Our grief group is taking a break this week and one couple suggested that we all get together anyway, inviting us over to their house for dinner and lots of wine. They also had the intriguing idea of asking us to share a song about our child that’s particularly meaningful, and that’s where I suspect the wine will be needed because there’s no taking a break from grief.
I loved this idea and immediately began to put together a playlist called “Rob Mix.” I used to be the playlist king and have made hundreds of them over the years (starting with reel-to-reel back in the day), but none quite like this one.
The songs I picked aren’t necessarily Rob’s favorites (as much as I loved him, I was never a big fan of Slightly Stoopid or the Kottonmouth Kings). They’re just songs that evoke a memory or feeling about Rob. Some are from long ago and others are more recent, some are familiar and others are obscure, and I’ll briefly explain what each means to me.
Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst—Kendrick Lamar
I’ve written about this rap song before so I’m not going to dwell on it other than to say it’s become my go-to whenever I’m feeling especially torn up about Rob. It’s simply the soundtrack to the pain of missing him.
Keep Me in Your Heart—Warren Zevon
This was the last song Zevon wrote before he died of cancer, so not a lot of laughs here from one of the funniest lyricists who ever lived. On the contrary, these are the lines that make me weep uncontrollably (and were originally going to be engraved on Rob’s headstone):
If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for a while
This one is so painful to listen to that I can never get to the end of it, but luckily there are a few other Zevon hits on this list.
My Shit’s Fucked Up—Warren Zevon
Rob loved this classic (for its title alone) ever since he first heard it on Californication. I remember making a Zevon playlist for him and both of us laughing while we listened to this tune when I drove him back home from the mental hospital all those years ago. I hear Rob’s voice when I listen to it now and it could definitely be his theme song.
Lawyers, Guns and Money—Warren Zevon
Rob loved this one too, but the last line now delivers a sickening gut punch:
I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns, and money
Dad, get me out of this!
This catchy tune was on a CD I created called “Kid Mix” that I played whenever I was chauffeuring the boys around. I have such happy memories of listening to this happy song, which isn’t really happy at all. That was often the case with a lot of these tracks. We were mostly clueless about the lyrics because it was always about the music for us (at least until they were teenagers and discovered hip-hop). This was such a happy time in our lives, but it really wasn’t happy at all because Robbie would inevitably start fighting with Zachy, and I’d yell at them until they settled down, and then we’d get pizza from La Venezia.
Cotton—The Mountain Goats
Rob and I loved this tune when we first heard it on Weeds, which was our family’s favorite show when the kids were in their early teens. Rob thought he was Silas, the oldest brother on the show, who was a genius at growing marijuana and he certainly followed in those illustrious footsteps. I remember us all singing the first line: This song is for the rats…but I don’t think we had the slightest idea what the rest of it was about.
Rob turned me on to this cool single that he found on a mixtape called “Day of the Dead” Beats. I straightaway loved it because of the simple piano in the background and its child-like lyrics (it namechecks Freddy Kruger, Gumby and Pokey). And that always reminded me of when the kids were little boys. Rob, however, admired the Myth man for these weed-related lines:
Roses in my pocket, Julius mechanical
Floral print only snapback botanical
Fucking with an animal around where I’m from
Head in a cloud, clouds in my lungs
Kick Push—Lupe Fiasco
We all loved this one! Rob because it was about skateboarding (I dedicate this one right here to all my homies out there grinding) and me and Zach because of the cool beat and Lupe’s rapping. We’d all sing the chorus:
Kick push, kick push, kick push, kick push and coast
As I listen to it now, I’m smiling and crying at the same time. I also remember us trying to imitate Lupe whenever he said the word “swanky.”
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby—The Counting Crows
Another one from “Kid Mix.” It’s a long song and we’d get a little bored with it about six minutes in, but before that we’d all belt out the chorus:
Hey Mrs. Potter, don’t cry
Hey Mrs. Potter, I know why but
Hey Mrs. Potter, won’t you talk to me?
