Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
On August 8, 2022 my dad, Larry Kamerman, passed away at the age of 92. He was an amazing father; loving, supportive, patient and always making his kids feel like the most important people on earth. He was also…and I say this without exaggeration…the nicest & friendliest person who ever lived. Sure, there might be others who were/are equally as nice & friendly, but none more so than my dad. I’ve always been proud to be his son and, after a childhood & adolescence marked by temper tantrums, I mellowed out and learned to be a good & decent adult simply by watching everything he did. He & my mom were married more than 63 years and their love & commitment to each other helped me to be a good husband (I’m pretty sure my wife agrees). He was a New York boy through & through. Loved bagels, pizza, Chinese food (what’s more New York than that, right?), the Yankees (for which this Mets fan forgives him) and the football Giants. The latter led to some great times together, as he had season tickets for over 30 years and I attended countless games with him. Even after retiring to Florida, and spending four years near me in North Carolina, he would often brashly state, “I’m tough…I’m from Brooklyn.”
I could go on & on about all the things that made him so special, but this is a music blog and I have a lot of musical connections to my dad that I want to share. He wasn’t a musician himself, although he dabbled a bit with the guitar (more on that later), but after a stint in the U.S. Army in Kentucky & Louisiana during the Korean War he developed a lifelong love of country music which was passed on to me at an early age. I recall playing records by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, Roger Miller, Jimmy Dean & so many more, along with other albums he brought home in the ‘70s when he worked at Warner Communications (home of Warner Bros. Records, Atlantic & Elektra-Asylum). Those early record-spinning experiences led to my passion (obsession?) for music. I’ll be forever grateful that he introduced me to Hank Williams in particular, because Williams was never played on then-contemporary country radio, so who knows when I would have encountered those timeless tunes, or if they would have made the same impact on me when I was older. Dad & I often talked about Hank Williams songs, and we both had an affinity for “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” which Elvis Presley later called “the saddest song I’ve ever heard in my life.”
I’ll try not to be too maudlin here, but there are several songs about father-son relationships that I’ll be sharing. My dad & I were always very close, so there’ll be no “Cats In The Cradle” or “The Living Years.” The first of these songs is “That’s My Job” by Conway Twitty, another country music legend. Most of the lyrics encapsulate why I looked up to him & how he felt about me (and my siblings), other than the part about barely getting along during the narrator’s teenage years.
I started taking drum lessons when I was 8 years old and my dad happily drove me & waited around the music store for an hour each week. When I played percussion in orchestras during junior high & high school, he came to every rehearsal & performance. Less than a month before he passed, he still beamed when talking about the time the conductor called me over after a particularly good performance to give me a big hug & a kiss on each cheek. The only thing we disagreed on was the piece, which he remembered as Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” but I think was Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain.”
He drove me & my friends to numerous rock concerts including a memorable night in October 1982 when I saw The Who at Shea Stadium. Someone else brought us there but dad said he would meet us after the show at the industrial buildings across the street. Little did we know that Shea Stadium was surrounded on three sides by such buildings. It took a half hour for us to find each other but, instead of being angry or even worried, he was just glad we were together and had a nice car ride home. He even allowed me & my friends to play “our” music whenever he drove us somewhere. On one such ride he heard Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain” and, during the mid-song Latin-tinged breakdown he said, “This sounds like ‘The Peanut Vendor’ by Stan Kenton.” Even though I never heard of Mr. Kenton, who came in toward the tail end of the Big Band era, dad’s comparison always stuck in my head, and a few years later I picked up a Stan Kenton cassette with that song. Lo & behold, dad was right. I’ve never heard anyone else make that comparison, and I’m not sure if the band was influenced by “The Peanut Vendor,” but I certainly hear the similarity and thanks to dad I’ve been a Stan Kenton fan for decades. The aforementioned “Fool In The Rain” breakdown starts at around the 2:30 mark, and “The Peanut Vendor really gets cooking after the first minute.
Two songs that make me think of my relationship with him are Cat Stevens’ “Father And Son” and Phil Collins’ similarly-named “Father To Son.” The former features a dialogue between the titular characters, while the latter has Collins imparting sage advice to his young son. The lyrics might not always be an exact match for me & my dad, but there’s something about them which always had me thinking of him…and not just because of the song titles. After his passing they pack an even more emotional punch but still bring a smile to my face.
Speaking of smiles, my dad had a great one, as well as a wonderful sense of humor. We laughed together a lot and the smiles in every photo here are genuine. We were always happy to be together. Whether recounting favorite episodes of Seinfeld, Taxi and Everybody Loves Raymond or just being silly, smiling & laughing was a big part of our relationship.
The last song I want to share is also possibly the most poignant: “Tank Park Salute” by Billy Bragg, an artist I saw many times throughout the ‘90s. During one of those shows he introduced this new song that he had written for his father who had recently passed away. I think I shed a tear that night just knowing that one day I would have to feel what he was feeling; the emptiness & finality that take over when you lose a parent. I’m fortunate that I had my dad in my life for as long as I did but the impact of his loss is just as huge as I imagined.
“I closed my eyes and when I looked, your name was in the memorial book, and what had become of all the things we planned? I accepted the commiserations of all your friends and your relations, but there’s some things I still don’t understand. You were so tall, how could you fall?”
I’m not sure how old my dad was when he bought his Gibson LG-1 acoustic guitar. It was probably in the 1950s so he was in his twenties. My siblings & I have all plucked away at that guitar at various times over the past 5 decades, and I’m pleased to say that it’s been in my possession for the last few years. I’ve even attempted to (finally) learn how to play it, with limited success so far. I had hoped to figure out some Hank Williams songs to perform for dad but the timing didn’t work out. I will continue working at it, and with each strum of the strings I know he’ll be listening and telling me, “It sounds great, kiddo.”