My dad passed away almost two years ago, but he was in my living room just the other night.
Or his spirit was, anyway, nodding its spirit head approvingly as I watched “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,” a new documentary that summoned up old and fond memories of my jazz-loving dad and the music it took me many years of eye-rolling to appreciate. But I did come to appreciate it, and in the last few years of his life, we spent many comfortable afternoons in the nursing home listening to Louis Armstrong on my phone while he beat me in hand after cutthroat hand of gin rummy.
If we’re lucky, we inherit at least a few of our parents’ passions while they are still around to say, “I told you so.” And if we are super-fortunate, we get to share a little of our wealth with them, too. In honor of Father’s Day, here are some father-appropriate pop culture goodies you can share with the dad figure in your life, or the dad spirit in your life.
— For the Jazz Dad: “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” and “Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes”
Dads and jazz. They go together like the Bloody Marys and waffles you’ll both be dreaming about while you share a virtual Father’s Day toast over Zoom. If your pop loves his bebop, make sure these first-class documentaries are on his streaming playlist.
Released earlier this year as part of PBS’ “American Masters” series, director Stanley Nelson’s “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” is an interview-rich, music-drenched look at the jazz giant who was on a first-name basis with the world, even as the depth and breadth of his genius had him orbiting in a stratosphere all his own. From the stories behind the classic albums (“Miles Ahead,” “Kind of Blue,” “Bitches Brew”) to his turbulent personal life and the encounter with the racist cop that marked him forever, “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” is the nuanced portrait Davis deserves and the in-depth exploration that will give any music fans a case of the chills. (PBS.org and Netflix)
There is more genius on display in “Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes,” director Sophie Huber’s 2019 documentary about the legendary Blue Note record label, which was founded by two German-born jazz fans (Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion) and went on to be a haven for some of America’s greatest musicians. Between the vivid stories from such interviewees as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Robert Glasper, and performances by John Coltrane, Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk, “Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes” is a history lesson that swings like crazy. And in the effortlessly cool tradition of the Blue Note album covers designed by Reid Miles, this doc looks great, too. (Streaming)
— For Stand-Up Dads: Mike Birbiglia’s “The New One” and Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King”
In 2019’s “The New One,” Mike Birbiglia is a new father who is pretty sure being a dad is going to wreck his life. In 2017’s “Homecoming King,” Hasan Minhaj is the American-born son of immigrant parents who is pretty sure his nose-to-the-grindstone dad has already ruined his life. Together, these Netflix stand-up specials give you both sides of the father-and-child experience, which turn out to be equally hilarious sides of the same priceless coin.
On one side, you have the father-to-be musing about how kids ruin everything (“Maybe I have a low tolerance for children because I’ve lost a lot of great friends to kids”), until he discovers that your kid ruins your life in his or her own special way, and that maybe your life needed to be wrecked in order to come back as something better and stronger.
And on the other, you have the aggrieved son ranting about his dad’s workhorse approach to life (“No fun. No friends. No girlfriends. You can have fun in medical school.”), until he realizes that sometimes love looks like a tired immigrant father sweeping up the glass after the neighborhood racist does a post-9/11 number on the windows of the family Camry. There will be tears. Also swearing. Prepare Dad accordingly. (Netflix)
— For the Lit Dad: “If Beale Street Could Talk” by James Baldwin
Baldwin’s 1974 novel tells the painful, beautiful story of two young lovers battling racism and and injustice in 1950s New York. But while the focus is on 19-year-old Clementine (who everyone calls “Tish”) and her childhood sweetheart, Fonny, Baldwin gives some of the book’s most tender and deeply felt scenes to their fathers.
When Tish reveals to her father that she’s pregnant, she has no idea how he’s going to take it and neither do we. But the formidable Joe settles her in his lap, plants a kiss on her forehead and says, “You’re a good girl, Clementine. I’m proud of you. Don’t you forget that.” And when Fonny ends up in jail, his father joins Joe in a bar, and Frank and Joe hash out a plan on behalf of the kids they love.
“I know some hustles and you know some hustles,” Joe says. “And these are our children and we got to set them free.”
So Frank finishes his drink, straightens his shoulders and says, “You right, old buddy. Let’s make it.”
Because that’s what dads do.
— For the Sensitive Dad: “Eighth Grade”
Who wants to go back to eighth grade, the worst of all grades ever? No one! Who should see “Eighth Grade,” writer/director Bo Burnham’s extraordinary 2018 debut film? Everyone! But mostly any dad who white-knuckled his way through parenting an adolescent and lived to tell the terrifying tale. Or any former kid who could not have made their way through that worst of times without him.
Elsie Fisher stars as Kayla, a super-sensitive, uber-awkward 13-year-old navigating pool party horrors, social media terrors and creepy car encounters with boys. Josh Hamilton stars as her single dad, doing his perpetually befuddled best to help his daughter through this nightmare and mostly failing. But near the end of the film, when Kayla needs it most, he gives one of the best, most heartfelt “I love you, sweetie” speeches in the history of movies. Or in the history of dads.
Fisher and Hamilton could not be better, and Burnham’s writing will slay you. This one scene is a Father’s Day gift unto itself. I hope Dad has his handkerchief handy. You’re both doing to need it. (Streaming)
(Karla Peterson is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.)
©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune
Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.