For several years in the early 1980s my dad and I carpooled to work. Daddy was an early riser – looking like he just stepped out of a bandbox, in blinding white shirts and highly-buffed shoes (I swear he even polished the soles). He insisted we leave the house in his “sleeps-6-in-the-trunk” Buick Electra at 6:30 am for our 45-minute commute to a Pittsburgh suburb where we both worked for the same company. A 6:30 wheels-up schedule meant I had to rise at 5:30 to wash, detangle, sculpt, blow-torch and shellac my unruly black mane in the era of Big Hair. I am a grouchy cretin in the morning, (“the late worm avoids the bird” is my motto) and the only remedy for me is a dose of audio stimulation.
I found relief in the form of a morning radio show on the prime Pittsburgh rock station WDVE, 102.5 FM. The “DVE Morning Alternative” was hosted by two very funny guys — “Little Jimmy” Roach and “Big Steve” Hansen — who provided entertainment during our long commute on a three-lane highway. There were two rules in the car: I couldn’t play the radio at wall-of-sound immersion levels, and I had to let Daddy listen to the sleeps-6-in-the-trunk-Buick of radio stations – the mighty megahertz KDKA 1020 AM – during the drive home.
Some of my fondest memories are of these times spent riding with my dad, gauging his reaction to the hits of the day and Jimmy and Steve’s slightly off-color skits. “Those dirty bastards,” he’d chortle at the duo’s double-entendres.
He never failed to comment on Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio” song, with its line, I wish I was in Tijuana, eating barbecued iguana. “That’s just silly,” he’d say as he lit a cigarette. “Nobody eats iguana!”
“Oh, not this again,” was his reaction each time he heard The Pretenders’ bluesy “My City Was Gone,” with the cool Chrissie Hynde lamenting, Ay, oh, where did you go, Ohio? “Where does she think it went?” he’d say. “Who told that girl she could sing? Hell, they’ll let anybody on the radio these days.” It didn’t matter to Daddy that I wanted to BE Chrissie Hynde at the time.
A strange tune called “Everywhere That I’m Not” by a group called Translator also annoyed him. “This is just stupid. Why do people write songs like this?” he’d say each time he heard these lyrics:
‘Cause you’re in New York, but I’m not.
You’re in Tokyo, but I’m not.
You’re in Nova Scotia, but I’m not.
Yeah, you’re everywhere that I’m not
I tried to explain that it was punk poetry, but he wasn’t buying it. (Can’t say that I blame him.)
But the biggest offender was Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne,” with its reference to all those Day-Glo freaks who used to paint their face. “Why are they saying Dago freaks?” demanded my first-generation Italian father. I tried to explain that he misheard the lyric — that Day-Glo was a brand of brightly-colored fluorescent paint, and how this song chronicled the career of a famous LSD chemist named Owsley. But this was clearly too much information. He did, however, appreciate my explanation of the origin of the group’s name: Steely Dan was the moniker of a steam powered dildo in William Burroughs’ book “The Naked Lunch.” I was always so happy that I could talk openly with my parents about anything and everything. To paraphrase Carly Simon’s song, “we had no secrets” in our family.
I guess Daddy was a rocker at heart. He liked all the upbeat tunes of the day: Huey’s “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” J. Geils’ “Freeze Frame,” The Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town.” But his favorite song during the two years we spent on our highway odyssey was John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane.” He loved little ditties like that. Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone. Those words didn’t mean much to me back then, when I was 21 and my dad was strong as an ox and seemingly invincible at 54. I’m the same age now that he was then. And I switch to another radio station every time I hear the opening chords of “Jack and Diane.” It breaks my heart.
Daddy, like Mom, encouraged and fed my childhood rock-n-roll obsession. At least once a week, he stopped by the local record store and surprised me with a 45 single – often a song of his choice. I loved side A and side B of every record he brought home to me, and I still own every one of them: “To Sir With Love” (and its fab flip side, “The Boat That I Row”),” Judy in Disguise (with Glasses),” “The Airplane Song,” “Ode to Billy Joe,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Winchester Cathedral,” “Snoopy vs The Red Baron,” “Sugar Town,” “Georgy Girl,” “I’m a Believer,” and so many more. He loved Joe Tex’s “Skinny Legs and All” and would play it over and over again on my Sears “Silvertone” record player, laughing like hell.
We browsed through the record bins in department stores while Mommy shopped. It was during those times that I began building my vast collection of Beatles LPs and singles. I never came home without a record. Daddy loved looking at the album covers, even if he wasn’t familiar with some of the bands or songs. When I couldn’t decide which of several Monkees albums to buy, he pointed to the band’s first LP and said “I like the cover on this one.” To this day I cherish that Monkees album because he picked it out. And I’ll never forgot how he consoled me, when I cried my eyes out for five days straight after John Lennon was murdered.
My Dad was a proud Leo. He had a bigger-than-life presence and an even bigger heart. He would have loved the fact that I created a rock-and-roll blog, and that I dedicated this article to him – posted on the Internet for all the world to see. I love you Daddy. Thanks for everything. Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of your fabulous earthly presence is gone.
In memory of Fred D. Spiardi
August 4, 1928 to October 7, 2003
© Dana Spiardi, August 4, 2014