Music has been one of the most important sources of joy and creativity in my life. My dad was a lost soul, an alcoholic, a person who saw darkness in every corner, but in music… in music, my dad created light. My father’s only moments of carelessness and weightlessness came while fishing and while playing the guitar.
Music has always been there for him and for me when other pleasant things were lacking.
My dad named me Melody because he was a musician, and he was a hell of a musician at that. My dad could look at a stringed instrument and give it a few strums, all of a sudden an expert. He played the acoustic guitar by ear, tuned it by ear, and taught himself completely. He played the mandolin, and I remember loving to hear “Amy” from those 12 strings.
As he got older, the singing became quieter, more ragged, and hoarse, but it was the most beautiful sound to me. It was real. It was raw. His voice and his music were the essence of his beautiful soul troubled by a life of restlessness and toil.
Music was always there for us.
I remember the many times that he played “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” on his guitar to entertain me, and I remember a LOT of the Eagles. “Witchy Woman” might not be a piece of appropriate music in the repertoire of any regular young girl, but it was in my collection of songs to which I knew all the words. My dad was always real with me. He was always honest.
He was honest when he told me that he’d been out drinking or fighting or selling things he ought not to be selling. He was always honest when he told me about our family’s history or why I couldn’t come to live with him. He was most honest when he played music for me. His guitar reminded him of his drinking days. He’d buy a guitar and sell it a few years later, haunted by the memories the chords evoked for him.
My dad bought me a guitar and let me decorate it with paint markers and stickers, a cheap little $50 Rogue that didn’t stay tuned all that well. He’d tune it for me and watch me learn, correcting my fingers. Once I knew a few chords, I played repetitive country songs while he’d ad lib over it and accompany me. I was never wrong to him, and my notes were never sour. He loved my voice. He was the best teacher.
We didn’t always know how to talk about serious things, my dad and I. Sometimes, you just stay quiet and play. That was our way. As long as the music was still there, we were still tight, no matter the circumstances. We could be angry, he could be disappointed, and we could still make music.
At his graveside, I sang for him. I was so hurt, so insulted, that he’d relapse into alcoholism. I was even more hurt and guilty that he’d killed someone and himself while drinking and driving. Everything was so hopeless and negative during that time. I did the best I could to keep sane and function like a normal person. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. I didn’t know how to put things like these into words, so I sang.
I sang because I knew that he was finally free from his torture. I sang for him, not for the people attending. I sang because we have always sang. I make music when I don’t know how to do anything else.
My life has never been simple or normal or without discord, but my life has always had music. For me, music has always been the anchor keeping me steady in an unforgiving sea.
When all else has failed, there has always been music. There will always be music. Thank you, dad, for the music. Thank you for my sanity.