every year, I create my personal list of the top forty songs of the previous year …. It all started in 2014, with my Top 40 of 2013. I created the list and presented it to Ryan, who adores both music and lists, and was therefore happy to listen to every song. Even the shitty ones (yes, I like shitty music – but that’s ok because I don’t care what you think. My #1 song from 2013 was – and still is, because I still dig it – “Just Give Me A Reason” by P!nk and Nate Ruess. I love the idea of picking up the pieces, examining them, cleaning them, repairing them – and putting them back together to keep the show on the road – rather than leaving them where they fell and moving on to whatever’s around the corner. I love the hope and heart in that song. Real love, the stuff that doesn’t quit when the going gets tough.

I’m presenting my Top 40 of last year later than ever, simply because I have not been sharing like I used to. But I’m back, and ready to rock! So, without further ado, here is my Top 40 of 2016, with links so you can listen and enjoy (or hate – whatever):

40. “Me, Too” by Meghan Trainor

39. “One Call Away” by Charlie Puth

38. “Mess Around” by Cage the Elephant

37. “Don’t Wanna Know” by Maroon 5

36. “New Romantics” by Taylor Swift

35. “Never Be Like You” by Flume & Kai

34. “Vice” by Miranda Lambert

33. “Hide Away” by Daya

32. “Pen to Paper” by Modern Space

31. “Like I Would” by Zayn

30. “That’s My Girl” by Fifth Harmony

29. “Genghis Khan” by Miike Snow

28. “Get Ugly” by Jason Derulo

27. “7 Years” by Lukas Graham

26. “Lost Boy” by Ruth B

25. “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” by Adele

24. “Sound of Your Heart” by Shawn Hook

23. “Good to be Alive” by Andy Grammer

22. “Roses” by Chainsmokers & ROZES

21. “The Greatest” by Sia & Kendrick Lamar

20. “Gold” by Ria Mae

19. “Me, Myself & I” by G-Eazy & Bebe Rexha

18. “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber

17. “Under the Influence” by Elle King

16. “Woman Woman” by AWOLNATION

15. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake

14. “When We Were Young” by Adele

13. “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw

12.”24K Magic” by Bruno Mars

11. “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors

10. “Might Not” by Belly & The Weeknd

9. “Just Like Fire” by P!nk

8. “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna

7. “Can I Get a Witness” by SonReal

6. “Hold Up” by Beyoncé

5. “Burning House” by Cam

4. “Team” by Iggy Azalea

3. “Stand By You” by Rachel Platten

2. “Yellow Eyes” by Rayland Baxter

If you’re still with me – and why wouldn’t you be? These are awesome tunes, right? So, if you’re still here, I give you this energetic offering from a fellow Canadian …. Every time that song comes on the radio, from the first time I heard it to the last time (a couple of days ago), I get jacked up. Bet you will, too. Happy dancing!

1. “Got Your Number” by Serena Ryder

It’s Friday! Here, have some music ….

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So, I’ve been meaning to post this for a while …. First, I had some thoughts on the Jian Ghomeshi trial that I had to share. (Because I have to share all the things.) Then, I thought I might post it after the Grammys because it’s topical. However, there was the office, chores, a massive snowstorm. My beloved Aunt Audrey and Uncle Gus flew in for a few hours. Fiona and Bridget brought home their report cards. Report cards used to involve a brief parental perusal of a few letters and numbers, and maybe four or five lines about how the kid has potential if only they’d sit still and listen. Or maybe those were just my report cards. Now, report cards contain not only letters and numbers, but a paragraph about your child’s performance in each subject – even religion and art. You have to read the whole darn thing, then submit a comment regarding what you feel has improved since the last evaluation and what you’re going to help your child with based on the current one. Your child has to answer the same questions about themselves (both kids, every year: “I will try to improve in math”). And the school always gives you one whole evening to do all this thinking, processing and responding. How generous of them. Anyway, moving on …. This is about music, not minutiae! I’ll stop blabbering now and sock it to you: Beth’s top 40 songs of 2015! (Like I did last year, I’ve provided links to all the songs for your listening pleasure or derision.)

