I was on my way to reconnect with an old college friend when I heard the news on the radio that Leonard Cohen had died. I had to pull over and sob for a good five minutes before I could continue driving. I didn’t even bother to dry my swollen eyes. My friend would understand. Bowie’s loss had been hard to hear of, Prince startling, and I still remember exactly what I was doing when I heard that Michael Jackson had died. But Leonard was bigger. His music and his deep and resonant voice had embraced and embodied a period in my life when I was shapeshifting from teenager into young adult, when love was heart-wrenching and full of pining, when my heroes were older people who sang about love and sex, and I would tape their album covers to my bedroom walls.
Most of the music that shaped my sensibilities was introduced to me by my father. He was not a musician, but he had interviewed almost everyone that I listened to growing up, from Raffi to Lou Reed and The Violent Femmes, and would take me along to their concerts. While my friends listened to The New Kids on the Block and Beastie Boys, I could sing along with Elvis Costello and anything Louis Armstrong. My father gave Patti Smith her first interview, chatted over coffee with Frank Zappa and introduced me to Mose Alison. While my dad would call Tom Petty for an interview, Weird Al would call us. We saw Nina Simone in concert, and Dr. John. My father was a jazz enthusiast and was thrilled beyond words when I went on to study jazz with bassist Herbie Lewis in college, who had played with Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner back in the day.
Recently my brother has been unearthing the articles my father wrote, sorting through boxes of clippings, decades of his writing, and digitalizing the articles, clearing space. They have been in storage for seven and a half years, about as long as my daughter has been here. She was born just a few weeks after my father passed away, and I like to think that they somehow met each other on the way in and out of this world and waved to each other, or at least high-fived.
Tonight, I heard the news that the brilliant Dr. John has passed away, and I am steeped in memories that I can only associate with my father: listening to Dr. John in the car while he drove me somewhere or other, listening to Dr. John in the kitchen while he cooked dinner, listening to Dr. John in concert.
I loved Dr. John, loved his bluesy, gutsy piano and swarthy voice. I have spent hours sitting at the piano, imitating his style and copying his riffs. And I want to cry when I hear that he is gone. And although it is his life and music that I celebrate when I play his albums now, it is not really him that I am mourning.