by Kaitie Darby Mullins
From Fall 2017
My parents both managed record stores before I was born, and I was baptized into rock ‘n roll early on. My dad taught me how to use a turntable when I was three because I wanted to listen to Beatles records in their entirety. I’ve never suffered from the disillusion that music was “just entertainment”; it is sacred and it is our family language. He took me out of school to go to concerts (or, in one particularly strange afternoon in my young life, to mourn the loss of George Harrison), and he always had the right song for the moment. I remember one night—I couldn’t have been older than ten—he came up to my bedroom and quietly woke me, motioning to the door.
“I have an idea, and I want you to be there,” he said.
Texas thunderstorms are strange beasts: they make a lot of noise without always actually being as dangerous as they seem. But that night, the lightning was menacing, and we walked down the stairs lit up by the occasional bolt. When we got to the formal dining room—where no one ever ate, but his stereo and record collection lived—he’d lit candles all around. He had his favorite Doors collection cued up perfectly to “Riders on the Storm,” and there we sat, a ten-year-old girl and her father, in the thunderous darkness with Jim Morrison’s voice cutting through the absence of our human noise. It’s hard to disregard how important music is when you have memories like that.
This is why after he’d divorced my mother, months after I’d stopped talking to him, when he called and asked how he could make up with me, I said, “I want to see the Counting Crows open for The Who on the Fourth of July.” Before he could say, “OK,” I added, “In Sacramento.”
I knew that would be the dealbreaker: it was too far to drive from Dallas, and more money than I could even imagine at 16 to fly. As a teenager, I was slight and dorky, with braces not only on my teeth, but also on my back. But I’d picked up some Counting Crows records at Tower Records downtown, and I already understood that they were going to be “my” band. Outwardly, I was unaffected by my parents’ divorce, but inwardly, I needed the comfort of “Daylight Fading” and “Catapult.” I would sit in my room for hours in front of my boombox, the only music system in the house that hadn’t moved across town to my dad’s new apartment. (That formal dining room had been converted to, well, a dining room—though still, no one ate there.) With my Fourth of July ultimatum I challenged my dad to an expensive, time-consuming expedition. Honestly, I knew I was being a smart-aleck when I did it.
But somewhere deep in my teenage disaffectedness, I remembered the concerts we’d gone to as sacred moments: the time he told me that he’d buy me tickets to see Paul Simon and Bob Dylan if I washed his car (and did); that night, we saw them play “The Boxer” together. Once, we went to see Tom Petty, and the Wallflowers opened; when Petty came out to sing “American Girl” in the encore, he introduced Jakob Dylan by saying, “I used to babysit this kid!” Somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, I knew that the things I was seeing weren’t just important to me, but to whole generations. None of that, by the way, did anything to calm how angry I was at him.
The one memory that did? My first real concert. I was thirteen, or maybe twelve, and I wanted to see Natalie Merchant play at the Bronco Bowl. It was a deeply important moment in time for me, and I remember being so nervous to get ready for the show. I wanted to honor the experience by dressing up in my best outfit. When I came down the stairs in my crushed velvet matching skirt and shirt, my father took one look at me, went back in his bedroom, and then came back out dressed in a suit.
We were the best dressed people at the bowling alley. He never flinched.
Something about that moment stuck out to me, reminded me that my father had always held my needs and desires at his core, somewhere. And despite everything—the women he brought around that I hated, my intense, fierce loyalty to my mother—I felt like if I made the hurdle high enough, if he cleared it, I could forgive him.
This to say: I shouldn’t have been surprised when he called my bluff the next week with plane and concert tickets.
Pete Townshend argued they didn’t have much of a choice. “I don’t feel I know for certain that John would have wanted us to go on,” he wrote in his online diary. “I simply believe we have a duty to go on, to ourselves, ticket buyers, promoters, big and little people. I also have a duty to myself and my dependent family and friends.”
– Andy Greene, Rolling Stone, May 2014
There are a few important things to know about me to understand the emotions surrounding what happened next: first, I believe in ghosts and fate. I always attribute it to having been born in the south, but we all know that Dallas isn’t traditionally “the south,” not like New Orleans or Birmingham. What I mean, I guess, is that I’m superstitious. This is not a trait either of my parents share with me. My superstitious nature has probably baffled and confused them at times. Knowing that about me, though, must have terrified my father in the days and weeks leading up to this concert. I presume he read each change of the wind as something I’d interpret as a “sign.”
For once, though, I was relatively at peace. Even if the trip was awful, I’d get to see the Counting Crows and The Who. Dad and I hadn’t been to a bad concert yet (minus one folk-singing songwriter from the 1990s who was a little disappointing), and I couldn’t imagine we’d stop now.
A few days before the show, my dad called me on my brand new gold Nokia cell phone. I had gotten so used to sending his calls to voicemail, it almost felt strange to answer, but here I was.
“Hey Dad.” It felt so casual.
“Katie, have you seen the news?”