40. Crushin’ It – Brad Paisley

39. Carry On – Coeur de pirate

38. Break Up With Him – Old Dominion

37. Cecilia and the Satellite – Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness

36.  Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf) – AWOLNATION

35.  Little Red Wagon – Miranda Lambert

34.  Honey I’m Good – Andy Grammer

33.  The Hills – The Weeknd

32.  Ain’t Worth The Whiskey – Cole Swindell

31. Focus – Ariana Grande

30.  Take Your Time – Sam Hunt

29.  Nobody Love – Tori Kelly

28.  What Kind of Man – Florence + The Machine

27.  Modern Love – Mother Mother

26.  Fight Song – Rachel Platten

25.  Fire and Gold – Bea Miller

24.  Good for You – Selena Gomez

23.  Jackpot – Jocelyn Alice

22.  Heartbeat Song – Kelly Clarkson

21.  Electric Love –  BØRNS

20.  Jealous – Nick Jonas

19.  Tear in My Heart – twenty one pilots

18.  Photograph – Ed Sheeran

17.  Chains – Nick Jonas

16.  Monkey Tree – Mother Mother

15.  Cigarette Daydreams – Cage the Elephant

14.  Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd

13.  Could Have Been Me – The Struts

12.  Night Changes – One Direction

11.  Want to Want Me – Jason Derulo

10.  Ex’s & Oh’s – Elle King

9.  Dear Future Husband – Meghan Trainor

8.  Clothes Off – Ria Mae

7.  Stressed Out – twenty one pilots

6.  Confident – Demi Lovato

5.  Fly – Maddie & Tae

4. Downtown –  Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz

3.  Hey Mama –  David Guetta feat. Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha, and Afrojack

2.  S.O.B. –  Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

And, in first place, a song I loved and identified with from the first time I heard it:

FourFiveSeconds –  Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney

(Yes, there’s a whole lot of pop going on – and a slice of country schmaltz. But you knew it would be like that …. It’s Beth’s music, after all! Thanks for listening.)

 

 

 

 

A treat for all my fellow country fans (and another excuse to relive our big-ass road trip)!

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For a few years, country music was a guilty pleasure of mine. Then, I stopped caring what other people think, and country music became just plain pleasure. My love for country music started with my Dad – so many country songs bring back good memories of him. Though he’s been gone for thirteen years now, that love persists – and has grown stronger. Yeah, I’ve heard all the jokes. What do you get when you play country music backwards? You get your dog back, you get your woman back, you get your truck back …. How many country singers does it take to change a lightbulb? Two. One to do it, and one to sing a song about all the good times he had with the old bulb. A few times, I’ve also been treated to a yowling rendition of “there’s a tear in my beer ’cause I’m crying for you, dear”. Whatever. I like what I like, and it’s cool because I like it.

During our most recent road trip, rolling through rural Texas, we discovered 104.1 (“The Ranch”). Tall trees on either side, stretching toward a cloudless blue sky, and a cold Dr. Pepper and …. “Seven Spanish Angels”! This Ray Charles-Willie Nelson ballad gave me goosebumps and filled my eyes with tears when I was a kid. It still does. I sat transfixed in the passenger seat, soaking it in. That radio station took over our dial and held it nearly the whole afternoon (in direct contravention of our rule that we take hour-long turns with music in the car). 104.1 played so many beloved songs that I started writing them down, already knowing I would share them with you. So, break out the cowboy hat and oversized belt buckles …. Enjoy the cheesy, like “Cadillac Ranch” and “Older Women”. Enjoy the poignant, like “Back Home Again” and “Smokey Mountain Rain”. Enjoy all of it. Here’s a list of my favourites from that day, in the order the station played them, with links ….

“Cadillac Ranch” – Chris LeDoux

“Back Home Again” – John Denver

“Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” – Kathy Mattea

“If Heaven Ain’t Alot Like Dixie” – Hank Williams Jr.

