One tune; 2 minutes and 47 seconds of bare bones perfection recorded mostly live in a small studio in Detroit long before me or most of the people in my life were even born. Who would have ever thunk it? But life is funny and there you go. From here on out, man, I hear the first notes of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' 1963 Motown classic "Heat Wave," and I see Violet standing there in front of me — my baby girl, the girl of my dreams.
She’s my oldest and she’s 5 now. She rides around jammed between her two brothers in the back seat of my Suzuki Phonebooth, chattering away and punching Henry in the arm when he pisses her off — which is all the time — but then, as the hot early summer winds blow her Medusa snakes around, she’ll catch my eye in the mirror and holler at me through the din.
“Dad! Can we listen to 'Heat Wave' … over and over again?!”
It’s our thing.
We don’t just listen to freakin’ "Heat Wave," we listen to "Heat Wave" on repeat, thanks to this small button I discovered on my car stereo after riding around for six years without ever knowing it was there. It’s a time-warp button and it will send you back to 1963, to the summer before they killed JFK and everything got messed up forever; it’ll throw you back decades, to familiar streets and places that were there long before you were around and will still be there long after you’re nothing but a ghost; it’ll punch you back in time as many times as you want or as many times as you can possibly take it or until you have to park in the parking lot of the Walmart and get the hell out of the hot car because you have stuff to do.
Image: Boudewjin Berends
I never deny her the song. Never ever. It was always a magic tune for me anyway, that’s how she discovered it, you know. Young kids pretty much don’t just stumble upon Motown anymore, which is a shame if you ask me. You have to slide that magic music at them when the time is right, when they’re in a good mood and open to new whales swallowing them whole. That happened to me a while ago, on a good day in the middle of a string of really bad ones when my own heart was breaking and blah-blah–blah, on a spring afternoon when I just broke out one of my Motown compilation CDs. I somehow knew that if I put on "Heat Wave" (track 15, disc 2) at that exact moment, as her mom and I were in the midst of a separation and Violet’s world was all kinds of tilted and shaken, that I would have a really good shot at hooking my kid on probably the greatest melody to ever fall out of the pop sky.
It worked. Obviously. I mean, c’mon. It had to, right? It’s "Heat Wave," yo. It was in the cosmos, I reckon. "Heat Wave" is in the cosmos. It has to be. It floats out there like a nuclear pink cloud on the nighttime sky, just waiting for sad and confused daddies to pluck it down and hurl it into the backseat at a certain soul back there.
We listen to the song so often these days that you or your friends would probably just end up slipping the passenger side door open and sliding out of my ride onto the hard fast asphalt if you were riding along. Whatever. None of that matters really. This isn’t about anybody else. This is about me and Violet. This is all about me watching my little girl smiling bigger and brighter than I have ever seen her smile — the wind in her hair, her little hands shooting up at the sky as she dances as best as a 5-year-old can manage when she’s strapped prisoner to a booster seat.
She eats the song like oxygen, like you’re supposed to eat a song you love.
She feasts on those old tambourines and pianos and all, and she gets off on the instant kick of the carbs and the sugar that only music can provide.
And when Martha starts singing, well, Violet’s eyes meet mine in the mirror and we both know what’s up. We both know we will never ever be able to listen to this music and not hold each other tight from across whatever particular bullshit tries to keep us apart. Violet and me own "Heat Wave" now. We own it.
It’s ours until the sun explodes, until we hold hands in Heaven or Hell or wherever we end up together.
Even her little brother Henry starts to cry after the fifth or sixth time the same old song starts in again as soon as it ends, but don’t worry about him, OK? He’ll be alright. I’ll sort him out.
There’s a song floating out there for me and him too, and I’m going to find it.
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