You know the feeling. Songs gets stuck in your head, and try as you might, you can’t get them out. You sing the songs over and over, sometimes aloud, much to the annoyance of people near you. Earworms take over your body. You feel them crawling through your brain, spewing the words of some old forgotten song, and you are compelled to sing that song aloud to the person closest to you. As my father lay dying, I tried to get my brain to work, to remember the words to “Amazing Grace,” or “How Great Thou Art,” two of my father’s favorites. Instead, I sang:
In Heaven there is no beer.
That’s why we drink it down here.
And when we’re gone from here,
all our friends will be drinking all our beer.
After reading poems by Pablo Neruda and Dylan Thomas to my father the previous day, all I could think of as he slipped away from me was an old song written by a German and an Austrian. My husband watched in silence as I held my father’s right hand with both of mine and sang as solemnly as I could be through my tears.
My father, Wilmer G. “Bob” Moore passed away at King Nursing and Rehabilitation in Houghton Lake, Michigan, on Monday, August 27, 2012, at 8:15 in the morning. He was 92. I imagine him, listening to the last song he would hear on this earth, laughing, knowing it was something my mother might have done, or perhaps my poor attempt at making him smile at one of the worst times in my life. My parents had been listening to me sing for as long as I can remember, so I am certain it came as no surprise to my father that I wanted to comfort him with a song.
My parents loved music. We listened in the car, at my father’s restaurant, and at home. My parents never sang along, but I quickly learned the lyrics, sang along to whatever song was popular at the time or whatever was on my parents’ stereo. I also fancied myself a great dancer and would spin around the room, whether it was my parents’ living room or a room above my father’s restaurant, reveling in the music, the beat, a heartbeat propelling me forward.
Although I had some unforgettable moments singing at church and various school functions with a not-so-appreciative crowd, I did not join a band until my late forties. My husband surprised me with an electric guitar for Christmas one year and suggested it was time I took lessons. I believe he meant that in a nice way.
Mike Mosher, an art professor at Saginaw Valley State University, discovered I played guitar and invited me and Frank Dane, the ethics chair, to meet during lunch and play some tunes. This was just the beginning. Inspired by playing music with other people, I started writing songs to play at our band practices. The first time we performed in public, I was scared to death, but I did it, and never looked back.
When my mother passed away in 2008, I started spending more time with my father and tried to find various ways to cheer him up. I asked him if he would like to go to band practice with me, and he thought that was a great idea. I packed my equipment in my car, swung by Washington Woods where my father lived and picked him up. We headed to the “Cave” at Saginaw Valley State University. My father slowly walked into the Cave with his cane guiding him forward. I felt nervous, and I wondered what he would think of me. What if he hated some of the songs I wrote? I felt certain he would enjoy hearing several of my original songs, “Radio” and “Economy Blues,” but what would he think of me singing the Rolling Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues” and sounding like some perverted cougar? Would he be appalled if we played the Stooges’ “I Just Wanna Be Your Dog” while I busted out my best Iggy Pop moves?
The Cremains of the 10th Circle, Mike Mosher, Bill Portmann, Kirker and Lori Kranz, and Frank Dane, treated my father like an old friend. As we set up our equipment, my father sat down in one of the few chairs in the Cave. I strapped on my electric guitar and stepped up to my microphone as Mike started riffing on his piano. Bill, to the left of my father, joined in on bass guitar. The sound of Frank’s drumsticks and Kirker’s sweet acoustic sounds filled the air. Lori joined in with various percussion instruments as we worked our way through a variety of songs. My father eventually joined in playing maraca (singular) and egg shaker. I could tell by the smile on his face that he was having a wonderful time, and, if only for a moment, he could forget the sadness he felt inside. My mother would have loved watching the band practice and would have found some sort of noisemaker to join in.
On our way home after the first practice he attended, he told me that the band “was pretty good.” My father enjoyed our songs, both the originals and the few covers we did. I wish I had taken him to one of our live shows, so he could have seen me really put on a show, but I guess a little band practice in the Cave was probably even better, because he got to play with the band. He loved music, but mostly he loved spending time with me.
Because my husband and I moved north and I retired from Saginaw Valley State University, it has been a while since I have practiced with the band. I am hopeful that once we get together again, we can play a few songs in my honor of my father. He was a great man, and he loved me unconditionally. My mother and father adopted me when I was two-months old, and in my christening picture, my father holds me as my mother looks on at the two of us. It was as if she knew he would be there for me for as long as he could, and that I would always be there for him. Perhaps it isn’t so much what I sang to my father at the end of his life that mattered, but, rather, it is the fact that I was there, next to him singing, the sound of my voice rising upwards into the brilliant sky.