Thers often yanks my chain that if one were to scan this blog and try to determine what power pop actually is, they'd be no closer to a definition at the finish, or they'd end up with a definition like "songs NYM likes." Maybe so. But I actually began this blog as an extended rumination on how music affects identity, how it effects identity, how the soundtrack that runs through our heads determines, to some extent, the nature of the story being narrated.
I grew up among "music people." Not one of the seven of us, despite my parents' occasional pressure, played an instrument; we were consumers, and our sibling differences were often worked out over issues of consumption. My tastes were most firmly shaped by my eldest brother, whose constant playing of the Beatles determined more than anything else, probably, my melodic sense and aesthetic. Another brother was a Credence fan, a third Steve Miller, and a fourth obsessed over Carly Simon and had what seemed to me an impossibly large collection of singles--at least several hundred, which seemed like a lot at the time. (My fifth brother was younger, and so subject to my whims rather than vice versa. Ha ha.)
And then there was my sister. As the only two girls in this massive family of boys, we shared a room for most of my life. Often, it was right here, the room in which I sit, the room in which our guests stay when they visit. When Thers and I began renovating the house, we discovered many decorating difficulties, but at the time the hot pink seventies flowers on the wallpaper in here were a major concern, taking two layers of primer (and two layers of paint, but they're basically gone now). My sister chose them, as she was fifteen or so in 1976, and they must have seemed like a good idea at the time. She would choose a band, often an album, and play it first thing in the morning while we were getting ready for school every day. For a year, sometimes. Like this one:
So I come by my obsessions honestly enough, I guess.
My sister died nine years ago this week, the victim of a bad transfusion of infected blood during an emergency c-section ten years before that. They didn't routinely screen for hep-c in 1987. She didn't really take care of herself too well: in her world, that really wasn't what life was about. Plenty of people have her lifestyle and do fine: she had hepatitis-C, though, back before it was even called that, and preventative medicine is the province of the wealthy and educated in our society. A Medicare doctor once said to her "You have Hep-C? Let me know if it bothers you," a statement which makes anyone who knows anything about hep cringe.
It was early in 97 that her liver started to go, a slow and agonizing process. I was living down south at that point, so her presence in my life was a Christmas and summer kind of thing, with infrequent phone contact. She had a guy and three kids, and I had a daughter and grad school to get through, and so, while we didn't spend tons and tons of time together, I always made sure to get to her see her while I was home. The last time was on my honeymoon, when we drove down to take her to lunch. Not long after that came the crisis: the wheelchair, the collapse, the airlift to the transplant center in Pittsburgh. I woke the morning of September 17, taught three classes, spoke to my brother about how the decision had been made to pull the plug, and then went and taught another class. It's the only time I have ever wept before a class.
After class, I spoke to my department and cleared my decks for a week, then we got in the car and drove. Not too many people had cell phones in those days, but I estimate that I was somewhere east of Orlando when she died. Her death has affected me profoundly: when people ask why I never got a tenure-track job, I think those days, that moment, must loom large. I was determined never ever to have to drive that far to see my family again. We made a choice then and there to live where we wanted and let the academic chips fall where they may, and they have, mostly successfully.
She was always heavier than me, so one weird result of the last two-babies-in-two-years phase of my life is that I now carry extra weight, and I look like her. Terrifyingly like her. I have to do a double-take when I look at pics sometimes. Her children, when they see me, stare at me dreamily, a little creepily. And so the line in this song, "if I could trade, I would" strikes me hard for multiple reasons.
And it still kills me every time.
Thanks to SteveAudio for sharing his grief, for giving me the courage to share mine.
Peggy: April 24, 1959-September 17, 1997. God how I miss you.