Girl (The Beatles)
in memory of Louis C. Stroffolino, Sr. October 12, 1939---April 3, 2013
After an article about my music appeared in the LA Weekly on March 15, 2013, I received a call from my sister, telling me my dad asked if I could record for him a version of The Beatles song “Girl.” My dad was never much of a Beatles fan, and I hadn’t seen him in years: I was 3,000 miles away, and after I lost my job and became disabled, could never afford the trip back east.
My dad was in the hospital, in great pain, and could barely talk, and was told he may have only 6 months to live, and he wanted me to send him a video of a song I had been quoted saying I’ve made people cry when I play it. My sister had just sent me a video of my dad in the hospital, with tubes in his nose and not looking very well at all, trying to sing “Happy Birthday” for my niece on February 28th. This video made me cry, and maybe my dad just needed to share a cry with his “prodigal son.” I knew I had to act quickly. Jeff Feuerzeig cleared his schedule so we could film it within 24 hours, wondering if we’d even get the video finished so my dad could actually see and hear it.
I don’t think the lyrics really mattered to my dad, but it was hard to avoid their weight as I sang it, especially as I got to the last verse of the song:
Was she told that she was young that fame would lead to pleasure
Did she understand it when they said
That a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure
Will she still believe it when he’s dead
It felt very wrong for me to choose this particular song, with those lyrics written by a 24 year old man (Lennon’s a Libra like my dad, born almost exactly one year after him) who was by all accounts (including his) not a very good husband or father to his young son Julian during this time. If the song’s called “Girl,” it’s because the singer and songwriter was a “Boy.”
Singing it, and trying to get into part, so I could deliver a performance that might live up to its billing (a song I play that makes people cry), unearthed so many issues for me. I tried to keep reminding myself that it’s the beautiful melody in A Minor, which feels very Eastern European, that gives the song its emotional power-(at least on a solo piano, stripped of Beatles and George Martin’s arrangement and production prowess).
Even if the melody to “Girl” is prettier than many of Lennon’s later more mature love songs to Yoko, it could be a vehicle to encourage very negative attitudes that I do not want to have if I ever am given another second chance to love a woman again. I felt wrong as a 40 something son playing this for my father. Could this song replace the conversation we may not get a chance to have??
I had my doubts; I wanted to say so much to my dad; that I loved and appreciated him, that I am sorry if I let him down, that I understood that he himself didn’t have a father, that he was an orphan, and got married (like Lennon) at a very young age (due to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy against a backdrop of Strict Catholicism) and had to scramble to try to be a breadwinner in a “one-income household” and couldn’t find a good union job, and how hard it must have been for him. We were poor; but we were clean. And, how, I myself could not do it… I wanted to let him know I was no longer the bitter Julian Lennon.
Even though I was a “Mama’s Boy” and, as a kid, usually sided with my mom in their arguments, I wanted to let him know that I saw him grow and develop as a father with his younger daughter Laura, and the love he had found with his third wife, Joan. Having more time since his retirement, my dad became even much more into music than he was when I was a kid—even learning how to play Casio, even though he used to laugh that he could never carry a tune. I regret that I wasn’t physically close enough to him to be able to encourage him in that, and even give him some “short cut” piano lessons that I’ve prided myself on.
Instead, all I could give him was this song. It’s never enough, but at least my dad liked it. That was the last contact I had with him. My dad passed away a few weeks later on April 3rd, and I hear he had a smile on his face (My dad always had a better, and more genuine, smile than me! http://youtu.be/GfY1zfGG2jU). He had been in great pain, and suffering in the past few months. He’s liberated. I must tell myself that most of these feelings I’m expressing in this piece of writing are just my feeling guilty for any pain I inflicted on him, for my own cruelty in our relationship, and feeling sorry for myself that I didn’t get to hug him and become closer in other ways. So please forgive me again, those of you are who living and who love and have loved my dad.
The more profound need my dad understood is actually beyond words---into the melody and vocal (not lyrical) performance of Girl, for instance—but also to a song like “When The Saints Go Marching In.” I don’t know if my dad thought of that as a “death song” (as I associate it with a New Orleans-style funeral), but I know he loved that song (and would sing it in mock Louis Armstrong style). And so I tried to play it on trumpet, instrumentally; without any words, except I love you, Dad.