“Fool-Hearted Memory” – George Strait

“It Must Be Love” – Don Williams

“Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” – Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson

“I’ve Already Loved You In My Mind” – Conway Twitty

“Drivin’ My Life Away” – Eddie Rabbit

“Smokey Mountain Rain” – Ronnie Milsap

“Older Women” – Ronnie McDowell

“All My Exes Live in Texas” – George Strait

“Long-Necked Bottle” – Garth Brooks

“The Ride” – David Allan Coe

“She’s My Rock” – George Jones

Disclaimer: I did my best to find videos that are not cringe-worthy. This is no small feat in the wild west of Youtube. Just close your eyes and focus on the music.

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Ladies and gentleman, it’s Talent(less) Show Season!

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School wrapped up last week. This is always a welcome thing in our house. Last year, around this time, I wrote about how happy the end of school makes me. Ryan and I have cobbled together a few options for the summer weeks we need to cover because – alas – the office does not share a schedule with school. I used to righteously proclaim that becoming a teacher just to have summers off is wrong. Bullshit. Nowadays, I’d take that deal in an instant, and I wouldn’t feel the slightest tinge of remorse. However, I like my regular paycheques, and going back to school just sounds like alot of fuss …. So, day camps it is! I have this week off, though, and I used part of it yesterday to take Fiona and Bridget to Calypso – and that was a fantastic way to kick off summer! Our collective favourite was the Canyon Rafting ride, which we did seven times. We all slept like babies last night …. Which, as the kids pointed out, does not make much sense. Babies are known for not sleeping. So, um, I guess we slept like people who’ve spent seven hours at a water park.

Back to the end of the school year …. Now that Fiona and Bridget are officially big kids, it’s not just about digging down to the dark, nasty bottom of a backpack, looking at a year’s worth of scribbles complete with run-on-sentence narration, and being able to serve all the peanut butter you feel like serving. It’s also about talent shows. This year, there were two – one at their school, and one at their after-school program. Talent shows are the ugly child of childhood pageantry: adorable, but with a face only a mother could love. Well, there are a few fathers in the audience, and the odd grandparent – but the crowd is composed primarily of mothers. Children don’t have to take a year’s worth of lessons (or, indeed, any lessons at all) in any discipline to enter. They just have to write their name on a list, and – TA-DA – they are performers!

There are always a few singers who can’t sing. There is the odd comedy routine which may or may not contain anything even the slightest bit funny. This year, there was a pair of boys who did card tricks, and their act was cool. There was a kid who played the harp. Yes, the harp. His father, whose hair and complexion appeared to be inspired by Edward Scissorhands, set up the large instrument just before the show. The harp kid’s name was, of course, Malcolm. What else? Malcolm’s harp playing was unimpressive, but it was much better than last year’s oddest musical offering: twenty-three kids plonking away on plastic ukeleles and yowling “You Are My Sunshine”. Whenever a kid plays a musical instrument at a talent show, I always play a private guessing game as to whether the kid has physically encountered their chosen instrument before the show …. I feel that, most of the time, the answer is “no, nay, never”. (If you just mentally roared “right up your kilt”, I’m sure you’re not alone ….)

The majority of acts are choreographed dance routines to “clean” versions of pop songs. Hence, Fiona and two friends of hers danced to a version of “Uptown Funk” that did not include the words “damn” or “liquour”. I was unsuccessful in hiding my amusement when a whole gym’s worth of children cheerfully sang the real lyrics anyway. “Uptown Funk” being one of the most popular songs of the past few months, Fiona and her friends were not the only ones using it in their act. I watched no less than four “Uptown Funk” interpretations in the two talent shows it was my dubious privilege to attend. As much as I like that song, it was more than enough for me. A girl from one of the other groups cheerfully informed me that they were calling themselves the “uptown funkers”. I was a tongue-slip away from saying “well, I guess that makes me a mother-funker”, but (thankfully) my mouth behaved itself for once. Fiona and her friends, in matching fedoras and striped t-shirts, surprised me by giving a great performance. I am one of my daughters’ two biggest cheerleaders, but I am more realistic than they are when it comes to their own abilities to dazzle. This is as it should be; I am not looking forward to the end of their innocent belief that they can do anything. Those matching shirts were a source of angst for weeks. Fiona worried aloud almost daily about the fact that she and her friends did not own anything matching. I offered to take her and her friends shopping. This didn’t happen, because Fiona declared that she and her friends had decided on an outfit that her friends already owned. So, off with us to Walmart to find the outfit her friends had described to her. We couldn’t find it, of course, and Fiona was nearly hyperventilating as she declared that we had to go to some other Walmart, and if that didn’t do it we’d go to another, and on and on. I spied matching t-shirts, $4 each. In desperation, I said “I will buy these shirts for you and your two friends”. Basically, I paid $12 to bail myself out of a Saturday afternoon spent in every Walmart in eastern Ontario. Bridget’s role in the school talent show was an easier one: she was singing “Best Day of My Life” with a choir, and the song was one they had already performed at a choral celebration. No practice needed, and no shopping, either.

