A Grandfather's Gift of Music
by Pete Crigler
On Thursday, December 3, 2020, I lost my 87-year-old grandfather, Philip Henry Pierce. He had been suffering from dementia for quite some time and had been in a nursing facility for almost two years. This isn't a 'woe is me' sort of thing. I just decided to take the time and remember the man that I knew, a music fan who did his best to open my horizons and find something different than what I was already listening to.
I didn't get my license until much later in life so for a long time my grandfather was my mode of transport. He had this white truck that was essentially a two-seater with a very small pull-down seat in the back. He loved this truck and all it had was a tape deck. He also had a Cadillac, well, many Cadillacs throughout his years that he loved, but this particular one had a CD player, which was revolutionary for him. Between these two vehicles, he would putter around town and take me where I needed to go, like work and school. In the truck, he had his trusty cassettes he had seemingly had forever but they still sounded good and so he kept plugging along.
Among these tapes were Creedence Clearwater Revival's greatest hits, Clarence Carter's Strokin', Bob Seger's Stranger in Town, Doobie Brothers' Cycles and Jr. Walker and the All-Stars' Nothin' But Soul anthology. These tapes were in constant rotation, occasionally peppered in with Ray Price's Super Hits and Dan Fogelberg's Greatest Hits which were some of the only times I remember him going to a record store to buy music. I was in my early teens at this point and didn't have much interest in classic rock but I liked Jr. Walker right off the bat. He was one of Motown's most underrated artists and I was turned onto him by the time I was 12 and became a forever fan right then. CCR and Seger took a little bit more time because I wasn't feeling it at that point. But because my grandfather played the tapes constantly, it eventually became ingrained in my head and I became one of the biggest CCR fans I knew. Most of my friends hadn't become as familiar with this stuff as myself but I was just enraptured.
I didn't become a huge fan of Seger but I absolutely love Stranger in Town because it was such a part of my childhood, hearing songs like "Still the Same," "Hollywood Nights" and "Ain't Got No Money." Now my Pop loved "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll" but I still detest that song to this day and that was just one I could never get on board with but I let him have it because I didn't know a whole lot of songs that he really did like. His tastes seemed to end at around 1983. My grandmother is funnier; she doesn't seem to like any music after about 1965 so it's been useless to talk music with her because she is still listening to Sinatra and The Platters.
The author, his mom and his grandfather
When Pop would drive the Cadillac, he would play K95, a country station that seemed to be in range no matter where you went in the state. I've never been a fan of country music and listening to K95 really brought that into sharp focus. Country music was dead by 1985 and whatever it was that Pop was listening to wasn't my cup of tea. I made this known to him and he just laughed and would turn it up louder just to have a go at me. I always enjoyed that about him. He never gave a shit about anything- he just did what pleased him most.
When it came to CD's in the car, he went with the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack because it was one of his favorite movies. I supplemented his collection by picking up Willie Nelson, Skynyrd, CCR, Seger, Jr. Walker, Clapton, Doobies, Steve Winwood and Bob Wills compilations, among a few others. He didn't have a massive collection but he knew what he liked and he would play them long past anyone else being sick of them. The Doobies, Winwood, CCR and Willie discs were in constant rotation and when I say constant, that means they were practically all he would listen to as he got up in age. "Gimme Three Steps" (Skynyrd) and "What a Fool Believes" (Doobies) were two of his favorite songs and every time they would come up in rotation, he would crank them up, clap his hands, make noise and just generally enjoy himself. It never got old to see.
Over time, there were a few newer CD's that were introduced to rotation, including Marty Robbins, whom I rather grew to enjoy, particularly songs like "Streets of Laredo," and Dan Fogelberg. Fuckin' Dan Fogelberg. The name alone brings up visions of hate and evil. Songs like "Run for the Roses," "Longer" and the insipid "Same Old Lang Syne" drive me crazy even just thinking about them. But God love my Pop because he loved the shit out of Fogelberg and played it constantly even when I reminded him how much Fogelberg sucks. He just chuckled and kept on enjoying "Same Old Lang Syne."
As my grandfather got older, we took away his license and his dementia began getting worse. I'll spare the reader the details of his decline but in early 2019, he was moved into a nursing facility where he resided until December 3. As I got my license and began enjoying driving on my own, I began listening to music and enjoying my punk and alternative discs. I soon included some Harry Chapin and Doobies CD's to change things up a bit. I ended up keeping almost all of Pop's CDs after he went into the home and still have his little binder of about 10 discs that I keep in a safe so I always know where they are.
After my grandfather passed, it seemed like he was everywhere the weekend following. On the Friday afterwards, my mother heard "What a Fool Believes" on the radio and just grinned. Then the next day, at almost the same time as his passing "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" by Jr. Walker came on the oldies station and we both kind of lost it. It seemed as if he was looking down on us. I don't know what everyone believes when it comes to angels and whatnot, but it definitely felt like he was around us, dancing his ass off like he used to do when my mother and aunt were kids. That Saturday, I went out shopping to thrift stores and I found a cassette: Ray Price's Super Hits, the same tape he introduced me to in high school. I took that as the best sign of them all and happily bought the tape and smiled. Finally, a week after he passed, I was driving to work and "Heart Hotels" by Fogelberg came on and I couldn't believe my ears. I never hear that song on the radio. So I just kinda looked up, smiled at the heavens and actually listened to a Fogelberg song all the way through.
I know Pop will always be around through the music we listen to and that alone gives me great joy. Those memories listening to music and driving are some of the best I have of him and if music is the thing that unites the living and the dead, then I will happily enjoy every Doobies, Ray Price and Jr. Walker song I hear for the rest of my life.
Also see Peter Crigler's blog
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