One of my proudest moments at four years old was memorizing all the lyrics to “Hang Me Up To Dry” by The Cold War Kids. I sang it confidently to my parents one evening, a cappella. Along with The Cold War Kids, my father force-fed me music by the Rolling Stones, The Black Keys and Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others. He did everything he could to make sure that his music taste was ingrained into my head.
Every night, the lullaby my father sang me was his own rendition of “Yellow” by Coldplay — except in his version, “yellow” was replaced with “weasel,” his nickname for me when I was young.
Cartoons and movie nights were replaced with music video watch parties. My favorite DVD was “Slowboat to Hades,” an interactive rendition of music videos and concert clips accompanying the release of the Gorillaz album Demon Days. My Christmas gift at six years old was a first-generation iPod Nano, pre-downloaded with all of my father’s favorite songs. I stayed up well past my bedtime replaying “Brick” by Ben Folds Five and listening to Radiohead.
Looking back, passing down his knowledge of music was one of the few hobbies my father could easily share with me. My father has been in a wheelchair for my entire life, so teaching me how to play sports, cook or use tools was out of the question. Listening to music was something to bond over and an activity he was always able to partake in.
His music taste stuck with me throughout my early adolescent years, up until middle school when I decided that I had been deprived of listening to the “Top 40” played repetitively on the radio. As I began to branch out into an entirely new realm of music — boy bands, indie-pop and eventually rap — the shared interest between me and my father diminished. Our common ground developed into me complaining about listening to Iron & Wine at dinner, and him complaining about playing J. Cole and Kanye in the car.
At the beginning of high school, the relationship between my father and me strayed even further. After a surgery, he was placed into long-term in-patient care. I saw him every other night for dinner. We caught up about what was happening at school, how cross country was going, what I was going to be up to over the weekend — the basics. There was little time for mindless bickering about the legitimacy of electronic music and why I should listen to a “real band” like Nirvana. Our similarities naturally lessened, and we began to grow apart.
A couple months later, when my father was finally allowed to continue his care at home, I was already immersed in the world of alternative R&B, trap music and EDM. The lyrics to “Hang Me Up To Dry” had faded from my memory and the songs from my iPod were entirely left out of my Liked Songs on Spotify. Conversations about music became few and far between with my father. The only time it was brought up was when my father would decide to test me on my music knowledge while one of his playlists looped during family dinner. As the years went by, my guesses for “Who sings what?” became more inaccurate.
During my senior year of high school, my father was in and out of the hospital for weeks at a time. One morning, as I sat half asleep in my 8 a.m. statistics class, I received a call from an unknown number. Much to my surprise, it was my father calling me from the hospital. With more pep in his voice than normal and a slight sense of urgency, he asked if I could do him a “huge favor” — bring his headphones over to the hospital after school.
That afternoon, I stayed with him in his hospital room until the sun set. I sat next to him doing homework while he caught up on all the new album releases he had missed while in the hospital. Every now and then, he would insist that “I had to hear” the song he was listening to. I reluctantly listened to them and secretly enjoyed all of them. He then had me help him create a new playlist. I titled it very literally, “Made with Dad in the Hospital.” During the creation of the playlist, his song additions sparked some of my own suggestions for the playlist. We began to banter again about various songs and artists. I vouched for some of my favorite songs while he did the same for his, and we surprisingly agreed on an extensive list of songs. I came to the realization that my father’s music taste had rubbed off on me a little more than I would’ve liked to admit.
All it took was one playlist to spark a period of growth within our relationship. Our love for music converged once again. I began to revert back to my roots, from R.E.M. to Beck. I actively searched for music that I enjoyed, in the hope that my father would too. Our conversations were no longer filled with small talk about our days. Instead, they were characterized by drawn-out discussions of new albums, music videos and performances. I even relearned the lyrics to “Hang Me Up To Dry.”
Though music was not the defining factor of me and my father’s relationship, it functioned as a kind of guide, marking the different stages of our bond. Our likes and dislikes amplified the highs and lows of our relationship. Our growth was reflected in our music. As the relationship matured, the breadth of our music scapes overlapped more and more. Music was never the sole reason we grew apart, but it was the turning point in finding our way back to common ground, and to each other.
Daily Arts Contributer Carter Veilleux can be reached at email@example.com.