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Frank Nguyen, 40: Depeche Mode's 'Home'

More than 500,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 since the pandemic hit this country and the world just over a year ago. NPR is remembering some of those who lost their lives by listening to the music they loved and hearing their stories. We're calling our tribute Songs Of Remembrance.

Frank travelled all over the US and the world to attend concerts, and to also experience other cultures. He turned 40 in June. He was supposed to go to Japan in 2020 with his friends for his next global adventure. They settled for Texas instead. A couple of weeks after they got back, he got sick, and that is where his story ended, sadly. He leaves behind his wife, his young son, a big family, countless friends and touched souls. There are too many shattered hearts to count.

A few days after he died, Depeche Mode's "Home" came up on my playlist randomly, and all I could do was sob and think that he was telling me and my family something. The chorus repeats: "And I thank you / For bringing me here / For showing me home / For singing these tears / Finally I've found / That I belong here." Thank you for giving me a space to write about an incredible human and share just one little detail of his wonderful life. His [obituary and guest book] can be found here: Frank Duc Tam Nguyen. —Kim Nguyen, sister Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Transcript:

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Half a million people have died in the U.S. from COVID since the pandemic hit this country about a year ago. To remember some of those who lost their lives, NPR is sharing the music they loved and hearing stories from their friends and families. We are calling our tribute Songs of Remembrance. This one is for Frank Nguyen of Aurora, Colo., who died on November 23 of last year. He was 40 years old. Here's his younger sister, Kim Nguyen, remembering her brother.

KIM NGUYEN: Growing up, my brother and I were very close. As children, we bickered, but he was always there for me. As I think about my brother Frank and just reminisce about my memories of him, a lot of it is centered around music.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEPECHE MODE SONG, "HOME")

NGUYEN: He and I - growing up when we were in high school, we would drive around in his car, and he always had something playing at full blast. And a lot of it was electronic music but in particular Depeche Mode.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME")

DEPECHE MODE: (Singing) Here is a song from the wrong side of town where I'm bound to the ground by the loneliest sound that pounds from within, and it's pinning me down.

NGUYEN: At that time, "Ultra" came out, and he just ate it. And I think that was a very, very pivotal time in his life when that album came out. And it hit so many notes for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME")

DEPECHE MODE: (Singing) Here is a page from the emptiest stage, a cage or the heaviest cross ever made.

NGUYEN: I think that my brother was definitely the type of person that - when he was passionate about something, he wanted to share it with everybody that he could. I remember a few years back there was a karaoke party. It was a busy karaoke bar in downtown Denver. And the first song that he performed was "Walking In My Shoes" by Depeche Mode.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEPECHE MODE SONG, "WALKING IN MY SHOES")

NGUYEN: He did not care what the crowd was feeling. He just wanted to do that song. As a little sister, watching my older brother go up and perform, that was a funny thing to see - a little embarrassing, too (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALKING IN MY SHOES")

DEPECHE MODE: (Singing) Try walking in my shoes. You'll stumble in my footsteps. Keep the same appointments I kept if you try walking in my shoes.

NGUYEN: A couple of days after he passed away, I remember just having a few moments to myself. And I had my music streaming just on random songs, and Depeche Mode's "Home" came up. And, you know, the song has this big orchestral wind-up to the chorus where it says, and I thank you for bringing me here, for showing me home...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME")

DEPECHE MODE: (Singing) And I thank you for bringing me here, for showing me home.

NGUYEN: ...For singing these tears.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME")

DEPECHE MODE: (Singing) For singing these tears.

NGUYEN: Finally, I found that I belong here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME")

DEPECHE MODE: (Singing) Finally, I found that I belong here.

NGUYEN: It transported me back to those high school years, being in the car, listening to the song at full blast. And I felt like it was my brother talking to me, and I felt like it was his way of sending a message and just trying to figure out where I go from here, where my family goes from here and what we do to honor his life and legacy. That song helped me because it felt like a message - him letting us know that things are going to be OK, or at least he was OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEPECHE MODE SONG, "HOME")

KELLY: That was Kim Nguyen remembering her brother Frank, who died from COVID. You can visit our tribute, NPR's Songs of Remembrance, at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.