By Jacob Dick
It was an average looking CD case, like any other my dad left behind. I had pulled it from the shelf by chance as I was searching for something to listen to. I never expected to be holding a portrait of an anthropomorphic hairless cat chained to a dartboard outlined with throwing knives, surrounded by chimera with Satan heads. My 8-year-old mind couldn’t comprehend what I was looking at. This wasn’t like the stoic morbidity of the cow skull on the front of the Eagles Album. This was more unsettling than the crooked old man on Led Zeppelin IV.
The paper insert folded out into a mural of torture, insanity and hairless cats sporting concert tees. I studied each scene trying to figure out why my dad would have something like this. I still had the image of my dad as the Sunday school superintendent that was a marksman in the Army, and played old bluegrass songs for his mom on guitar. This album didn’t factor into any of the stories I had heard about him, and that made me even more curious. I decided to ask my mom about it.
I had never seen such a look of disgust as when I showed her the album. She grabbed it from my hands, and took it to wherever moms put the awesome things young boys shouldn’t have. That CD must still be resting in a shallow grave of dusty cap guns and M80’s, because I never saw it again. I begged for it back but she wouldn’t budge. She just couldn’t understand why her son would want to look at such an awful thing. To me, the album was a hint of something I had been missing. It had been three years since my father died and I had already began to forget what he had been like. I only had remnants like the album collection to try and understand him.
After the incident, I often raided the large entertainment center in our living room that seemed like a shrine to the late 90’s. It had magnetic cabinets that made a clicky noise I enjoyed, enough space for any fatback TV, rows of tiny shelves for CDs, and a glass case to display the five disc changer stereo. Behind this swinging glass door was a collection of albums that rose higher than I would for several years.
Previously I had only searched the shelves for the classics like Ray Charles or Creedence Clearwater Revival so I didn’t have to listen to my mom’s music in the car. Now I rifled through the shelves with purpose. My dad had obviously left behind clues in the albums for me to find in order to discover my lost rocker heritage.
I skipped lunch for weeks to save enough money to buy a cheap disc player, with the worst headphones you could imagine. I had to con my grandmother into taking me to get it, but it was all worth it when I could listen to the Black Sabbath and AC/DC albums I had carefully secreted into my room. I could see why my mom had been afraid of this music, being the polar opposite to her country-pop world. I kept listening anyway, trying to imagine what my dad had felt when he heard Ozzy sing about the plight of the “Iron Man”.
By the time I was 10, I had already over played everything in the glass case. It would still be several years before I would have access to a reliable DSL connection so I took to borrowing albums from other kids at school. I started to seek out music with a pulse that spoke to me like my father’s music had. I thought of my musical choices as a way of connecting with my dad in my own angsty music-geek kind of way.
When the magic of broadband internet appeared in my hometown, I could finally listen to anything I wanted. I could also finally look up the one album that got away. Although I never forgot what the album looked like, I never actually knew the name of it, or who the artist was. Out of curiosity one day, I decided to do a quick Google search describing the artwork as I remembered it when I was a kid. It took some refining but, after 10 years, I was looking at that twisted album cover once again. I felt nostalgic as I shifted through each terrible image, remembering how I had poured over them before, searching for glimpses of my dad. Then I saw something that I couldn’t comprehend. Above the head of the poor, anguished cat-man, in red letters, was the name Aerosmith.
The album that I believed was a link to my father, and the inspiration for my love of music had been Aerosmith’s 12th studio album “Nine Lives.” I started to feel a little silly. My inspiration for becoming involved in music suddenly seemed like mainstream fandom. After talking to my mom, it turns out Dad had been part of a CD club in the 90’s, and he didn’t particularly like Aerosmith. The album had shot to the top of the chart in 1997, and had probably been sent to him by the club because of its popularity that year.
The albums are now packed in boxes and stacked against the wall with my father’s medals and compound bow. I haven’t opened the boxes for a while now but I can still recall their contents by heart. I have still never listened to Nine Lives and I don’t plan to anytime soon. Just like the junk that lays in boxes around my room, songs from the past just don’t seem that important to me anymore. Pursuing the things my father left behind has helped me discover more about myself than I ever understood about him. But that’s how music is. It’s personal.