On one of Pearl Jam’s best songs, “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” Eddie Vedder sings one of his most touching lines: “Memories, like fingerprints, are slowly raising.” Few things lift up the human spirit like cherished memories, and while some slowly reveal themselves, others are emblazoned in our minds, nearly every detail as crystalline as the day it happened.
For me, one such memory that has lately grown in its poignancy as my daughter, Milla, has slowly discovered the joy of Metallica, was the day that band’s seminal “Black Album” was released.
For the life of me, I cannot recall the release of any other album of music as vividly as I can that one. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that as soon as their albums were available to the public, I procured copies of every Kings of Leon record since “Aha Shake Heartbreak,” every new Queens of the Stone Age record since “Songs for the Deaf,” but I absolutely cannot tell you the dates those records were released or offer any significant memories about the day I first heard them.
But the events of Aug. 12, 1991 are firmly embedded in my psyche. They are also behind the memory that floods my mind when I start thinking about my father.
I only got to spend 28 years with David McEwen before we lost him to cancer nine years ago, and I can still vividly hear his laugh and his confident voice extolling the virtue of life’s more important things like fine cheese, campy science fiction movies and the joys of spending an afternoon on the golf course.
In fact, most memories I have of dad feature him smiling or laughing, which is basically how he spent most of his life.
Few things got him doing either more quickly or wholeheartedly than spending time with people, especially young people. Most of my friends’ dads were either scolding us or avoiding us, but my dad was usually hanging out, talking to us and learning about what we thought was important.
And what was most important to me and a great majority of my friends was music — more specifically, heavy metal music.
Now, most parents I know would have a touch of fear and trepidation thinking about their adolescent son spending hours on end holed up in his room listening to what many considered “devil music.” But not Dave. He just sat back with a smile and enjoyed the show.
By the time I finished eighth grade, with visions of high school cheerleaders dancing in my head, my bedroom had become a shrine to the music I loved and metal posters and magazine clippings covered every inch of my four walls.
Naturally, among the Iron Maidens, Panteras, Slayers, Megadeths and Judas Priests, one band reigned supreme. In addition to getting top playing time on my stereo, that band got its very own Metal-i-wall.
To a 14-year-old Brad McEwen, nothing was as cool and as important as Metallica. Listening to and reading about James, Lars, Kirk, Jason and Cliff was more important than any other endeavor in my young life.
While dad might have had slight concern over that, I didn’t know. He never protested (except for the occasional spurns about volume levels), and he never judged. He simply paid attention to what I liked and didn’t concern himself with trying to impose his tastes or bashing mine.
Never was that more apparent than that humid August day with the start of my high school adventure looming on the horizon.
I remember it clearly.
My parents had enrolled me in a week-long study class to help prepare me for the rigors of high school academia, so I was in a generally crummy mood when my dad picked me up after the first day of class.
My mood of disenchantment probably explains why I didn’t realize what was going on until he and I were strolling through the Albany Mall parking lot on our way to Turtles music store.
Given the time of day, it was fairly quiet in the store, and just above the gentle hum of the latest pop hit playing on the speakers, I heard my dad address a sales clerk. Much to my surprise what I heard was, “We need a copy of the new Metallica record, please.”
I was stunned! It hadn’t even registered that this was the day the new album was coming out, but somehow my dad knew and here we were buying it!
I could barely contain my excitement as we drove to the house with that black treasure in tow. In those days, CDs came in long boxes, and if you had a CD player in your car you were likely a steel magnate or a Middle Eastern sheik.
I don’t remember arriving at the house or sprinting to my bedroom as I tore the cardboard box open, but I do remember quite vividly my dad following behind me and, inexplicably, a little after 10 in the morning on a workday, he didn’t grab something from his bedroom or the den and head back to the office.
No, instead he walked into my room, kicked off his dress shoes, hopped up on the bed and said, “Let’s give this thing a listen.”
As I said, I have myriad memories of my dad; we spent countless hours together, talking, joking, playing. In many ways, he was as much my older friend or my big brother as he was my dad. There was nothing I couldn’t discuss with him and nothing he wouldn’t try to do for me if I deserved it.
But the memory I cherish most is the two of us sitting there on my bed one bright summer day, my dad wearing a smile of pure, unadulterated joy as “Enter Sandman” blasted in the background.
As a son, I didn’t fully understand that smile back then. But today, a father now myself, watching my daughter bounce around her room listening to her favorite band, the White Stripes, I understand it completely.
Email Brad McEwen at firstname.lastname@example.org.