They both sang in their after-school program talent show – Fiona and a friend singing “Hot N Cold” and Bridget and a friend singing “Budapest”. Fiona has decent timing, and Bridget can carry a tune. Sadly, they did not magically meld into one fine singer – but they weren’t terrible, either. The show contained some awful singing, feather-dancers who dropped their feathers multiple times and three breakdancers who couldn’t breakdance. Looking around the room, though, I saw the same thing I had seen at the school talent show the day before: beaming, happy parents. It was easy to figure out which parent’s child was performing. It was the parent whose rapt attention was focused on the stage, as if wearing blinders, nodding or mouthing along (or both), glowing with pride. We all know our kids’ limitations (well, most of us do, anyway – there are always a few who think they’ve birthed the second coming), but we don’t care. We showed up anyway, and – for the few minutes they were performing – there was only one thing we could see. The sweet, shining face of our son or daughter, our one-in-six-billion. And those minutes were well worth all the stumbling, caterwauling, kerplunking and tooth-grinding of the alleged talent show. On the drive home, Fiona and Bridget mused over what they would do in next year’s talent show. Mercifully, between now and then, there’s a whole summer to not talk about it.

Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy!

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I really don’t like Ground Hog Day. It’s pointless. Here’s why: it doesn’t matter what the freakin’ rodent sees what he pokes his mangy nose out of his den – on February 2, Canadians can always count on at least six more weeks of winter. And that would be a good winter …. Usually, it’s eight more weeks, or even ten more weeks. Winter is going to be hanging around, hurting people’s skin and throwing their backs out and reeking of wet mittens, until April. You can’t beat it, you don’t want to join it, and it’s eating you alive. So, how about some good music? That’s right, it’s time again for me to present my Top 40 of last year! I did this last year, too. This year, I’m a little more experienced when it comes to compiling a music chart, and I feel more confident about the placement of various songs. Oh, and for those who like to complain that there’s no good music anymore, that’s just not true! There are plenty of great songs out there, by talented people, in many different genres. I could easily have made a Top 100. This year, I’m also offering links to all forty songs, not just the Top 10. Not sure why I did that last year, but this year I declare it to be lame. Why shouldn’t you have a link to #34 or #27 or #11?

Ryan and I listened to all forty of these songs last Friday night. He is addicted to numbers, rankings and music. This makes him the ideal audience for my display of musical narcissism. Also, there were delicious snacks and unlimited drinks ….

(Just a friendly reminder: if you disagree with the methodology of this chart, I don’t care. It consists of songs that I came to know and love in 2014, and whether they were actually released in October of 2013 is of no importance to me. Don’t like it? Make your own chart. I’ll happily listen along, and I won’t question how you put it together.)

