Today marks the seventh anniversary of my father’s passing.
Unsurprisingly, it isn’t any easier for me today than it was seven years ago. Thankfully despite my mind relentlessly sabotaging my efforts to quiet it, I’ve learned to cope with my emotions when the calendar turns to the 24th day of my birth month and one of those ways is, also unsurprisingly, through music.
My father’s legacy as an artist is certainly as a curator of oils, charcoal, and pastels. Fine Art predominated his creative expression and afforded him an opportunity of measured success and the comforts that came with it that very few artists get to achieve. However, his passion for music almost matched his passion for Fine Art as he was also an accomplished oudist and vocalist and, to many, an even more talented musician than he was a painter. His taste in music ultimately shaped my own whether directly or otherwise and as a result, I often sought his approval for my own work… though, for years, it was so hard to come by because, well, I wasn’t very good lol
I’ve written many songs either directly inspired by my father or very explicitly about him at different stages of my own career so I figured I’d celebrate his life today with a selection of zykomazika that hold significance …
One of the earliest, if not the earliest, pieces written explicitly about him, “heavy” from the Bipolar Me album is certainly the eeriest, most unsettling one for me. I initially wrote the tune when I was still in high school while my father’s life hung in the balance following a complicated and nearly fatal heart transplant. He had initially suffered his heart attacks when I was 10 but by the time he finally found a compatible heart four years later, three quarters of his heart had blackened over and were barely functional if at all. Story has it that when the doctors pulled it out, three quarters of it fell apart like a pile of ashes shaped like a heart. I was a particularly brooding teen to begin with but having to spend most of high school without a traditionally “present” father figure sure had its effect. I grew increasingly prone to writing dark, twisted lyrics and sketching troubling, horrifying images so “heavy”s vibe is, well, kinda heavy.
I recorded it about four years later while I was in college but it wouldn’t find its way onto an album until about another four years after that when I had already graduated. I was home for the holidays and was showing my dad how to use Cool Edit Pro (riiiight?) since he had been bugging me about wanting to record some tunes. We sat in the dining room one night, I fired up the program and I gave him some basic recording tutorials. The result? We recorded some soundbites of him being his typical goofy self. “Wait til I get my brushes; let me paint a nude air.” Right, dad 🙂
Of course, leave it to young zyko to ultimately use these lighthearted, silly quotes in a song that is about as dreary as the 39th night of flooding rains. Lyrically, it centers on my anxious fear of losing my father in the midst of my self-guided (and thus erratic and dodgy) adventure through puberty and all the confusing terror that goes with it. Compositionally, it is standard zyko-fare; a loud, delayed high-gain electric lead crooning over somber clean tone arpeggios. The vocals are subdued and bland. The song is unapologetically simple and repetitive, demonstrating the insanity of despair over what we cannot change; in this case the certainty that regardless of what I wanted as a troubled adolescent, my father would eventually have to leave me to deal with the world on my own.
And of course, hearing his voice on a tune I wrote about my fear of losing him two decades ago is just the sort of thing I’d seek out today.
“Rime of the Wandering Seafarer” is an arrangement of the “Dragon Roost Island” theme from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker videogame and was my entry for the October 2008 DoD competition. Earlier that month, my father had started becoming deathly ill, getting progressively worse as the month wore on culminating with an emergency visit to the ICU due to a cardiac arrest. This was the most serious complication since his transplant nearly 14 years prior. The outlook wasn’t good. Somehow (as had been the case with him throughout his life) he pulled through against the odds and would survive until the following August.
I had already finished this tune by the time he was hospitalized late October and so much of the emotional energy behind it was due to his deteriorating health and as such the song is calm and subdued. The tune was originally going to be an uptempo drunken bard’s tale type of tavern jig but instead ended up a more intimate portrayal of the protagonist’s journey to save a submerged world. It also signaled a progressive change from uptempo, rockin distorted guitaring that would eventually result in the sound I predominantly write in today as will be evidenced by the upcoming Sad Man On A Rock. The track moves through a simple verse-chorus dance before entering a mysterious refrain much like Link would enter a dungeon in between sailing on the open sea. The track ultimately builds into a climax driven by timpani, tribal drum and a cheesy flute sample before bidding goodnight. Lyrically, the tune is actually sung by the boat (SPOILER: it’s the King of Hyrule, Princess Zelda’s papa) to Link, urging our silent reluctant hero to dig deep and soar for he is the world’s only hope in defeating evil. The lyrics certainly highlight a few Wind Waker specific references but they speak very generally to the franchise as a whole and the episodic nature of its conflict between good and evil.