This anthem became a classic in the Carlat household right from the opening guitar solo and first line:
Today is gonna be the day that they’re gonna throw it back to you
They were so little, maybe four or five, and I have no idea why they liked this tune as much as I did (I liked it because Oasis was a total Beatles rip-off). They’d dance around in the living room like little maniacs, scream-singing the chorus:
Because maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all, you’re my wonderwall
At the end, there’s a McCartney-esque piano riff that we’d all do-do to.
Do do do do-do, do do do do-do, do do do do-do…and then Rob would do-do something that made Zach cry.
Rose Darling—Steely Dan
If you recall, this was the answer to some strange woman asking an eight-year-old Robbie what his favorite Steely Dan song was when I dragged him to a concert at Jones Beach a million years ago.
A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)—Thundercat
This is the cat tune from the album “Drunk” that I told you about a while ago. I turned Rob on to it last year, and we’d both sing the “meows” in the beginning of the song. I’m closing my eyes as I listen to it now, picturing us smiling together on the couch in my living room.
Talking at the Texaco—James McMurtry
I used to dance around with Robbie in our living room in Forest Hills when he was a baby, and I always associated this foot-stomper with Joplin, Missouri, where he was born, even though it’s about a small town in Texas. I’d gently sing these words to him:
It’s a small town
We can’t sell you no beer
It’s a small town, son,
May I ask what you’re doin’ here
Fuck! All these songs are killing me! I miss you so much, Rob!
Come in From the Cold—Joni Mitchell
Speaking of killing me, I can barely get through this song without bursting into tears. It’s another one that I’d slow-dance to, trying to get Robbie to fall asleep when he was a baby. And it’s also another that I somehow twisted into a pretzel and made about him. The title really says it all. It’s one of Joni’s most open-hearted songs, but now it just breaks mine.
It’s the End of the World as We Know It—R.E.M. (from MTV Unplugged)
This is another ditty that the kids crazy danced around to. We’d all try to sing a lyric, but of course it was impossible, even Michael Stipe had trouble remembering it all, so we’d just do our usual chorus thing:
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine
And then we’d all say the word “fine” trying to sound like Michael Stipe.
So many of these songs have titles that somehow became prophetic, and have gone from pure joy to overwhelming melancholy.
Tears Dry on Their Own—Amy Winehouse
Like this one! I introduced it to Rob a few years ago after seeing the doc about her. I love the melody (which was sampled from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”), and her powerful voice is like an adrenaline shot to the heart. It has always made me feel so happy (even though it’s about her breakup), except for now because…why am I torturing myself with this?
Waltz for Debby—Tony Bennett and Bill Evans
I don’t think I ever played this one for Rob as he wasn’t a jazz fan and I can’t imagine he’d listen to Tony Bennett for more than two seconds without sticking his finger down his throat. It’s a lovely song that Bill Evans wrote for his niece, and I’ve always found it to be sad and beautiful, like most of the great pianist’s work. Tony sings the shit out of it, you can hear his voice quiver with emotion, but it’s the ending that completely destroys me, now more than ever:
One day all too soon
She’ll grow up and she’ll leave her dolls
And her prince and her silly old bear
When she goes they will cry
As they whisper “Good-bye”
They will miss her I fear
But then so will I
Last but not least, I thought one of Rob’s favorite songs needed to be on a mix with his name on it, so I asked Zach which one he’d pick.
“Shit, that’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a classic or something that you don’t even know. Maybe ask Sarah.”
So I texted her and she responded immediately: “‘New Crack’ by Wax. That was always his go-to to put on in the car and rap along to it.”
Rob turned me on to some of Wax’s more melodic stuff, particularly “Different Galaxies” and “Limousine,” but I had never listened to “New Crack” because he said it wasn’t really my style.
Sarah shared a short version of the song below that proved Rob wrong. I’ll be listening to it for the rest of my life.