The House of the Rising Sun
My head rests gently on the plush brown carpeting in my basement. It’s winter and it’s cold. However, the temperature doesn’t affect my 8-year-old body like it does today. Sharp fluorescent lights fall just short of the corners of the room, precisely where my father and I are sitting. His chocolate eyes are somewhat obscured by the deep, elongated shadows.
He lounges cross-legged against the paneling wall, his battered guitar perched carefully on his thigh. He adjusts the tuners while absently plucking strings, oblivious of his present audience. He hums quietly as he works. Suddenly he looks up, holds my gaze, and winks.
My dad was in a band. I don’t actually remember his being in a band, and in fact, I hardly remember him ever even playing his guitar. It generally resided on the top shelf of the storage closet in the basement, right next to my shoebox filled with his hand-drawn Christmas cards and stacks of family photo albums. As a child, I studied those photos so religiously that the line between true and fabricated memories often blur.
One particular photo was of my dad on a stage. He was playing guitar, sporting horn-rimmed glasses and a classic white T-shirt. An ethereal wisp of cigarette smoke constructed a halo of sorts, highlighted by the blinding cyan and magenta of the stage lights.
Tonight I get a rare private show.
He finishes tuning, lays out his music in front of him, and starts a hesitating introduction. “There is a house…down in New Orleans.” His fingers slide clumsily over the strings. The sound is muddled, imprecise. But it works. It’s almost like that is the way Dylan wanted that song to feel, slightly intoxicated, though I am positive that my father has had not a drop. Though the music is in front of him, he never once looks at it. Like most musicians, he quickly gets lost in the moment, eyes closed and body gently swaying to a silent internal metronome.
“…the only pleasure he gets from life, is rambling from town to town…”
I wonder if that is a lie for him. As a child, I remember my father traveling often, though probably more than he actually did. But I know he was both a semi-truck driver as well as a traveling salesman. It seemed that he was never happier than when he was home. I wonder if he actually found any pleasure whatsoever from the constant road trips, his rambling from town to town.
“Well it’s one foot on the platform, and the other foot on the train…”
Are his thoughts were similar to mine as an adult: What if? What i—I tried to really make it? What if—I let my art drive me instead of common sense (and fear)? What if—I threw caution to the wind instead of playing it safe? We’ve both been in this same place in our lives: one foot rooted in security while the other one flirts with danger.
Did he–and by extension–did I make the right choice?
I think we both know the answer to that question.