Design by Leah Hoogterp

I had the utmost pleasure and privilege of growing up in a home where music seemed to gush out of every room and every person — music unfurled over my ears in every waking moment, making my house feel warm and lived-in. It was almost as if every second spent in silence was a second wasted. My musical appetite was voracious in those days — unrefined and unapologetic, I consumed everything with unbridled and childlike joy. The music of my parents is where I had my first taste of this feeling — everything that they hated, I hated, and everything that they loved, I loved tenfold. Whether it was my mother’s love for harmonies, insisting “I can do the high part if you can just do the melody” or my dad’s wide palms beating out a rhythm on the car steering wheel like he was Keith Moon, the love for music sparked in those days still burns just as bright and loud. 

My father owned a first-generation iPod that was a companion on each of our road trips. When we weren’t on the road, it lived in my garage, plugged into the dusty gray stereo system, sometimes playing so loud that the old speakers rumbled and cracked under the weight of it all. It was the kind of iPod with a tiny pixelated screen, a black velcro case — the only way to find a song was to scroll round and round on the circular trackpad. My dad had a particular penchant for ’90s and classic rock — as most dads do. He would say that his music was “real”; songs required full band sounds, nothing too electronic, and singers didn’t have to have particularly beautiful voices, just something real to say.

My dad’s iPod had the greatest collection of songs downloaded onto its limited hard drive — everything one might require to know and love music — and in an effort to be just like him, I stole it on multiple occasions. When I think about those songs that my dad gave to me, I can hear his voice layered overtop each of the tracks; my dad straining to the heights of the Carpenters’ “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” mimicking the horn lines with a buzzing mouth or yowled out “JANE SAYS” alongside Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell, humming and cracking alongside Nick Drake’s “I saw it written and I saw it say,” while my own voice strains downwards, “Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon.” Annoyingly enough, he tends to whistle over the Beatles’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” in a shrill, off-kilter pitch, and harp on how much he hates Cat Stevens. 

On that iPod, he also had some of my mother’s favorite songs — she was always more into the smooth and soulful stuff, filled with rich harmonies, and skilled storytellers. In particular, Linda Ronstadt’s Canciones de Mi Padre comes to mind — it was Ronstadt’s first album of Mexican traditional mariachi music, filled with brassy horns, warm acoustic guitar and percussion that rattles like a snake. “La Charreada” had my sibling and me perfecting our gritos, blasting it in the car, practicing our Spanish. And as much as my mother loved Ronstadt’s mariachi, “You’re No Good” and “Blue Bayou” were played in equal measure.

But songs are just songs if you have no one to sing it to — if you don’t have a mother who will sit you down to explain the importance of a good storyteller or a dad who will tell you everything about his favorite artists if you would just stay still long enough to listen. As a child, the warmth and joy that music brought my parents are what imbued it all with meaning, what made my love for it so undying — experiencing it alongside them is what made all the difference. Childhood is about sitting at the feet of those we admire, sponge-like, soaking up every bit you can, re-reading them like your favorite book, serving as both their echo and their shadow until your limbs are too long and lanky to sit there any longer. The love for art and music that I took from them in those days comes in tandem with their kindness, and their intelligence — gifts that I can take with me wherever I go. 

That love for music that my parents formed for me in my childhood remains with me each day; my parents have given me many gifts over the years, but some of the greatest were music. You can’t help but love music when living in a family that gifts each other playlists for birthdays, or when a song sent in a text message is the same as saying “I love you.” And even as I develop my own tastes, and every song I could ever want is at my fingertips, I find myself taking that old iPod out of the worn brown dresser drawer in my parents’ bedroom, slipping into that comfort like a well-worn jacket, reminding me of the warmth of home. 

Daily Arts Writer Claire Sudol can be reached at cjsudol@umich.edu