My father passed away on May 4, 2017, in Milwaukee, where he’d been living with my older brother Zac. I got out of work late that night, and after I returned my brother’s call and heard the news, I felt a little numb, too far physically removed from the personal significance of what had just happened 800 miles away. Driving home, I put on Little Feat’s “Easy to Slip,” a song I’d heard in Dad’s car a thousand times, and it helped me feel something that night when it was all almost too slippery and abstract to grasp.
Three weeks later, Zac and his family flew out to Baltimore, with our father in an urn, to hold a memorial in his hometown. Richard David Shipley was born in Baltimore and lived most of his life there, selling his house of 25 years a month before his death. He wasn’t a religious man, so we celebrated his life in a secular fashion that seemed fitting, enjoying the earthly pleasures of music, food, and good company. We took over the upstairs of his favorite Fells Point bar, Kisling’s, for a few hours, and enjoyed some beer and the best bar food in Baltimore while a playlist I assembled of his favorite music blared in the background. “I can’t believe I’m listening to Michael McDonald,” my brother told me after I sent him a link to the playlist.
Dad, like many other baby boomers, loved rock’n’roll ever since he saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan as a teenager, and he sang in a band in college. One night when his group was performing in Baltimore County, Dad met a musician who was in town recording an album. Lowell George invited my dad to come by the studio, where he saw the eccentric California band Little Feat run through songs for their fourth album, Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, a chance meeting with one of the great cult bands of the ‘70s.
I grew up with my mom and saw Dad on weekends, when we’d spend hours in the backseat of his car listening to him sing along with the radio and tapes of The Eagles and Tori Amos. He loved Tears For Fears’ ‘80s records, but it was their last U.S. hit, 1993’s “Break It Down,” that uniquely stuck with both him and me as a masterpiece. As a teenager, I got my first turntable and started to pore through the boxes of vinyl that Dad hadn’t touched since he got a CD player—all his Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac records. (I always thought it was unusual that he seemed to prefer Tusk to Rumours.)
Dad and I continued to bond over music in his later years, and we’d go together to see Little Feat, Michael McDonald, and Jackson Browne. (He met my mother at a Jackson Browne concert in 1978.) But he remained open-minded to all sorts of music in ways that sometimes surprised me. When I was 17, I needed a ride to go see Boredoms and Scarnella at the 9:30 Club, and in retrospect it’s pretty remarkable that a 50-year-old dad actually really enjoyed Vision Creation Newsun-era Boredoms. I invited the Baltimore post-rock duo The Water to perform at my 30th birthday party, and Dad became a fan, buying their album and returning to see them live again.
So much of the music here is “dad rock” in every sense of the word, but it’s never felt like a pejorative to me. I never loved everything Dad loved, and certainly I didn’t agree with him that Sting was as good solo as with The Police. But I learned how to love music partly through him, and I’ll never hear any of these songs, or a hundred other songs, without thinking of him.