It also takes me right back to how, growing up, we used to bring our favorite records over to our friends’ houses and sit on the floor with the records spread all around us – safely, of course, jackets and covers on – and just…play them. Play the whole album, not just the favorite song. Be entranced. Be talking all through it at the same time. Somehow it all meshed together, the sound pouring around and through you as you talked about everything and nothing. Somehow you could listen and speak at the same time, hear and feel, give and take. There was no separation, really.
You do get that with tapes, CDs, mp3s, streaming playlists. Portability and lack of breakability are fine things. So is the opportunity to have a massive collection that fits on the head of a pin, to borrow an allegory (or metaphor).
Still. Because it was records first in my formative years, it is pictures like this, memories like that, that take me right back to the bedroom floors and the record players or old stereo systems and the tactile feeling of the cardboard cover and the vinyl and the tone arm. And then the delicious moment before the needle reaches the beginning of the track, or the unadulterated glee when you manage to drop the needle exactly at the start of the groove.
And then the sound, the glorious sound, bringing with it the exquisite moment of connection with you and the music and the people you are sharing it with on the exact same wavelength at the exact time.
Back to Eartha. I love how she’s sitting back the way you would sit when you’re looking at records on the floor. One could imagine she’d been hunched over just before, pulling out albums. I love the portable record player and the artfully poised record just waiting to drop. And sure, she’s looking at her own records – this is a promotional piece, after all – but it’s a fabulous advertisement for her and her work.
Tangentially, I love how there’s a copy of Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt on the top shelf and a phone cord that has seen heavy use. I’d like to sit with her, see what other albums she has, see what the rest of the room looks like, the rest of the house.
A couple weeks ago, my dad broke his hip and didn’t tell anyone at first. We got him to the hospital and were more alarmed and worried than he was, considering he was talking non-stop and claiming it was no big deal (“Nature fixes things itself!”).
My dad never got sick, you see; he just periodically broke things, usually through bicycling on the trails. One hip, the other hip, a wrist, a collarbone…one time, it had been a patch of wet leaves. Another time, my dad had rung his bicycle bell and called “On your left!” to alert an oncoming trail pedestrian that he was going to pass him; at the last moment, the pedestrian instead stepped right into my dad’s path, who naturally tried to avoid him, and then, per my dad, stood stupidly by as my dad was trying to extract himself from his crashed bicycle.
My dad counted it a good ride if he didn’t encounter the three Fs: “No falls, flats, or fangs!”
While in the last five years he’d switched to indoor biking only, he still hopped on it twice a day for a half hour each. “I may not be noble, but I’m mobile,” he would quip.
But this time, he’d fallen off his indoor bike while dismounting. This time, he was 82.
The hospital stay was annoying for him with all its fuss and bother, not to mention surgery (immediately after which he was insisting he wanted to go home and actively trying to get up, despite the fact that he could put no pressure on his right leg). Following the protocol I enacted last time he’d landed in the hospital, I brought in his favorite rhythm’n’blues CDs to listen to. Music soothes all manner of savage beasts and dads are no exception.
We had a grand time, or as much as you can in a setting like that, playing music loud enough to spill out into the hallway. I would dance around the room and my dad would move his feet in his chair or in the bed. The physical therapist liked to see the foot-moving.
The unexpected show attracted CNAs and others to come in and find out what we were listening to. My dad was in his element at such moments, because he had written the liner notes for half the albums I’d brought in. He got to talk about his beloved music historian career to people who seemed fascinated and delighted to hear about it.
My dad was transferred to a physical rehab facility with his music and his insistence that he didn’t need to be there. We tried to positively reinforce the notion that if he puts in the rehab work now, he’ll be able to go back to his life with a few adjustments, perhaps.
But after a couple days I started thinking, and I didn’t want to think this, that he wasn’t going to make it out of there. Or if he did, he might end up in assisted care instead. I squashed it all down; I didn’t want to think this! And what did I know? I wasn’t a doctor.
Yet while he’d be happy to see us and smile and chair-bop along to his music, he wasn’t doing much of anything else. He was barely eating. He said he wasn’t hungry and it hurt to swallow. He kept bringing up assisted euthanasia.
I hated to leave him, the night before he died. Absolutely hated it. I didn’t like the way his breathing was sounding or the way he was responding to some things. We were still playing music and that was occupying him, and he knew the words to the songs, and even tried to sing along a bit. And when visiting hours ended and I had to go, he looked sad, which pierced my heart.
