Today marks the first anniversary of the death of my father, Gary Spencer. I haven’t said much about it, but this past year has been one of introspection and consideration for me. I’ve mulled over his influence on me, both bad and good, and over my connection with him. We did not have a good relationship, that much is certain, but there remains part of him within me.
One thing that has really impressed itself upon me is my father’s influence over my love for music. This is an irony, though, because I was not allowed to listen to music as a kid. My father was a pastor of a particularly fundamentalist and conservative bent, and so he felt like he had to enforce strict standards in what content my siblings and I consumed. Music, for the most part, was out.
But he couldn’t keep that part of him completely hidden. He did let us listen to The Carpenters and Roger Whittaker sometimes. Whether he knew it or not, I was also aware of his love for The Beatles, The Moody Blues, and more. He introduced me to Pink Floyd by allowing me to hear “Welcome to the Machine” in the car one day. I don’t think he knew the fire he set ablaze within me that day. He would also watch some of the PBS pledge drive every year; many times they would be showing Pink Floyd’s Pulse concert, and so I was enamored with that, as well.
I got in trouble a few times for my curiosity towards music. I remember singing Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” at the top of my lungs one day when I didn’t realize he was home. He scolded me for listening to radio stations that would play that song, but I often wonder if he was smiling inwards. It was always so difficult to tell what he was actually thinking. He was upset with me when he happened upon me listening to a Nirvana cassette one time, too. Of course, I remember when Sting released his song “Desert Rose”, as a little kid I made fun of the Arabian tenor on that track, and Dad perhaps became madder at me for that stupidity than for listening to forbidden music. I remember the look in his eyes that told me that I needed to expand my tastes and to appreciate this music I was hearing.
He introduced me to so many artists, I now realize. I first heard the music of Seal through his love for the IV album after my mom passed away in 2003. That has obviously stuck with me. He would sometimes play a bit of Boston, Mr. Mister, Journey, or The Police/Sting in the car, though many times he wouldn’t let us hear entire songs. He introduced me to Vangelis, one of my favorites, through his love for the Chariots of Fire score. Besides being a chronic channel surfer on the radio and TV, it seemed like there was a struggle within him between wanting to show us things he loved and wanting to save face religiously. And so, I was able to hear “Nights in White Satin” many times in the car, but I would have gotten in trouble for listening to it on my own.
In the car…I just realized that I have used that phrase several times now. Times were simpler then. I remember hoping that Dad would stop on various songs as he turned the dial. I remember one time that he let us listen to the entirety of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”, a song that I still love to this day. I remember feeling every beat and every searing rhythm in my soul. Dad was also prone to drumming on the dashboard for Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”, or allowing us to listen to the first part of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”; he didn’t let us listen to the second half because it was “too heavy” for him. There were many such songs or artists that filtered through my psyche because he would play snippets of them, ranging from Motown greats to Matchbox Twenty.
I would also point out that Dad was the person who forced me to take notice of lyrics, something that caused me to start The Prog Mind in the first place. While he was more worried about various bad influences that don’t concern me now, the point was not lost on me through the years, and many times an album of lyrics I love becomes an album of music I love even more. Sometimes, though, he would tell us the story behind the song being played, and I always liked that. I haven’t written many spotlights in recent years, due to some other writing projects I have, but the first 3-4 years of TPM were centered upon writing track-by-track lyrical analyses of some of my favorite albums. I still appreciate the story behind the music.
So, when it comes right down to it, my father was a huge influence on my love for music. Whether it was pointing out the score in a movie we were watching, or whether it was listening to Andrea Bocelli for hours on end, he really was a musical man, even if his religious concerns constantly stifled that artistic tendency. In a way, I have learned from that, too, and won’t allow something as universally beautiful as music to be suffocated by such beliefs.
I don’t think he ever knew about this outlet of mine. Would he have been proud? I have no idea. He wouldn’t have said so even if he would have been. That question doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I am who I am.
In the end, TPM is something of a tribute to my father, even if I never meant it that way.