Have you ever had one day in your life where two completely different major events occur? Going into the day you’re filled with anticipation, energy and lust for life, but by the end of the day you’ve zeal has been completely neutralized and you don’t feel anything?
My father died on the same day that I was on mainstream radio for the first time.
At 10PM on 11/26/2018, War Paint was scheduled to be featured on WXRV Boston 92.5 The River’s Homegrown Showcase. This was huge for me. To be played on a major market radio station that I listened to I before I started making music... I had been excited about this for a month. It was a major personal milestone and legitimately a childhood dream come true. I’d been promoting this one moment on social media for weeks, squandering money on ads trying to get the word out. I was so proud and excited in anticipation of this day.
At 4:45PM, I got a voicemail from my sister that just said “Please call me back as soon as you get this”. It gave me pause. I was wrapping up my day job, already restless and mentally disconnected in anticipation of 10PM, and ahead of me was a long drive in freezing rain in a recently repaired car. “Please call me” is almost always bad news, but maybe she just wanted info on the radio showcase. I’d been getting questions from other people all day. I decided to wait until I got home to call her, just in case it was bad news. Plus, a long commute could be dangerous if I was emotional. Or maybe it wasn’t bad news, she just wanted radio info, and I should call her from the car (hands free, of course) so we could gab along the way. Might help make the restless ride home seem quicker. Even if it was icy out.
On the road at 5:15PM. Let me just get on the highway and then I’ll call her back, I thought. I almost always have my phone’s GPS on when I drive, and I’ll sometimes see texts pop up on the mounted screen. At 5:20PM, as I’m about to turn onto the highway, I see a text pop up: “Please call me.”
That’s when I knew.
There was a chance it was my grandmother who died, but my father has been at risk for years. An alcoholic and opioid addict. Severe depression. Our adult relationship was strained at best. I could fill a book with whys. After one too many drunk dials and slurry late night voicemails, I had decided to block him completely last year. My sisters were closer to him and had continued to hold on, tried to help him turn his life around, tried to give him an out, but as I would soon find out they had recently given up too. Everyone has a limit.
I spent the next 70 minutes driving through freezing rain & thick fog. My commutes are usually when I practice my vocal exercises and revise melodies, lyrics & phrasing. Personalized carpool karaoke. This drive was no different. Just colder and disconnected. I was vocally belting while mentally readying myself for the inevitable.
At 6:30PM I finally slid into my driveway and turned off the car. The freezing rain beat down on the windshield. Much louder now that the ambient noise of the engine and my own voice wasn’t there to mask it. From the driver’s seat of my darkened car, I called my sister back.
We only spoke for about 10 minutes. Mostly talked about circumstances, logistics & how we wanted to get the word out. Even though I’m the one that gave up on him first and I’m halfway across the country, I’m legally his next of kin and will need to handle things. Our voices cracked very briefly, but I didn’t actually cry. Not until the following day. As we’re saying goodbye I see a text from my mother pop up. It’s about the radio showcase.
At 6:40PM I enter my house. My husband greets me more warmly than usual, as he knows it’s the big day. I tell him the news as I shed my damp jacket. He responds as I expected, with a nod, hug and morbid joke. This is a first for either of us. I let him know I need to make some calls.
At 6:45PM I’m telling my mother that her ex-husband has just died. She had actually just heard the news from my other sister, but it was still sinking in. Word gets around quickly in our family. In every family. We talk about him for 10 minutes, and then the conversation turns to music. I confirm the time and details for the radio. She remembers he wanted “Spirit in the Sky” played at his funeral.
At 7PM I’m texting both of my sisters. We’re figuring out who I have to call. Getting names and numbers. My husband reminds me I should eat something. I haven’t eaten anything all day. I leave a voicemail with the medical examiner, then microwave a bowl of Thanksgiving leftovers.
At 7:45PM my sister texts about the radio showcase. We all joke about our shared history as I warn them I mentioned we sing in harmony when we get together. LOLs ensue.
At 8PM I get a hilariously misspelled text from my uncle saying he heard about my “dead”. I thank him for his sympathy and the laugh. He swears the typo wasn’t intentional.
At 8:30PM my sister calls. The one I hadn’t actually spoken to yet. We talk for almost an hour, oscillating equally between excitement about the radio and practical morbid logistics. She already knew about “Spirit in the Sky”. We reminisce that my grandfather had chosen “When the Saints Go Marching In” as his farewell. I told her I’m working on writing my own.
At 9:35PM I’m in the shower, singing. My other rehearsal location. Alone again. The excitement from earlier in the day has been completely snuffed out, but I am not sad. I started the day too high to make it that low. I’m back to neutral, numb.
At 9:55PM, I emerge from the shower to see my husband has set up the laptop on the bed, already tuned to the River’s website. I send out a few last texts and social media reminders.
At 10:05PM my song is playing on a mainstream radio station. A dream come true. My husband is beaming with pride and excitement on my behalf. He’s feeling it for me, knowing I can’t. I record the DJ reading my bio using my phone. Felt like a 90s child using a cassette player to record their favorite song for a mix tape.
At 10:10PM I’m getting a wave of congratulations via text and social media.
At 10:30PM my sister announces the death on Facebook. She links to “Spirit in the Sky”. We begin to get the wave of condolences.
Two very different life events seamlessly intertwined to snuff each other out. And here’s the kicker: The song I had been practicing & refining was inspired by my broken relationship with my father. It was the song I was singing during that icy, foggy commute home, and during the calm shower. It had (and still has) some vicious, cutting, painfully true lyrics... including one about his potential death.
Now that he’s actually dead? I still don’t know how I feel, but the lyrics are perfect.