40. “River Bank” by Brad Paisley

39. “Me and My Broken Heart” by Rixton

38. “Automatic” by Miranda Lambert

37. “Unbelievers” by Vampire Weekend

36. “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight” by Cole Swindell

35. “Amnesia” by 5 Seconds of Summer

34. “I Lived” by OneRepublic

33. “Turn Down for What?” by DJ Snake & Lil Jon

32. “Diane Young” by Vampire Weekend

31. “Young Girls” by Bruno Mars

30. “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” by Tim McGraw & Faith Hill

29. “Centuries” by Fall Out Boy

28. “Dangerous” by David Guetta & Sam Martin

27. “Guns + Ammunition” by July Talk

26. “Gotta Get Away” by Black Keys

25. “Boom Clap” by Charli XCX

24. “Problem” by Ariana Grande & Iggy Azalea

23. “I” by Kendrick Lamar

22. “Young Blood” by Bea Miller

21. “Brave” by Sara Bareilles

20. “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers

19. “Drunk on a Plane” by Dierks Bentley

18. “Classic” by Mkto

17. “American Kids” by Kenny Chesney

16. “Happy” by Pharell

15. “Figure It Out” by Royal Blood

14. “Talk Dirty” by Jason Derulo & 2Chainz

13. “Love Runs Out” by OneRepublic

12. “Don’t” by Ed Sheeran

11. “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea & Charli XCX

10. “I’m Ready” by Ajr

9. “Pop 101” by Marianas Trench & Anami Vice

8. “All About That Bass” by Meghann Trainor

7. “Black Widow” by Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora

6. “Wasted” by Tiesto & Matthew Koma

5. “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift

4. “Trumpets” by Jason Derulo

3. “Habits” by Tove Lo

2. “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic

1. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars

My #1 song is infectious …. Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars are channelling James Brown with all the energy and talent – and none of the excessive perspiration. Hope you enjoyed the music! I’d love to hear what some of my esteemed readers liked among 2014’s musical offerings …. Chime in if you’re so inclined!

Music to Christmas by!

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As I’ve already said, I love Christmas music. I love dear old carols and modern favourites. I love it instrumental. I love it a capella. I love it warbled in the shower, hollered by kids,  and belted out by revellers. I love it spoken like poetry. All the same, some Christmas music has lost its lustre. Brenda Lee can stop rockin’ around all trees of any kind, forever. Nobody ever needs to cover “Last Christmas” again; Wham! did it right the first time. We don’t need any more mechanical phone-ins of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” either, complete with icky banter between the two singers at the end (although the old clip I just linked to has its charms). And Bob Geldof really needs to consider some alternative treatment to Band-Aids. The 1984 original is simply unbeatable. That moment when Bono wails “tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you” brings tears to my eyes, every time.

When Remembrance Day is over, Christmas music creeps into the background of my life. Sometimes, it’s our dusty CDs, rescued from the storage room and savoured, one by one, at odd moments. Sometimes, it’s the sweet surprise of hearing a Christmas favourite on the radio for the first time since last Boxing Day. Many times, it’s been the joy of discovering that Majic 100 has gone all Christmas, all the time – after days of checking in because we know it’s coming. In those cases, it comes roaring to the forefront, and I leap into it and roll around like Scrooge McDuck in his money vault. Today, I feel like sharing some of my favourite Christmas songs. These are in no particular order, and they are everything from whimsical to wistful. They are perfect for dashing through the mall, wrapping presents like a pro (even getting the ribbon curls right, because I am told that some people do), making a mess of a gingerbread house, or nibbling on your pen in front of a pile of blank cards. They are a precious part of my Christmas celebration, and I look forward to them every year. I’ve linked each title to the song. Enjoy, if you’ve a moment ….

“Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen

This old treasure, oddly tying together Snoopy and the first world war and that beautiful story of a Christmas truce, has been part of my Christmas for as long as I can remember. Oh, those bells after the baron wishes Snoopy a merry Christmas!

“2,000 Miles” by the Pretenders

I don’t know what it is about this, but it both lifts my heart and squeezes it, all at the same time.

“O Come All Ye Faithful” by Elvis Presley

The moment when the music surges and the drums pound us into the second verse, the high, sweet choir urging us to “sing”! That is a musical moment I look forward to, and cherish, every Christmas. It stops me in my tracks, every time.

“Santa Claus is Back in Town” by Elvis Presley

Elvis gets two songs …. but he’s Elvis, so it’s ok. This sexy little romp is pure festive fun, and I used to blast it at Christmastime when I was a teenager and my parents still had a record player. Now, I have the record, and it is no less loved.