My heart stopped. I don’t know why. I can presume it was that I was still living in the post 9/11 shadow, but I sincerely doubt I was that worldly. I was a self-involved teenager. My guess is I was reacting to the anxiety in my dad’s voice.
“Katie. It’s John Entwistle.”
There’s no way to say it but to say it: Entwistle had overdosed in a Las Vegas hotel room surrounded by questionable people and circumstances. Sure, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend had toured as The Who after Keith Moon had died, but to lose the whole rhythm section? My dad’s voice trembled. I know he could read my thoughts:
If this falls apart, maybe it’s not meant to be.
I’m 30 years old now, and that sounds so ridiculous. But at the time, I was looking for signs and directions everywhere. I didn’t have a roadmap for dealing with my father, a man I’d loved dearly, and—if I’m being honest—I still loved, passionately, even in my anger. It was almost easier to write him off.
“What are we going to do?”
He sighed. “I guess we wait.”
Pete Townshend has never been comfortable with the decision they made, though I doubt he would have been comfortable either way: but his and Daltrey’s decision to go on may have saved my father’s and my relationship. When they decided to play that first show, July 1 at the Hollywood Bowl, we knew our plans were on and went forward accordingly.
My most vivid memories from that trip feel like a scrapbook about the Counting Crows. First, when my dad picked me up in his car to go to the airport, he had a copy of Recovering the Satellites sitting in the console between our seats, which I read as tacit approval of my taste, something I always craved from him. Second, I remember going to a record store that smelled like patchouli; I pored through the vinyl and stumbled on a practically-new copy of Recovering the Satellites on LP. I bought it, even though I knew there was no record player at home anymore. It was an unspoken promise to myself that I’d be visiting my father again.
But my most visceral memory is the concert itself. The show was outside in a huge amphitheater, and I have to imagine it meant almost as much to the thousands of people who were standing around me. We were surrounded by the heavy smell of expensive concert beer and the thick California heat, which seemed so different from the dry air of Dallas to me. I was coated in a layer of dust and sweat, though my dad had stuck a silky hibiscus with a blood red center behind my ear, and my skin smelled sickeningly sweet. And as the final notes to “Richard Manuel is Dead (If I Could Give All My Love)” rang out in the California dusk, I remember the soaring electric guitar for “Have You Seen Me Lately?” screaming in, piercing the air, and making the whole trip worth it. For those four minutes, I was on fire. At one point, Adam Duritz reached out over the crowd and pointed somewhere towards the back, wailing, “I thought someone would notice/ I thought someone would say something if I was missing/ Well, can’t you see me?” and I leaned over to my dad, whose hand had found its way to my shoulder. “He’s looking right at me,” I yelled.
Of course he wasn’t. But teenage narcissism knows no bounds, and I just knew that he was singing my song for me. My dad nodded and smiled, and then yelled, “He is—look, he’s pointing at you!” We both knew he wasn’t, somewhere in our hearts, but in another world, the narrative was this: a man and his daughter reconnect through incinerating lyrics about loss and loneliness, his arm around her shoulders while the band sings just to them. There are fireworks at the end. (That’s actually true: it was July 4th, after all.)
The Who were phenomenal, too, and watching them that night, I was almost able to slip back in time and watch my father see them for the first time. He’d seen them on the Quadrophenia tour in the 1970s, and that was how he always trumped any argument that John Bonham was a better drummer than Keith Moon—
“How? How could anyone be better than Keith Moon? When I saw them on Quadrophenia, he was playing drums, singing backup, occasionally hitting other percussion, and running the track that kept the whole show on time.” He always had a gleam in his eye when he talked about it. And now, here we were: an empty spotlight fell in Entwistle’s traditional stage-space, and the band seemed, if not somber, at least full of the gravity of loss.
Roger Daltrey, at one point, stepped out of his dancing and normal frontman duties to sing “Love Reign O’er Me,” which seemed to wash the crowd with a quiet understanding. He meant this. So did my dad. He stood there with tears in his eyes, watching one of his favorite bands after one of mine. I leaned into him.
That trip was the beginning of my new relationship with my dad, one that was honest about pain and loneliness. I turned into an adult listening to Recovering the Satellites. When we got home, things were different—not just for us, but for my whole family. Within the next year, my parents began dating each other again. They’re still happily remarried. The Counting Crows were a conduit through which we learned how to talk to each other again, how to be honest about what we felt.
Recovering the Satellites is a record about Adam Duritz. It’s about how he got famous overnight and the way that changed his life forever, and not always for the better. It’s about the women he loved who couldn’t live with his lifestyle: it’s about the voices in his head and the way they torment him. But it’s also a record about me and my dad. The same way “Love Reign O’er Me” is a song about lovers and it’s a song about any all-consuming, powerful love. The same way that empty spotlight still echoes for Pete Townshend, and for me, and for my father, as a reminder of what could have happened, had we not had the music to guide us.