Swan song for a song. . .dog

Just about six and a half years ago in this column I celebrated the unique vocal stylings of Griff Ober. My wife and I first heard Griff sing at the annual winter variety show here in Lincoln. (Note that I called it a variety show and not a talent show. Invariably, the evening has a lot more variety than talent.) With a boom box beside her playing the theme music to National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” Griff sang along.
Or, to be precise, she howled along. Griff was 9 at the time, a shelter dog that was part German shepherd, part collie and part hound. It was a bravura performance that left my wife laughing so hard she was sobbing. It’s a miracle she didn’t pull a muscle.
Griff would later appear on local television and on NPR, but her career wound up similar to that of such other one-hit-wonders as Mungo Jerry (“In the Summertime“), Bow Wow Wow (“I Want Candy”), and Charlene (“I’ve Never Been to Me“). Just for the record, that final song has some of the most ridiculous lyrics in the history of pop music. To wit:
“I’ve been to paradise / But I’ve never been to me.”
I have absolutely no idea what that means.
In any case, Griff had the talent to go beyond the theme from “Morning Edition,” but her heart belonged to NPR and it was to that music and to that music alone that she would howl.
Late last month, at the age of 15 and change, Griff joined such other renowned songbirds in the sky as Edith Piaf, Judy Garland and Billie Holiday. She died at her home here in Lincoln on the Sunday morning of Memorial Day Weekend. She was surrounded by her owners, Dan and Sally Ober, their daughters — Emma and Casey — and Sparkle the Duck.
Some of you might recall that Sparkle the Duck has appeared in this column, too. She is the duck that still hasn’t figured out that either she isn’t human or Sally isn’t a duck. She clearly views Sally as her own Mama Mallard.
Griff died of lung cancer early on the day of Emma Ober’s 10th birthday party, which isn’t the way most children want to start that sort of big celebration. But the sun had just risen and the sky was a cerulean blue, and Emma and her sister Casey, who is 8, helped bury Griff beside one of the family’s lilacs — which were at their most aromatic and colorful that weekend. The girls sprinkled dirt on Griff’s grave, as well as small, blue forget-me-not flowers. Emma found a large stone in the garden that she somehow managed to lug around the house for a marker, and then she placed upon it Griff’s collar. Meanwhile, Sparkle pecked at the worms that had been unearthed when Dan had dug Griff’s plot.
In the last two weeks, Sally has been living with a reality that anyone who has lost a dog or a cat or even a hermit crab knows well. “It’s just so hard after pets die,” she says. “You don’t realize how much they’re with you. There’s such an empty hole.”
Sally thinks it is possible that even Sparkle has noticed Griff’s absence: “Griff had an outdoor bed that she would doze in some days, and we kept it on the front porch. Now Sparkle is up there, missing her and looking for her.”
All of us in Lincoln who knew Griff will miss her, too. She was a terrific dog — but even more than that, she was a mighty gifted vocalist and precisely the sort of cabaret act we need in hound heaven. Indeed, as the Righteous Brothers sang back in 1974,
“If there’s a rock and roll heaven,
Well, you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”
Now those are some lyrics I understand.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on June 8, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.