Music was the best medicine for my dad as dementia set in

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Music was the best medicine for my dad as dementia set in

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Illustration by Drew Shannon

“Turn that acid rock down!” my dad would shout from someplace else in the residence. It did not matter if we were being listening to Supertramp, Bob Marley, Ramones, Sugarhill Gang or genuine acid rock – that was his inventory line when he needed you to bring the quantity stage down of whatsoever preferred tunes you were being blasting on his Sensible stereo in the residing home. (My brothers and I wore the heads off that piece of junk earning limitless tape-to-tape mixes.)

Just about every November, all-around his birthday, I replicate on the paternal presents he gave us. The like of audio is a single of them. Elevating a relatives with 3 boys whose ages spanned eight a long time, and whose adolescent heyday bridged the late 1970s via to the late 1980s, there was an eclectic blend of preferred music blaring 24/7 in our property. And my dad loathed all of it.

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Our dad and mom ended up passionate classical audio and opera supporters – but our father experienced a dark mystery. He experienced a person declare to coolness with his sons, the actuality that he preferred, and owned, one particular rock ‘n’ roll record and a person only: Pearl by Janis Joplin (severely, in a planet of autotune, how can you hear to Pearl and not get goosebumps at the enthusiasm and participating in on that record? Are living takes, no overdubs, with mostly Canadian musicians backing Janis).

I bear in mind on my 11th birthday I obtained the album Long term Waves by Hurry. I threw it on the turntable and played my mother and father a keep track of referred to as Freewill. The search of utter bewilderment on their faces was on par with taking a Cro-Magnon male for a helicopter trip about the skyscrapers of Manhattan. The blend of Geddy Lee’s shriek and Neil Peart’s lyrics was melting their faces like the last scenes of Raiders of the Shed Ark.

These days I cannot deny my very own middle-age-ness, as I are inclined to gravitate significantly less to Rage In opposition to the Machine and more towards Bach and Mozart, but my adore of several genres of music is ingrained and tremendous. Our mother died just about a decade back, and our father under no circumstances totally recovered from her dying. The enormous gap in his coronary heart, coupled with his possess Parkinson’s/Lewy entire body dementia prognosis remaining him bit by bit chugging down the keep track of and led to this kind of a crappy finale for a father who was cherished for his super-dry wit and razor-sharp mind. For the last six months of his everyday living, my visits with him at his nursing house ended up decreased to 20-minute stays exactly where I’d sit future to him and slip headphones above his white-fur-rimmed ears (the fact that they had been children’s headphones with frogs on them appeared fitting), and transportation him by means of an iPod, to somewhere recognized. A transcendent state. Primal. I’d perform him Yo-Yo Ma. Kathleen Struggle. Amadeus. His eyes widening in a quizzical seem as if making an attempt to remedy the puzzle of the place these gorgeous seems ended up coming from, and why they were familiar? It was King Lear madness with momentary synapse-firing bliss. Songs was his breakthrough medication.

One afternoon, a couple months ahead of my dad died, I popped in to stop by him on the dreaded seventh dementia floor (my cynical punk-mouthed kids normally say I’m completely ready for the seventh ground each time I momentarily overlook what I’m carrying out). I found the ward empty of its perplexed-faced citizens, but still tickling my nostrils with cleansing fluids masking boiled vegetables and golden-age decay. You could bottle that smell and fall it on an enemy and they’d surrender right away.

A nurse informed me that the gang was on the eighth ground partaking in a sing-a-extended with Pearly and Greg. When I uncovered the musical get-jointly, it was a circle of shed souls staring, fairly vacantly, at the overzealous duo, top the group as a result of When the Saints Go Marching In. A single resident, Joan, was 50 {6654ab549aea683dfb163c18f2e935eca578ab77e61967d7a8b1932c06e74d91}-heartedly shaking a maraca. Rosemary, much older, experienced a big grin on her handsome, solar-weathered face. Her exuberant smile and ideal teeth ended up matched by her on-defeat tambourine shaking. The entertainers – Pearly on handclaps and Greg on his ukulele – appeared like they’d been conjured up by screenwriter Christopher Visitor. Their eagerness and desperation to summon fun have been futile, but earnest.

I spotted father in his wheelchair with a common appear on his encounter: puzzled squint with his nose scrunched up like he was smelling a bad odor (probably he was?). That particular facial contortion looks like a commonality when I talk with other individuals who are seeing a liked a single suffering from Parkinson’s dementia. I sidled up following to my father hoping for a smile, or clue that he identified me.

“Hi, Dad … it is Matthew.”

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Suddenly the geriatric sing-a-extended was about. I had caught the tail finish of the past tune, but I desired additional! I wished for my dad to break through, like The Mummy busting via a wall to screams, or Glenn Shut rising out of the bathtub gasping for air in Fatal Attraction, I wished that visceral response to new music, the excellent, last hope.

I questioned Pearly and Greg if they had time for 1 far more song. “Sure!” They replied, then questioned, “what tune?” When I stated Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin I was greeted with a blank response. Greg proposed I lead, so I jumped in eagerly.

“Here’s a classic – sing alongside if you know the text!” I then proceeded to do my greatest Janis, accompanied by me, myself and I on handclaps and foot stomps. Anything stirred in my father. The slightest flicker was perceptible in his pale blue eyes. Then the baffled squint. Finally, thankfully, the hint of a smirk. With his spouse of 50 years long gone, the get the job done he savored as a choose for 30 yrs long wrapped up, and prolonged separated from his beloved pet dog, what was left? Only the joy of rhythm and melody.

Mercedes Benz was the very last music Janis Joplin recorded in advance of her untimely loss of life. It was the past track my father ever listened to. And it’s possible even identified.

Matt Hawkins lives in Toronto.

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