Come Monday, it'll be all right/ Come Monday, I'll be holdin' you tight/ I spent four lonely days in a brown L.A. haze/ And I just want you back by my side. ' Jimmy Buffet
Jimmy Buffet songs provide the soundtrack for the early years of my parents' courtship. They met in the '70s, a chance meeting at a bar. I guess they'd technically met months before at the Marengo Street Commune in New Orleans where my mother lived, but it was that night at the bar that it all clicked.
They fell in love, and once my father's divorce came through, they took off to California. They slept in a van, dropped acid at Yellowstone National Park, made wooden crafts and sold them at a local flea market. After a few years, they moved to North Carolina along with my brother, then in his late teens, and they all built a house. And that's where I entered the picture.
Kodachrome/ They give us those nice bright colors/ They give us the greens of summers/ Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh, yeah. ' Paul Simon
As a young child, I didn't like to sleep. The only thing that could trick me into closing my eyes was my father dancing to lullabies. But the lullabies of my childhood weren't Brahms or any of that "la-la-lu" crap. I drifted off to dreamland to the sounds of Paul Simon, James Taylor and Steely Dan.
Members only, it's a private party/ Don't need no money to qualify/ Don't bring your checkbook, bring your broken heart/ 'Cause it's members only tonight. ' Bobby "Blue" Bland
And then it all stopped. I woke up on a Thursday morning in June 1988, the second day of summer vacation, and my mother was crying.
"Scott died last night," she said. "Your brother is dead."
After burying his only son, after shoveling a huge pile of red North Carolina dirt over his casket, my father got into bed and stayed there for the better part of a year.
Without him to dance me off to sleep, I lay awake until I succumbed to sheer exhaustion. I barely slept. He slept all the time.
The summer ended, and I entered third grade. I learned my multiplication tables and the order of the planets, and, slowly, I learned to fall asleep alone. I took spelling tests and made dioramas and nursed a broken heart.
We all nursed broken hearts that year, all three of us, but we all did it in our own ways, and by the time my dad had come out of his coma of grief, my mom and I had moved on. She filed for divorce.
Four in the morning/ Crapped out, yawning/ Longing my life away/ I never worry, why should I?/ It's all gonna fade. ' Paul Simon
My junior year in college, I drove back to New Orleans with a group of friends to go to Jazz Fest, an outdoor music festival that spans two weekends. Paul Simon was playing, and my dad pulled me close as he sang all our old favorites. For the first time in more than a decade, my dad danced with me to everything from "Kodachrome" and "Slip Slidin' Away" to "Graceland" and "American Tune."
As I got ready to leave, my dad slipped a tape into my hands.
"For your mother," he said.
I played it in the car on the way home, and it had all of these songs on it, all of these songs that, taken together, told the bittersweet love story of our life as a family.
My father is a brilliant man. He majored in English and philosophy. Facility of language came easily to him. But he still chose to apologize with music.