Don’t Play Misty For Me

This is an excerpt from Girl To City: A Memoir which comes out October 8th. I’ve had a complicated relationship with my dad and it was in writing my book that I realized how much he’s always been on my side.

My brothers all tried out for sports but I had piano lessons from Mrs. Parrish instead. I loved playing the piano, but I didn’t want to work at it. I learned to read music but couldn’t see the point of all those pesky exercises when all I wanted to do was play “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “My Favorite Things.”  I kept at the Popular Song book that began with “Alfie”, went through “Green Green Grass Of Home” and other favorites, made room for “Misty” and ended with “Windmills Of Your Mind” 

“Misty” was tough. Anyone from Pittsburgh knew it was written by Errol Garner, who’d grown up in the Hill District. There weren’t many internationally successful Pittsburgh artists—just the painters Mary Cassatt and Andy Warhol and um…Erroll Garner—so it was important to know when one of our own did something that won acclaim from the outside world.

I was trying to pick my way through “Misty” one afternoon, hunched over the piano keys, reaching for notes that were always out of reach, when my dad passed behind the piano bench on his way into the room he used as an office. He cleared his throat. I kept on at “Misty.” My dad’s office chair squeaked as he leaned back and shouted through the doorway. “Amy, could you please play something else? Anything!”

He was usually tolerant—I thought my playing must sound worse to him than it did to me. “I’m really sorry, Dad. I’m trying my best.”

“Oh, it’s not your playing,” he said. He’d come in to stand behind me. “It’s just that song.”

I looked at him. He seemed to like most music as long as it had been written before 1963. What could be wrong with “Misty”?

“When I was a boy, I was overweight, with red hair and glasses.” I don’t think I’d ever heard personal information like that from my father before. He continued. “There was an older kid who liked to beat me up.”


“He always whistled it while he was hitting me,” he said. “Either that or `Sentimental Journey’.” He shook his head. “I can’t stand either of those songs.”

I hated the thought of my father being singled out for punishment. He wasn’t easy to please but I still felt protective of him. “I bet that kid picked on everybody,” I said helpfully. 

“Nope. Just me.”

Music had the power to change my mighty dad—the ultimate authority—into a trembling victim? That was some pretty strong stuff.

me and dad 14th street
East Fourteenth Street, June 1985

I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

12 thoughts on “Don’t Play Misty For Me

  1. J.P.

    Wow. There was a guy that picked on me in school. Nobody else. Just me. And I’m not that pick-on-able. Bullies have this weird power that persists. Thanks for the excerpt.

  2. Phil Strawn

    Touching recounter. We think of our Dads as someone beyond human frailty, always bigger than life and able to fix anything. Rarely do we remember that they were once children and experienced the same misfortunes that we did. Somewhere around 20 years old, we begin to see them differently. Thank you for reminding us.

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