The song’s significance was, however, that it became an instant favorite for him which for me was just wonderful because most of my music just didn’t appeal to him at all. Not “Rime of the Wandering Seafarer” though; over the course of the final ten months of his life, he would occasionally leave me a voicemail or send me an email telling me how much he loved the song, how moving he found it, how I had “finally found [my] way” as an artist, urging me to “etch, not write” my art into the walls of the world so that it could survive the test of time. I had received one of these messages the week before he was hospitalized for the last time.
When he passed away on August 24th, 2009, I found his iPod by his recliner seat next to a pen and pad where he had been sketching a battered and grizzled old man with hastily frantic strokes and tense shading. I claimed his iPod and spent the next several weeks listening to only it on what seemed like an eternal repeat of his musical effigy. Amidst the Bartok and the Chopin, the Mohamed Abdul Wahab and the Beatles, I found a few of my songs on there (only a few heh) but “Rime” showed up there several times.
This song means more to me than maybe anything I’ve ever recorded.
I wrote a lot of emotionally charged music following my father’s passing but none captured how I felt more poignantly than the final two tracks of my tenth full length original release, A Mild Suggestive Moment. “B-43” is the first of those two songs and one of the first songs I recorded after his death.
The title specifically refers to the plot number in which he is buried. I vividly recall the evening I recorded it; I was voluntarily closed up in my Long Beach apartment and the sun was low, sneaking through the windows like a welcomed friend stopping by to say goodbye. My voice had been shot for nearly a month probably due to a combination of malnutrition and unaddressed depression so while the piece was initially going to have vocals, it ended up an instrumental. The recording itself went rather quickly as nearly every part of this was a one-shot take starting with the simple chord progression and then the slathering of lazy afternoon lead guitar and keyboard noodling. I caught a wave of emotional mojo that evening and produced this tune as a result. It’s a strange combination of the organic texture of the acoustic juxtaposed to the “space jam” tone of the Monologue synth sine lead as was the norm for 2009-2010 zyko.
I’ve found that this song always sounds best fitted when driving along a country road during a sunset. Perhaps it’s the timing of its birth. Perhaps it’s my father’s love of the country roads surrounding my family’s home in Northern Californian ag country. Either way, I usually start my sets with this tune… and end with this one:
“El Viejito” (or “The Old Man”), like “B43,” was written shortly after his passing and closes out my sets the way it did A Mild Suggestive Moment. This specific recording is from the live album, Live at Rebel Bite… although this is one of the tracks that got utterly mangled in the recording process as my laptop crapped out on me mid-tune. Still, despite sounding like it was shot out of a Nerf gun into a meatgrinder, I prefer this version to the album version as the latter is an especially painful performance (voice was shot as I had mentioned before with “B43” but I still forced myself to sing it) and a very poorly recorded endeavor.
The song itself is a dichotomous expose on both my father and myself, paralleling his disenfranchisement with his muse to my own. The later years of his life were hard on my father for a variety of reasons but at the forefront, for him naturally, was his inability to paint or sing. His vocal chords had been mangled over the years due to all the hospital stays so he grew frustrated with his inability to sing with the range and voracity he used to. Even more concerning for him was how hard it was to lift his arm to paint which, coupled with his fatigue and fading vision, made him feel detached from the muse that had guided him for the entirety of his life. He began to sketch more often than paint with the stubborn proclamation that he was keeping sharp so that once he was better, he’d get back to the canvas and paint proper.
His disenchantment with his artform was for entirely different reasons than my own but mine mirrored his at the same time. I felt disconnected from the early zyko body of work and felt that I was no longer as creative, as bold or as prolific as I had been and felt that I, too, had lost the magic that had defined my youthful artistic exuberance and eager curiosity. Like him, I felt like I just wanted another chance to make it right, to paint another mural on another wall. He may have literally been an old man but I sure felt like one.
I took these two notions and combined them as an exchange between my father and I, pleading that we mend ourselves through our art and through our love. In my mind, it is the last conversation he and I would have had were I able to rewrite history. As it stands, it’s just a song.
There are certainly plenty of other tracks that were either indirectly inspired by him or that he enjoyed but these four were the most fitting given today. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t miss him but I also know he’s still with me. I see, hear and feel proof of it all the time.
I owe a lot of what I am today to my father but I also owe my lifelong relationship with music to him. After all, it was when he’d play the oud when I was a small child, that I’d sit at his feet wide-eyed and dumbfounded by it all, falling in love with music and its creation. He’d tried to sit me down in his studio and teach me the color wheel despite his frustration with my color-blindness but he knew that, though I caught on with charcoals, I was destined for music, not painting. I often posit how he’d react to a track when I am testing a mix, wondering if he’d approve of my latest creation. I try to hear it through his ears knowing that I’ll never truly know how that man saw, heard or felt the world.
But I reckon it’s probably not a whole lot different than how I do.
Love ya, Dad.