About seven weeks ago, three days after Christmas, my mom, Nancy, passed away at age 81.
The grief is still fresh, with lots to process, as much about her life as about her death.
Still, one thing that wasn’t complicated – in fact, a source of great joy – was my mom’s relationship with music.
Perhaps because she’d turned 21 five weeks before giving birth to me, my mom had music tastes much closer to mine than any of my high school friends could say about their parents.
Who saw Prince at San Francisco’s Cow Palace on his “Purple Rain” tour?
Who partied with friends and members of Dr. Hook in the late 1970s?
Who took me at age 15 to my first real concert experience, Billy Joel, on his tour for The Stranger and “52nd Street”?
Not my dad. As much as I loved him, I’m pretty sure he was the one who took my brother, sister and me to see Helen Reddy at the Mill Run Theater in-the-round in the Chicago suburbs. My love of MOR and countrypolitan music came from him.
She bought all those K-tel albums in my record collection – or gave me the money to do so.
She shelled out for a two-year weekly subscription to Billboard magazine, so my friend Tony and I could go over each week’s Hot 100 over the phone.
She introduced us to Gladys Knight, via a woman who worked for Gladys who crossed my mom’s path as a Hyatt Regency O’Hare reservation receptionist.
She patiently gave us her opinions when we mimicked our favorite radio stations by having “Battle Weekends,” pitting one 45 RPM against another, until we had our winner. (Since we didn’t own “Hey Jude,” and “Stairway to Heaven” was never a single, our winners were always more diverse than what the Chicago stations picked.)
She encouraged us to disco dance, even when we thought we were born with two left feet.
Perhaps most astonishingly, in 1983 she threw a party…
…complete with a Michael Jackson impersonator…
…renting a portion of Chicago’s Grant Park, out for a weekend afternoon.
So in 1992, when she turned 50, it only made sense that we collaborated with her friends on a soundtrack to play at her party. They provided the stories. My brother, sister and I provided the voiceovers. Together, we created the soundtrack of Mom’s life up to then.
The last song – the one I picked – referenced a running joke between my mom and me. Long before I set foot in a newsroom, she knew I liked to write.
“If anyone should ever write my life story …,” she’d start to croon.
I would cut her off, saying, “It won’t be me! I don’t want to know all the details!”
On the eve of New Year’s 2024, I sat down and composed her obituary.
I’m sure she’d be gratified to know she was right.
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