I went to visit my son, Nathan, in Portland, Oregon, in September of 2002. He had been living there just a few months and was loving it. He wanted me to come out and play, so I did.

As we drove through the sights and sounds of Portland, Nathan, realizing he had a captive audience, and it was his dad, no less, began, in his haphazard way, to cram CDs into the player. He would rustle through his large lap books gorged with CDs while driving full tilt through Portland traffic to feed the player with Flogging Molly, the Mountain Goats, Less Than Jake, and whatever ska was new and undiscovered by everyone but him. He was giving me massive sound bites into where he was, but they were coming so fast, loud, and heavy that assimilation was impossible.

Then he said, “Oh, I think you’ll like this,” and he put in Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by the Flaming Lips. He played all the CD, unheard-of in his attention-deficit world. While the tracks progressed, he told me the story he had heard involving the album, how the band had befriended a Japanese woman while touring overseas and how, later, they began getting cryptic e-mails from her sisters regarding her state of health. The translation in the e-mails was very inexact, but it appeared she was dying, or perhaps was already dead, from a heart ailment of some type.

Nathan related the story over the soundtrack that was the CD. “Do you realize—that happiness makes you cry? Do you realize—that everyone you know someday will die?” The richness of the tale about transcendence and journeys, life and death, left me profoundly shaken, almost exhausted. He saw my reaction as he swerved along and gratefully paused a few beats before slamming in Toys That Kill.

During that week with my son, he showed me many things in “his” town, we ate some marvelous cheap Mexican food, went to see Wilco at Roseland, but through all this, I continued to ponder this beautiful story I had been assaulted with.

I returned home, very weary, very satisfied from my short visit.

December 2, Nathan went to see Beck and the Flaming Lips in Portland. One week later, Nathan suffered a brain-stem bleed and was dead within five days.

Going through his belongings, I found two copies of Yoshimi.

Mid-2003, I received some correspondence from a girl that worked with Nathan at the bakery. She said that he had remarked the night of the concert that he would love to appear onstage with the Flaming Lips. The concert really jacked him. She went on to say that the Lips had just played another concert in Portland and that she and a few other girls from the bakery had, oddly enough, been invited onstage during the show. Wayne Coyne was told the story of Nathan, and in her correspondence was a show flyer signed by him, stating simply “Nathan RIP Do You Realize?,” and several freehand drawings of the cover of Yoshimi.

Do you realize—that everyone you know someday will die?
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes—let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round