Two or three weeks ago, I took my older brother to see Tower of Power at Yoshi’s, a famous jazz club in Oakland. I had been a year previously, but the powerful horns and irresistible soul are worth experiencing each time. As we filed into the cramped space, an older gentleman at our table remarked, “you guys are a little young to be here,” with a small smile. “We were raised on the right music,” I responded with a raised eyebrow that ended the conversation. And we were.
Flash forward to now. I am at Xan’s house, listening to Blitz the Ambassador, who reminds me of my father, who I miss in the 2,000 miles that separate us, but who I feel connected to through music. (I think it’s supposed to be “whom” I miss, but fuck it).
I don’t need to miss his presence because he has always lived in the stereos to me. After my parents divorced and he left when I was 7, I would listen to this Eric Clapton cassette tape he gave me – “Pilgrim” was the album – and “drown in a river of tears,” as the song goes with its soothingly sad blues hook. “My Father’s Eyes” was another tear-jerker for my young little self. Music was (and is) the gift that my father gave me to keep connected to me in the space between Michigan and Illinois. (Even now, I can’t listen to those two tracks without the water rising).
Never one for many words, my pops gave both me and my brother the gift of music. We used it to fill the long road trips between our home and his - a grand total of over ten hours driving time for him. Electrifying jazz would rattle the truck windows as we sped down the highway. When we’d inevitable hit traffic in Gary, IN, he’d break out the blues and a cigar. And today, he shows up through my stereo now in Miles Davis and Jill Scott and Wynton Marsalis and Fela Kuti and in Eric Clapton records I can’t listen to without dissolving into saltwater.
Though I always considered myself closer to my mother in bond and time spent together, I know that my father taught me the things that he could not put into words at the time. And so now, I text him telling him to check out Blitz the Ambassador. When I visit him in the summer and winter, we sit and listen to the blues while peeling the greens. I listen to the stories of our people. And when I am alone in my house and Fela’s beats come over the stereo, so does the smell of charcoal and ribs and barbecue sauce. My father’s eyes.
1. “Don’t Talk To Strangers” - Chaka Khan
2. “My Father’s Eyes” - Eric Clapton
3. “River of Tears” - Eric Clapton
4. “You Gotta Be” - Des’ree
5. “Ain’t Nuthin But A She Thang” - Salt N Pepa
6. “All Blues” - Miles Davis
7. “Flip Fantasia” - US3
8. “Squib Cakes” - Tower of Power
9. “Water No Get No Enemy” - Fela Kuti
10. “Fight the Power” - Public Enemy
11. “Big Poppa” - Notorious B.I.G
12. “Reasons” - Earth, Wind & Fire
13. “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” - Frankie Lymon
14. “Heat Wave” - Martha & The Vandellas
15. “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” - James Brown
16. “Miss Maybelle” - R.L. Burnside
17. “Hard Chargin” - Buckwheat Zydeco
18. “Wombo Lombo” - Angelique Kidjo
19. “I Stand Strong” - Winston Rodney
20. “No Educated Woman” - Guitar Shorty
21. “Great Big Love” - Bruce Cockburn
22. “Daughter” - Pearl Jam
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.