Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A hard act to follow

Recently, my father, Salvatore Romita, and I appeared on RN's The Drawing Room with Waleed Aly in a session on Stereo Stories, a wonderful website that is the brainchild of Melbourne writers Vin Maskell and David Linden. The idea behind the website invites us to recall a song, a time, a place. In my case, the song was Lilli Marlene and my recollections were of the song, as played by Dad on the piano accordion, and its history in our family. In particular, it was about Dad recording the song in 2007.

When we listened in to the session, which had been pre-recorded, Dad sat nervously on the sofa, fretting about whether he’d played well enough and answered Waleed’s questions without sounding as if he didn’t know what he was talking about. After Vin’s recounting the history of the website, Waleed asked Dad about his personal history with the piano accordion, an instrument he first was given as a gift by his father who saw the potential for music in his son. I then read my story and Dad played the song. Of course, with the magic of mixing, the music was beautifully interwoven with the narrative and the sound was perfect. Dad began to sob. Puzzled, I handed him tissue after tissue. We listened to the rest of the segment with Dad gulping and the continuous whoosh of tissues exiting the box. The segment ended with Dad, “taking us out” as they say in radio with the song, You Belong to my Heart. When it ended, Dad wiped away his tears and said, “I wish my father could see me now.” At nearly 89 years of age, and on national radio, he felt that his father’s faith in him had finally been confirmed.

This short story of just a few hundred words has given me so much more than the opportunity to share a slice of family history and a song full of memories. It has become a layered experience—a story about the story about the song. It has given me a chance to understand better my Dad and his dreams and aspirations. Together, we've performed this piece at two recent festivals—Williamstown Literary Festival and the Newport Folk Festival. Dad was a hit at each. At his age, his energy and enthusiasm for his music is inspirational and frankly, he’d never get off the stage if you let him stay there. I have learned much from him about living creatively for which I will always be grateful. 

The night after our segment, The Drawing Room featured the work of globally renowned singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. I'm glad they picked such a big name. After all, Dad's a hard act to follow. 

Stereo Stories in The Drawing Room featuring Salvatore Romita, can be heard here