We said “I love you” — something he had also said the night before that, but hadn’t before then during this time. I left him playing his music as I danced out into the hall under his laughing eyes.
I was dreadfully worried. I thought, I’ll be back tomorrow, and it’s important to stay optimistic for his sake. I had already planned to take a few hours off work and come in even earlier with a whole bunch of “his” music I had compiled on YouTube for him so he could listen longer without having to change CDs. So I could be there longer, too.
Instead, I was left with a playlist that I had no heart to play.
Again, I’m not a doctor. I don’t think he had the wherewithal to soldier through this latest injury. I really don’t know how well he would have been able to take care of himself afterward, either. He would have hated assisted care. And as he’d been saying for years now that he didn’t think he’d “be retired this long,” he may just have decided that this was it.
He was like that. Fiercely independent, couldn’t stand being beholden, hated not being in control. You can imagine how this independence was at once a good and a bad thing for those of us who had all the worries and watchfulness as our share. He was never worried about himself.
We were told he had died while listening to music. This is the absolute best thing I could have hoped for him. But oh, those of us left behind.
These past days have been filled with a lot of physical and mental labor. It has been a whole mix of time, energy, bittersweet memories, and amazement as we go through his “stuff”. Sometimes that made him seem closer to us, even though he wasn’t there to ask questions anymore.
He had labeled everything, thank goodness. I discovered that he had saved every card and letter I’d ever written him. He even had a labeled “Becky” file.
I was asked to write his obituary. There were times when I wasn’t sure I could. But then I did. Thinking of you always, dad.
Obituary for Peter A. Grendysa, 1939 – October 8, 2021 (Age 82)
“Writing about music is just a hobby,” my dad would joke, puffing on his pipe. “I had to work real jobs all my life!”
But for him, it’s the music that mattered the most.
And what a life. Peter A. Grendysa held various roles throughout his admirable career, among them a chemical technician, Quality Control engineer, and an SPC coordinator. He was good at analyzing, building, and fixing. And he loved trains, bicycling, and smoking his pipe (albeit not at the same time!).
My dad had been a record collector since 1955 and a freelance writer since 1971. From being a teenage buyer for Milwaukee Music Mart, he became an internationally-known authority on the history of Atlantic Records and related black music. Over 400 of his articles, columns, and reviews have appeared in music magazines. He has written booklet essays for more than 100 albums and CDs.
In the back room of our house, he researched, interviewed, and wrote for the love of music. In 1975, he published Atlantic Master Book #1. From 1980 to 1983, he produced radio programs with my mom, such as “Rhythm & Blues Unlimited” and “They Called it Rock ‘n’ Roll.” If the door to the back room was closed, we knew there was an interview being conducted or a show being recorded. Then the door would open, a swirl of pipe smoke would depart, and dad would be back among us with the music spilling out into the house once more.
The phone was always ringing with different accents on the other end. If I chanced to pick up, I might hear “This is Andy McKaie from MCA” or “This is Richard Weize from Bear Family.” My dad would interview artists such as Ruth Brown, Tiger Haynes, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, recording everything on his reels and tapes. The Golden Gate Quartet sent him their records, pictures, and Christmas cards.
My dad is Googleable. He was voted Best Music Journalist in Rhythm’n’Blues by Goldmine Magazine in 1985. In 1986, he was acknowledged by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as Album Notes Writer, Best Historical Album, for the Grammy award-winning Atlantic Rhythm’n’Blues, 1947-1974 Vol 1—7. In 1993, he received the Award for Excellence in Jazz History from ARSC for Louis Jordan. In 1996, he earned a Grammy nomination as Notes Writer, Best Historical Album, for The R&B Box: 30 Years of Rhythm & Blues. In 1998, he wrote the introduction to the definitive book on the Ink Spots, More Than Words Can Say: The Ink Spots and Their Music, by long-time friend Marv Goldberg.
Because of him, I retain a deep, abiding love for the music he held most dear. And for the wealth of musical genres he introduced me to beyond that: classical, opera, country, 1960s British pop, Blondie, Black Sabbath . . . he gave me the world of music, and I am forever grateful, just as I am grateful that he died peacefully, listening to the Mills Brothers.
He was much loved. And he will be much remembered.
Peter is survived by his former wife, Betty, their children, Pete II and Becky (Benishek), son-in-law David, his two sisters, Karen Balch and Tina Scherrei, nieces Marisa and Riann, and friends such as Rocky Kruegel and Kathy and Frank Irizarry.