Today is the composer Philip Glass’ 80th birthday, and I have been listening to his music all afternoon.
My dad loved Glass’ music way back in the 1970’s, but I couldn’t quite get into it at that time. I thought it was bizarre, avant garde and discordant. A lot of people agreed with me, and egg-throwing was not uncommon at his concerts. They couldn’t understand it, and back then, neither could I.
But Dad was a man ahead of his time. As an advertiser, he was more aware than others of trends and styles. He started to wear blue jeans before they became popular; he let his hair grow a little more than other execs in 1967. He enjoyed the ‘Classical Greats’ as much as my mother, but he often listened to Copeland’s Rodeo, music by Shostakovich, Satie’s Gymnopedie and Bernstein’s Candide when he was alone. All of them had an unfamiliar, strange and haunting beauty.
To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about Philip Glass except that today, WQXR played a little piece of the theme he wrote for the 2002 film, ‘The Hours’ that starred Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore. I was captivated enough to do a search on Google. Imagine my surprise to see that Glass had composed dozens of themes including The Truman Show, The Illusionist, Notes on a Scandal, Leviathan and had even earned several Academy Award nominations.
I put a collection of Glass’s music on YouTube and continued to scan some online articles. As I listened, I seemed to be drawn a little closer to my father, who passed in 1986. The music was absolutely gorgeous! And oddly, it was similar to that of a new favorite contemporary composer of my own: Ludovico Einaudi. In a sense, it was like a conversation between the two of us as we compared notes. It was very surreal – like the music.
I was stunned by the emotion I felt and the memories that surfaced. When I was young, he walked with me through the halls of museums and galleries, parks and gardens. He was always down in front by the stage taking pictures of my recitals and concerts. He ‘published’ my first play on his mimeograph machine.
He was always there for me, for Mom and for my sister, and he did the same for my sons. He took them to all the places he had taken me as a child – the Museum of Natural History, the Botanical Gardens, Rockefeller Center and Fifth Avenue at Christmas, the circus, sightseeing in New York, the Bronx Zoo – oh yes, and to an Islander’s game.
In a lot of ways, I never really got to know my father as an adult. I was always in the midst of raising my sons, working in Manhattan, taking care of my home, spending time with my own friends. But he did always make time for me. After I was married, he bought me my first 35 mm camera and several super lenses, and we went on many ‘expeditions’ to local places of exceptional beauty. He taught me to see with a ‘camera-eye’ – to witness and give meaning to what I saw through the lens. I try to do that now when I write.
How I wish I had been thoughtful enough to ask him about his life, his work, his history, his dreams. I am not alone in my lamentations. Tonight, on PBS’ Finding Your Roots (a show about genealogy), Bill Maher and Bill O’Reilly both admitted that they never really talked to their fathers about their pasts either.
But thanks to WQXR and the magic of the internet, I now realize that I can listen to the sounds that my Dad felt were so inspiring and comforting. I can share a little bit of time with him again as I write my blog and my book, and try to leave a little vignette about my own life should my children ever care to know.