My dad was never a musician. He's fifty-two now, and my brother and I--with my mother's help--just bought him his first guitar this past Christmas. Despite this, I grew up in a musical household. I have very few memories that aren't colored with one tune or another. When we weren't listening to the B-Sides of handmade tapes or newly purchased CDs, we were listening to my dad whistle his way around the house, occasionally breaking into nonsense Italian for a bit of pseudo-opera. It's not that my dad couldn't have been a musician--he has a lovely voice and a good ear for pitch--but music in our house wasn't homemade, at least not until my brother and I started piano lessons. Instead, we cultivated what could be called the art of the mental mixtape, collecting songs here and there and forming them into the soundtrack of our lives.
The CD collection amassed by my father tended to be unconstrained by genre or time period. You're as likely to find yourself listening to the Brandenburg Concertos as you are to Miles Davis, or The Beatles or Bruce Springsteen or the Be Good Tanyas. I grew up listening to a lot of music, some of which has found its way back to me over the years. My taste has dovetailed with my father's since high school -- after I got my very brief punk phase out of my system -- and I've revisited a lot of the music of my youth (which is not to say it's particularly youthful music) since then. These days, my dad's got a lot of alt-country and Americana on rotation, and I picked up on that right quick. We don't argue about what to listen to in the car -- when it's not the CBC, it's a mix on my iPod or his. They're usually pretty similar anyways.
About a year ago I tried to make an autobiographical playlist. I abandoned the project shortly thereafter, but there are three songs from the list that are the heart and soul of my childhood, and I've collected them here for your enjoyment:
If I was going to make one of these, today, it'd have some Blue Rodeo and some Neil Young, some Gillian Welch and Ryan Adams. It would have Melissa McLelland, and Ron Sexsmith, and Sarah Harmer, and Rufus Wainwright. And yes, a little Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt for good measure. We often think of mixtapes as things we share with friends or lovers (and I do that as well), but one of my favourite people to share music, and the pleasures that come with it, is with my Dad. He was the one who taught me that good music comes in many packages, and that the perfect pop song can contain as much enjoyment as the perfect symphony. So consider this a blog post for for him.