“Spaceman Came Travelling” by Chris de Burgh

Chris de Burgh’s sweet quaver, and the echoing chorus, and the idea of seeing the manger from high above the planet like the spaceman …. and a celestial song kicked off by the first sound of new life, a baby’s cry.

“I Love Christmas” by Ali Milner

This jazzy little confection is just adorable, and you can just picture each scene as she sings about it. Instant mood boost ….

“Christmas is Calling” by Roch Voisine

Not sure who the leggy gal in the video is, and I know it’s rather random – but this is the only video I could find for this beautiful song. The sadness, the longing, the love – and the acknowledgement that Christmas can be many things, and it’s not always unalloyed delight.

“As Long As There’s Christmas” by Aselin Debson

This is just plain sweet …. Her wispy voice, the joy and nostalgia, the imagery – the homecoming. And the truth: there is always a little bit of a little girl in me at Christmastime.

“Maybe This Christmas” by Ron Sexsmith

Maybe this Christmas there will be an open door …. maybe we will touch or be touched, maybe there will be forgiveness and redemption. Maybe we will not have heaven on earth, but maybe there will be gratitude for the good we do have. This song is less than two minutes long, but it captures the simple message of Christmas: renewal. And maybe that’s enough.

“Another Year Has Gone By” by Celine Dion

Ok, ok, it’s Celine Dion. A Canadian cheeseball. But, but, but …. If you listen to the beautiful lyrics of this song, you will hear the story of a strong love, and the celebration of another brick – another year – being laid on a solid foundation.

“Merry Christmas, Darling” by the Carpenters

“But I can dream, and in my dreams, I’m Christmassing with you” …. This is lovely and sad, made more stirring by the rich, clear voice of Karen Carpenter and the perfect harmonies in the background.

“Momma Mary” by Roger Whittaker

And then there’s this one …. How I love this song! The thrilling lyrics – “it had begun, he was the one”. The powerful story of the woman who said “yes”, and became a vessel for the love of God made flesh, and all that seventies folk rock awesomeness. My favourite Christmas album, in fact, is Roger Whittaker’s.

These are just a few of the many Christmas songs I find deeply moving, and that I love to hear every year, over and over. I hope they make your celebration more beautiful, too. Merry listening!

(I’m sure that as soon as I post this I’ll think of one or two that I left out somehow …. And feel free to share your favourites, too! Maybe I’ll hear something new to add to my collection ….)

Music for a man who couldn’t sing ….

Tomorrow marks twelve years since an event that changed my life, and the lives of many others: the sudden death of my father, Cecil. This is us, on the last day we spent together. He was gone less than three months later.

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In the years since his death, I’ve written pages about him. Diary entries. Poems. Tributes. Facebook statuses. Long, rambling emails to family and friends. All flowing from a wound that was inflicted the moment I found out that he was gone. Sometimes, the words are inspiring or even funny, if the wound has formed a thick enough scab. Sometimes, they are soggy with a grief that lingers even after all these years – or even angry, if the scab’s been ripped off by some trigger or other. At times, the words come easy – tripping over each other, sounding just right together. This is not one of those times. Rather than wrestle with words, as I often do, I’ve decided to turn to music. Dad loved music. He loved it loud. He loved it to the point of rattling cars and pictures popping off walls and blown speakers. I’ve put together a few songs he liked, and a few songs that remind me of him. I’ve included links, so you can listen along if you’ve got the time. (Sorry about all the advertisements at the start of the videos – I tried to avoid them, but they’re everywhere.)

He liked country music alot. In fact, he liked all things country. Cowboy hats and boots, broken-in jeans, big belt buckles. He had a whole collection of a big belt buckles; I wear them now. He liked wide-open skies, and the romance of the road. Every summer, he led a caravan of his siblings on six-week road trips from Newfoundland to Florida to California to the Yukon (and all points in-between). Some of my most enduring (and endearing) memories of him are from those trips, perhaps because, even as a child, you sense when your parents are truly happy – and you soak it in. “Big Wheels in the Moonlight”, by Dan Seals, a song he had on a well-played mix tape, captures it well. As does “City of New Orleans”, by Arlo Guthrie – a song he could sometimes be heard singing on those road trips. Badly, since the man could not carry a tune – yet, he sang all the time. This is something I still love about him.

