I got my first iPod when I turned 10. It was Apple's latest nano — one of the short, fat, silver ones with no external speaker and only 4GB of space. On the back was engraved: "Happy 10th Birthday, Jennifer // Love Mom & Dad."
When I turned it on for the first time, the iPod was loaded with hours of music. Paul Simon, OMD, The Bangles -- stuff 10-year-old me definitely was not into.
It was my dad's music. Just a sampler of the extensive iTunes library he'd built over the years.
I remember skipping over track after track of his songs to get to the pop anthems I loved in middle school. It felt wrong to take his music off the iPod, so I never did.
Then I stopped using it. My dad scooped the iPod back up, put more of his music on it, and brought it with him when he travelled.
Steve Walter was a man of things. His guitar collection, boxes of old electronics and habit of routinely ordering crap from Amazon spoke to that. So did his collection of music.
My dad died suddenly of a heart aneurism while away on a business trip in May. None of us saw it coming, and it rocked every community he was part of.
It left me with a lot to sort through. Emotionally and physically.
He was one of my greatest musical influences. As a kid I used to hear him play drums in the basement and sneak downstairs when he wasn’t home to try them myself. About a decade ago he started teaching himself guitar and I wanted to learn how to play, too. He loaned me a beautiful red Ovation electric-acoustic and I started taking lessons in high school.
Growing up, he made homemade CDs to listen to in the car during road trips — songs I continue to listen to and will always associate with him. Scores of cassettes, records and CDs still litter our basement. He kept hours of music on flash drives and iTunes libraries on old desktop computers.
When I went to college and started DJing for Marquette Radio, he listened to my show almost every week. He would text with song suggestions, even though many of them didn't fit with the indie rock theme we were going for. But I'd try to squeeze in a suggestion every week just for him.
As I got older, I found myself gravitating toward the songs I used to skip on my first iPod. I became a huge Paul Simon fan in high school by some cosmic twist of fate. I continued to discover bands that I later learned my dad was into all along.
Our tastes were never really that different after all. That's the funny thing about having someone in your life for two decades; they influence you in ways that you continue to realize even after they are gone.
Starting this show is part of my healing process. It's a chance to relive the past 20 years through music and stories. It's a chance for family, friends and strangers alike to get to know Steve through the songs he loved.
Also, if you're wondering what happened to that first iPod ... I've reclaimed it. And I still haven't removed a single song.