Label: Love Him or Leave Him
Pawnbroker Car Dealer Loan Shark
He Who Has The Gold Makes the Rules
(You Kids Are So) Selfish
Why’d It Take So Long (Divorce Him)
Since When Do You Own a Sports Bar Dad
Sure It’s a Tiki Bar Now
Funeral in a Bar
I’m Just Like You (And I Like It)
Rating: * * * *
It’s not often that a writer gets to review her own dad. And in fact, if my dad had ever actually released an album—or been a musician—I’m pretty sure Rolling Stone would think of this as nepotism. If they ever returned my emails.
I don’t know what happened to his records when he died. Or anything else. If there was a will I never saw it. My little brother got his watch, I got three tacky rings (Eagle! Scorpio! Gold nugget!) and gave two of them to our half-siblings. Dad’s third wife got everything else.
But he still left me something, and I think of it as his Greatest Hits. Family matters aside, let’s talk about the music.
Dad’s life: Can you dance to it? The album’s opening track, It’s Nice To Be Important But It’s Important to be Nice would declare yes, laying a catchy, Hallmark-greeting level platitude over a bouncy beat of swimming pools and golf pants, the suburban heartbeat not yet belying the appearance of middle class success. Later, it would turn out tax returns had never been filed, making student loan applications extremely difficult. As the looped electro-dance sample warned us: “You’d better save up/get a scholarship/I made it through fifth grade/isn’t college a rip?”
Dad explored tropical worldbeat with the merengue-influenced Buenos Dias America, brought back from several trips to Guatemala along with gold jewelry and stories of good times. Most memorable is the second verse, the legend of an armed stick-up at the security gate of a friend’s home, in which Dad grabbed the gunman’s weapon through his car window. Unfortunately, the clip had been held in with rubber bands, and when the bullets fell out of the gun and the robber pulled a knife, Dad and his friend Bernie (Track 5: Bernie the Bookie’s Been Busted (Daddy Spent the Night in Jail)) were forced to hand over their jewelry and American cash. Included in this album is a long-lost, now seamlessly inserted additional verse (first heard when I was thirty), detailing the Guatemalan “little girlfriend” who probably set them up. It remains unknown whether Mom knew this verse, but it’s unlikely to be a huge surprise. Listen for the newly restored vocals in the jangling chorus: “Whenever you leave America, you’re traveling second class.”
The Sweetest Sound (Remember People’s Names and Use Them) is a curious inclusion, having never broken the charts in any country. In this collection, it’s the live acoustic version, featuring a rare duet with my father and I. I’ll claim credit for the bridge, “Remember names and use them/it makes people feel special/at your funeral everyone remembered/you remembered their name/it broke my heart.”
No Greatest Hits set would be complete without Dad’s very first vocal outing, Wake Her Up (She’s Your Baby). Longtime readers will remember thirty-something Dad in his second marriage, hearing Mom fretting that she wanted to cuddle her first-born (yours truly!), while reluctant to disturb the sleeping baby. “I told your mother, ‘She’s your baby and you can hold her whenever you want! Wake her up and hold her!’” Often seen as proof of a humanity Dad rarely revealed, this track is always worth a listen. Appropriately, it ends the collection, paired in a medley with (If That Had Been You) It Would Have Killed Me. The latter song shows Dad’s tolerance of black people extending only to co-opting the blues style, but one is hard-pressed to ignore the underlying message, that when the coffin lid closed on my older half-sister and Dad first spoke the title line, I realized I was and had always been “the favorite.”
Listeners with patience will be rewarded with a hidden bonus track, The Pet Store, now remixed. The new trap beat underscores the lyrics, a story of nineteen-year-old Dad entering a pet store to surprise his long-estranged mother, and the nastiness of tables turned when she didn’t recognize him. Perhaps those verses—hidden to all but the most persistent of fans—hold the source of personal pain that flowed under Dad’s life and career. Perhaps my brother has never heard that song. Maybe if he had, he would have called.
Dad’s Greatest Hits isn’t for the casual listener. Only true fans will want to plow through the six disks of bigotry, adultery, absence, alcoholism, deception and apparent lack of caring to reach the few shining moments. And the steep price ($childhood) puts the collection out of reach for most. But if you can stomach the sticker shock and put your money where your mouth is, it might be your favorite, too.
It is mine.
I took Dad's ashes to India, in hopes that his posthumous self would be less racist.