|The only picture of Steve, Dad and I as adults.|
My family loves music. I grew surrounded by a lot of albums. Mom and Dad dug the classics, like Mussorgsky, Respighi and Bach, Mom liked Johnny Mathis and ANYTHING Hawaiian and Dad like Latin and various Island musics and could even tell you where a song came from either by style or by translating the lyrics.
Steve was big into Osibisa, Mandrill and Jimi Hendrix, which, before he got a Sylvania unit with a flip-down turntable (!) he played on a portable, but heavy Electro-Phonic turntable at the foot of his bed, which is why I call myself Electro-Phonic Brian.
Dad and I had a checkered history. Mom and Dad divorced, which devastated Mom and neither Steve nor I took it well, either. In the movie "Out of the Past", one of the characters was described as, "...a bit cold around the heart", which describes me, on some occasions. It put a bad seed of distrust in me for some time. In 1984, I reached out to him. He had remarried and gotten sober AND stopped smoking in a way that can only be described as typical Orva Phillips resolve. Two times, the doctor told him, if you continue to do _____, you're going to die.
So, he stopped. Cold turkey, no patches, no, "I only drink on holidays or at social events", he stopped.
When I called, he genuinely didn't believe it was me. After three or four, "reallys?" we started mending fences. I'm happy to say that we had a good relationship for the rest of his life after roughly eight years of not talking.
Sometime before the divorce, Dad passed out at a funeral and that is when we found out that he had cancer. It destroyed one of his kidneys and a bit of his spleen. He recovered, or so we thought. Some years later, the cancer returned and it went after his brain. He could barely walk and if he tried to sleep he would have dreams that he was falling and wake up violently.
Dad didn't talk much, unless he was comfortable. He didn't say he was quiet, he preferred "reflective". If chemistry was the topic, well, then he could go on for days. It seemed like days. The disease pained him, so his sentences were not too horribly long, but he was cognizant in his last days.
I can't speak for every child, but I have to have a report card. I need to know how I did sometimes, ESPECIALLY in my parent's eyes. He was facing his demise and he knew it. It is something when your Dad tells you that he's not scared of dying, because you know that he IS dying. It was not a happy conversation and it didn't end on a good note.
When I lived in Montebello, east of East L.A. (Dad lived in NY), I found a great compilation called "Bravos del Ritmo" at the local library and I couldn't get enough of it. It had so many wonderful names, like Arsenio Rodriguez, the La Playa Sextet, Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, Ocho and Tito Rodriguez. I made a cassette of the highlights and tacked on a song by Miguel Poventud (backed by Yomo Toro) from the 1950s.
By the way, the Miguel Poventud song was, "Si Me Pierdo en la Vida" which I later found out means, "If I Get Lost in Life".
I called him sometime after that. Of all things we talked about that day, Dad mentioned the tape I made for him. He was not perfect, nor am I. We could have done things differently, but I didn't want him to go to bed angry with me. It was one of our last conversations. Had I waited too long, I would have had to live with the words of our last conversation. He was in such pain, all he could say was, "Can't talk...can't talk".
The night I called after I knew he received the tape, though, he said, "That music...man! You're a good old boy, do you know that?" My best gig, to an audience of one.
Thanks, Dad. Come see us at El Myr. I'll play Hector Rivera for you. You'll love it!
I love you.