The soundtrack to losing my dad

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I never expected my dad to pass away two weeks before my 21st birthday, but when finals week came last semester, the universe decided that 2019 was ending with the biggest plot twist of my life. Death is never something someone can truly prepare for, but this loss was a shock to my system like I had never felt before.

Combating my inability to understand what was happening, I initially came to terms with the tragedy in the best way I know how: I made a Spotify playlist. 

Dated Dec. 15, just two days after he had passed away, I compiled a list of 23 songs that I thought best represented who my dad is to me. I subtly titled it “<3,” so as to not give away the emotional subtext behind the random compilation of ’70s psych rock, John Mayer, Earth, Wind & Fire and other incohesive artists.

Since my dad was a UC Berkeley frat boy in the 1980s, my playlist is expectedly full of the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley and the Wailers and every other college stoner band you can hear nowadays within the confines of a Northside co-op. 

Of course, not every song on the list was one of his favorites; some are songs that still fade into a memory of him. Every time I hear “The Girl” by City and Colour, I can’t help but think about one of the last conversations we’d had during a car ride home from Berkeley. The lyrics of the song talk about chasing dreams and exploring the world, but still being tied to your special person — we talked about adding this song to the list of contenders for the father-daughter dance at my hypothetical future wedding.

In a similar vein, I avoided “My Girl” by the Temptations for as long as I could before it hit me unexpectedly in the background of a commercial. Growing up, this was a song my dad would sing to me at any chance he got: cheesy wedding reception dance floors, tired car rides, random Mexican restaurants and countless other untimely situations. I avoided the song for so long after he passed because I was afraid of the emotional gravity that would follow — instead, hearing the voice of David Ruffin brought an unexpected wash of peace. 

In the month before he passed, my dad and I went to a few concerts together amid the chaos of the school year. He was always my biggest supporter when it came to my contributions to The Daily Californian, so I took him as my plus-one to cover the Turnover concert at The UC Theatre. Considering how little free time either of us ever had, the opportunity and timing was almost too good to be true — adding to the fact that my dad had been wanting to go back to The UC Theatre for years, a venue he hadn’t stepped foot in since it was an actual movie theater in the ’80s. 

Although none of the songs performed that night made it onto my playlist, the song he showed me and my cousin on the drive home most certainly did. I don’t think I will ever fully understand the appeal of an eight-and-a-half minute arena rock tune of basically the exact same bassline, but my dad never responded to a song quite like he did to “Roundabout” by Yes. While we may have different tastes in this case, talking to him about music made me understand myself a little bit more each time. 

And if there was anything my dad and I could always get onboard with, it was live music. The first concert he ever went to see was Elton John — although I don’t know exactly what year it was, I know he couldn’t have even been old enough to drive himself there. It’s still baffling to me that he saw Elton John’s farewell tour at the Chase Center within months of his own farewell. The first concert my dad ever brought me to was the Jonas Brothers in 2009, and I will always get chills thinking about how I saw the Jonas Brothers’ 2019 reunion tour just the night before my dad died. 

These kinds of parallels between my father and I don’t just lie in chance situations, but also in our shared love for music, our college days at UC Berkeley and even the fact that I currently live in the same house he occupied for nearly every semester at this school. In some strange way, compiling this playlist made me feel even closer to my dad, like some transcendent connection happened with every new addition. 

In the lines of “Your Song,” Elton John says, “I hope you don’t mind/ That I put down in words/ How wonderful life is when you’re in the world.” In some ways, I thought a lot about these words when writing this column. This song has a special place on my playlist, nestled between the likes of Steely Dan, Rascal Flatts and Fleetwood Mac. Elton John may still be alive, but I find some kind of joy in thinking about my dad out there somewhere, hanging out with his similarly departed musical idols like Jerry Garcia and John Lennon. 

As Mac Miller pondered in his posthumous album, I hope my dad figured out if it feels like summer on the other side. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to his playlist.

Skylar De Paul is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.