The summer I was thirteen, we drove to Alaska. All the way there and back, a Johnny Horton tape made the rounds between the vans of families. “North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton was broadcast daily over the CB radio. Yes, every van had a CB in it. It was used for everything from announcing pit stops to tracing a van that had gotten lost to telling jokes. Sometimes, us kids would play with it – “breaker, breaker, any takers”, and you just might get one. Other kids, lonely truckers, concerned police officers and God knows who else.

Dad did everything fast – he ate fast, fell asleep and woke up fast, worked fast, drove fast. He loved Alabama’s “I’m In A Hurry” – that song was him. Everyone who knew him was always telling him to slow down. Now that he’s gone, I’m glad he never listened to any of us. He was only forty-four years old, and what killed him was a massive heart attack caused by an undetected birth defect. According to the autopsy results, had he been treated for his heart condition, he might have lived another year. In other words, he was never meant to last long. I believe that he sensed that, on some level, somewhere – that there was a voice inside him urging “go, go, go – you don’t have much time, do it all now”.

Maybe it was this same sense of urgency, of the preciousness of time, that helped him truly live. Because he didn’t just work hard, he played hard. He had an I-dare-you grin and a loud laugh. He held onto the wonder and joy that many people lose soon after childhood. A rainy night, to him, meant a clean car in the morning. He loved it, like Eddie Rabbitt’s song. He could often be heard singing “Centerfield” by John Fogerty – he was always ready to play. Baseball, yes, but his best game was hockey. He drove his snowmobile like the wind. He loved roller coasters and water slides. Sometimes, he was the biggest kid on the swings at the playground. As a teacher, escorting his students on field trips, he entertained busloads of teenagers by singing, over and over, Todd Rundgren’s “Bang the Drum All Day”. He knew they weren’t laughing with him, but at him, and he didn’t care. He was getting a day away from the classroom! Being talked about or laughed at never bothered him. Whenever I hear Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party”, I think of him and what he used to say. “People talking about you says more about them than you. Imagine what a sad life they have, with nothing to think about but what you’re doing!” And I try to live my life without worrying about what anyone else thinks of it …. There is such freedom in that.

Another song that comes to mind when I remember my father is “Oh Very Young” by Cat Stevens. Forty-four years really is “a short while”. This feels more and more true, the closer I come to it. There is a part of everyone that thinks their parents will last forever …. I never realized that I thought so, until I had to say goodbye to Dad – the shock of it was like a solid object, something I could touch and hold. And then there’s “Forever Young” by Rod Stewart. Beautiful words from a parent to a child, plans and hopes and dreams for a life of integrity and joy and love. But it wasn’t me who flew away – in the end, it was Dad. No matter. He gave me enough in his twenty-one years with me to last my whole life. Walk in like you own the place. Shake hands like a man. You’re as good as anyone else, and better than some. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Never give up. Sing from your guts. I love you. Like the Cooper Brothers sang, “The Dream Never Dies” – just the dreamer. The dream, like the song, is what lasts forever. I don’t run as fast as he did, but I don’t hesitate much. I know now how dear my life really is, and the people in it. When I want something, I’m not content to say “someday” – because I know that not everyone has a someday. Losing Dad was a hard, heart-twisting way to discover this truth, but I’m grateful that I did. I’m doing everything I can to make sure that I’ll have no regrets, and nothing left unsaid or undone. Thanks, Dad.

The song I’ll end this post with is a country song – “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn. The video is filled with cowboys and cheese but the words could easily have been written about my Dad. I’ve never forgotten the love in those hard-working, hard-playing, calloused, filthy, part-time-mechanic hands – or the pride and happiness in his face, that deep sense of contentment from a life lived well.