Ringo in The Griff’

A non-fiction piece that I just submitted to Canada Writes: The Song That Changed Your Life.

Ringo in The Griff’

My father’s family was not big on music. There is a picture in my house of my father, age twelve, wearing a tie around his head, wildly strumming a guitar, that my grandfather has lovingly labeled on the back as “Michael – Ringo!” My father doesn’t own records, doesn’t sing in the shower. He only listens to talk radio, and, for him, concerts are those things that you go to when your kids are playing in them.

Since before I was born, my mother has sung in the St. Gabriel’s Church choir in Pointe St. Charles, Montreal. St. Gabe’s is a focal point of Irishness in Montreal, maybe because The Pointe is right next to Griffintown and the stone that the Irish immigrants brought with them and set down near Victoria Bridge. Because of my mother, I knew all the best songs: When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, Come Back to Erin, Toora Loora Loora, Who Put The Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder? My mother and I would sometimes sing Toora Loora Loora together at the local retirement homes, in volunteer shows.

St. Gabriel’s inherited the predominantly Irish population of St. Ann’s Church in Griffintown when it closed. At St. Ann’s, the children were sorted into one of two groups: the choir members and the altar servers. When, at age seven, my dad opened his mouth to sing, the choir mistress told him to go see about being an altar server.

My dad likes two songs. One of them is Maggie May by Rod Stewart, the song for which my sister is named. The other is You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones. My father lovingly butchered it after every childhood tantrum that I can remember, complete with custom lyrics. My father would slap his knee to provide his own rhythm section, and sing to me: “You can’t always get what you wa-ant, you can’t always get what you wa-ant. Though you try so haaard, so very hard, you get what you need!”

His are the lyrics that I hear whenever the original comes on the radio. At times, they are a mantra when things don’t go my way – a way to remind myself that I have what I need. Other times, I just think of my father, and what a terrible singer he is. Ringo, indeed.

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