Today would have been my father’s 81st birthday.
He and my mother played Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond constantly on our huge console stereo. This was my introduction to albums. I learned how to load them and put the arm over the stack, usually Neil, Barbara, Neil, Barbara, until the spindle was full. I think “Neil Diamond – Hot August Night” might be the first live album I ever heard. I loved the Neil Diamond albums that my parents had. When my father passed I got his Neil Diamond albums. I still have the “Neil Diamond – Stones” LP in the basement.
When I think of my father singing “Forever In Blue Jeans” and doing his quirky little jitterbug half step dance, I cannot help but smile.
There is one memory of my father that I have always treasured, the night I listened to him play Claire De Lune.
Now, my father had bought an old piano, an upright I believe is the term and it was in his second floor apartment’s living room. He played softly generally. Even still, I wonder what the downstairs neighbors thought. I had spent a few weeks with him while he was trying to learn how to play some old songs he had learned before. He had lessons as a kid and he was good, and he tried ever increasingly more difficult pieces. One visit, he played for me a few parts of Claire De Lune by Claude Debussy. I was blown away. He was clearly having issues with some parts, but the music he made was lovely. I had some exposure to classical music, but I was amazed at the sounds and tone he coaxed out of that beat up old piano. I listened to him for several weeks work on it and improve problem spots and become more fluid until he was playing it from beginning to end. It sounded great.
A few months later I came back to town to go to a high school prom. When we left the prom and returned to the apartment parking lot and shut off the car I heard the sound of his piano. The night was warm and my father’s apartment patio door was open. The sound of the piano was drifting out to us. There was a light rain falling and streaking the windows of the car. We cracked the windows and stayed in the car while I listened to my father play the entire song. He was soft in the soft parts and strong and confident in the fast sections and I don’t think I had ever heard him play it better. I couldn’t see him but I imagined his hands, which he used so much for work and the beloved building of his airplanes, delicately touching the simple keys and creating this amazing music. It was beautiful.
To this day, when I hear that song, usually on TV since it doesn’t come up in rotation much on college radio, I remember that night and the way his piano playing touched me so deeply.
Happy Birthday Dad.