Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Aunt Mary's All Alone

My dad's funeral was on a Saturday. I left work early the previous Monday when I got the phone call and spent the rest of the week in a daze. I obviously knew he was gone, but it didn't seem altogether real, that someone I knew for my whole life (and had known me even longer) had just been sort of disappeared from the earth.

I spent a lot of time on the couch, sort of halfway paying attention to movies we had watched together, texting and talking to family and friends, and trying to wrap my head around his death.

Before my dad died, I had planned to drive down to Gainesville for a Radon reunion show that weekend. While by my estimations I have seen about 46,000 Radon "reunion" or "original lineup" or "final" shows, it's always a good time, and it brings all the oldsters out of the woodwork so we can drink and sing and act the fool away from our responsibilities and set the clock back about 20 years or so to recharge our worn out batteries.

While I obviously wasn't going to go to Gainesville Saturday night, I decided to spend Thursday night in Tampa, catch Radon in Ybor City, then drive down to Bradenton the following morning.

I was a bit conflicted about this plan. Should I really be having fun so close to my dad's death? Sure, I could tell myself that dad would want me to have a good time, but that seemed sort of hollow and somewhat disrespectful. In the end, I decided that it would be good to have a little fun to step into normal life for a little while and to steel myself against the funeral. Sure, that was a pretty cheap rationalization, but it was what I was going with.

I had a great afternoon; sure, sadness lurked around the corners, but I hung around band practice, drank some beers and talked with great friends that I haven't seen in a while, some of whom had gone through losing a parent and offered whatever advice or sympathy they could.

Remember that band in college, that one who might not be technically proficient, and maybe the drummer would slow down halfway through the set, or the guitars might be out of tune, or the singer might forget a verse, but it didn't matter, because after a few songs you and your friends transformed into a single organism, jumping and singing and making the wooden floor creak and bend under your weight while you could transcend, just for a second, the day-to-day cares and frustrations and become one, unified mass of humanity? Well, Gainesville was (and still is) lousy with those bands, and I was counting on Radon to bring that feeling back for a few minutes that night.

And they didn't disappoint. I knew the song that was going to kill me. "Grandma's Cootie," a song about an aunt left alone by the death of her husband who takes a ride on a roller coaster and sees the beach from the top of the coaster.

They played it about halfway through the set, right before "Stepmother Earth," a song that always made me think about the complicated relationship between fathers and sons, even though there's not really anything specific to that reading in the song.

Tears welled as I sang along with old friends and strangers, but they were different somehow. They were sadness mixed with that feeling of transcendence along with a bit of happiness. I could almost grasp a theory about loss and death and the power of friendship and love, but the music and gin and tonics clouded my thinking and it remains just out of reach.

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. Most people freeze their musical tastes in their 20s, and while I have continued seeking out different genres and styles since then (just ask anyone who has had to endure my "Summertime Reggae/Ska/Rocksteady/Dub" playlist at a cookout), the music and friends I made in my 20s have a special place in my heart. You can use that feeling to live in the past and moan about how things aren't as exciting now as they were back then, or you can take a bit of that feeling now and then to jump start your heart, to realize that you are part of something, that you have friends and family who love you, and that no matter how shitty life can be at times, you will endure and thrive.

I'm not saying that that night cured me, I continued (and continue) to have bad moments and bad days. But it did help, and if the suits at the American Psychiatric Association will ever recognize my groundbreaking research into punk rock music as grief therapy, I feel many more people will be helped.