Songs My Father Imposed On Me
Once upon a time, I loved Elvis. He spoke to pain, hope, loneliness in an era of identical little houses and country club Episcopalians who pretended not to be drunk pill-poppers, like Mother and Dad. I embraced Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, swiveled my hips in the living room, when Mother and Dad were gone. Dad found my records, said it was jungle music. Uncivilized, he said, even as he downed Amaretto Sours and ralphed night after night, while Mother assured us he was just sick. I clung to Elvis, apotheosis of true music, even as the 50s opened up into the 60s, civil rights and war exposed battle lines. Dad never listened when I spoke of Elvis, nor when my big sister Nancy defended the King and me.
Elvis was a fad, he said to us. Unlike Sinatra, who could sing to lovelorn lovers, or Dean Martin, or Rosemary Clooney. Singers all distant vestiges to me. Singers who embodied the old era, of fedoras and order and safety. Yet Dad wore their fedoras, as did Mother. I promised I would never be Dad, the man in the fedora. I would discard the fedora, be that father who embodied cool. The father who could be raw and alive and dance in front of the TV, at forty. Or fifty.
Then I went to college, became a writer, married, had a son. I grew old enough to be cynical, an asshole, even though my wife said I was Mister Wonderful. I grew more reactionary, watched people’s hair grown long. Elvis grew fat, died on the toilet, and I wept, in spite of bills and energy crises and grumpiness. In those days of the late 70s, my boy blasted Bohemian Rhapsody, that mélange of rock and opera. Words convoluted assaulted my ears. Thunderbolts and lightning? Galileo? Doing the fandango? Pure dross. I told him that. He told me to go fuck myself. I punished, imposed edicts, edicts I’d heard before. No parties for a week, no phone, no this, no that. I didn’t even think about what I said, the edicts spilling forth.
Of course, I woke up seeing my father. I wore his mustache, his bearing, his inclination to complain about music, clothing, so much. Shame rose. I couldn’t put that into words. I tried to voice sorrow, regret. Nothing came out and my son and I drifted like the tide. He said I was too old-fashioned. A square, a dinosaur of sorts. Elvis was the past. A man too simple and quaint. Words struck me, I retreated into the warmth of early Elvis, while my son rose up the ladder, becoming successful.
My son, twenty years later, called my grandson’s love for Ice Cube misguided. It was the era of the saxophone-playing, McDonald’s loving president. The economy boomed, the country could afford to focus on the president’s member and stained dresses. I vacillated between reaction and hope for the future.
Yet my son kept issuing his proclamations, my grandson withdrew. Ice Cube sang about the horrors of the police, the rawness of the streets, but my son wouldn’t listen. Queen, he proclaimed, was real music, harmonies, theories. Ice Cube just dropped F-bombs and dressed it all as talent. I tried to talk to my grandson, reach out to my son, but they wouldn’t listen, lines drawn firm in the sand. Their music was the one true way, they proclaimed, like evangelists of song. I can only imagine the next generation, hair crumpling like stardust, Elvis still lingering with me, even as my son, grandson diminish me. I can imagine them, son holding onto his Queen, my grandson absorbed in an Ice Cube.
I must try. Let them see the magic, try to see the sorrows and joys of Elvis, majesty of Queen, the rawness of Ice Cube. Let them understand the past, the things our fathers give us, impose on us. Perhaps, it’s too late, the lines severed, fading into something truly dark. Perhaps our fathers have imposed their fetters and we cannot be free, no matter how we promise ourselves. But I can do my best, to rise from the past, to see the future before me, my son, my grandson. I may never understand fandangos or fucking the police. But I can listen. I can speak to them of Elvis, whether they love him or not. I can explain, explain a father in a fedora who tried to take Elvis from me. I can’t understand, but I can listen. Explain.
Cathedral of Clairvoyants
My father once relied on clairvoyants, named Betty and Padre. This was after my mother had divorced him and completely left his life. I can only imagine how the clairvoyants’ messages seemed to coincide with his misfortune. They illuminated a world he saw as unjust, and amplified his monstrousness. He was already an ill-tempered man, whose home held a dangerous energy, threatening to burst. Once the clairvoyants entered it, all bets were off.
They promised him so much, life, fortune, vengeance. The emails piled up in his inbox, one after the other, like a sort of cathedral. A cathedral where suckers worshipped at the altar of false, empty promises.
“Your lucky star promised to intervene. You will be a magnet of luck.”
“Your financial problems are over. The angels have felt your immense pains.”
“Dark forces are obstructing happiness. Listen to me, and we will vanquish the forces.”
Of course, there was a cost involved. $100. $200. All for studies that promised to help him have communion with the mystical angels. His guardian angels, the studies proclaimed. The price for fortune rose and rose, and my father kept paying. The money was depleted, his house fell deeper into shambles, papers overflowing the living room, the dining room, the filing cabinet bursting at its less than sturdy seams. But still, he kept putting faith in Betty and Padre. They just needed more time, the dark forces were obstructing things.
“There’s scientific evidence, boy,” he told me. “Sure, some of these people are quacks, but many of them work. There’s absolute evidence.”
He kept clinging to his evidence, even as Betty and Padre demanded more money to feed the monkey. He filed suit after suit against my mother. Bad, neglectful mother, even though I was thirty. Libel. Slander. He threatened to hunt my mother down, demanded information from me. I didn’t give him shit. The suits evaporated, judges and juries laughed. Yet, he seemed to be disappearing even deeper into that rabbit’s hole. He made new girlfriends, discarded them, and filed claims against said girlfriends, claimed that they stuck their toes in his ass and forced him to have digital sex. They laughed at him again, but still he wasn’t fazed.
I waited, waited for some semblance of sanity, but he told me to fuck off.
“I won,” he growled at me, when I tried to reason with him. “I won, boy. I won.”
He kept proclaiming it, a creed. I won. I won. He kept proclaiming, even as things seemed to evaporate, his home, his money. He kept clinging to Betty, to Padre, until he seemed like the smallest thing in the world, but still he couldn’t stop, couldn’t pull back from the forces. And I could only wait, see what he’d look like once he was completely consumed.