Posted by: cousinbrandon | August 4, 2009

Funeral Dirge (Part 1): The Soundtrack (I Think) I Want Played Before They Stick Me Six Feet Under

Originally published August 4, 2009 on 710 ESPN.

It doesn’t make me weird. Really. I mean, it’s only weird because most of you probably have never written it down. But trust me, we all of us have thought about our own funeral in one form or another. Will it be well attended? Will anyone cry? Who will serve as the pallbearers? Will I even need pallbearers should I go the cremation route? Will cake be served afterwards? And if so, what kind? (Hopefully some of my mother’s chocolate chip vanilla cake with chocolate icing, which was so good I never even cared that it came from a box.)

About 8 years ago I found myself sitting in a Borders café drinking coffee, and for one reason or another I started listing the songs I wanted played on that fateful day. I’m not sure where that list ended up, but that’s fine, really, as it served as the impetus for what you’re reading now. Furthermore, I promise you my list then was different from my list now, except for a few exceptions. I guess that’s why I can’t call this the soundtrack I absolutely insist upon for my funeral, as it could change tomorrow. Well, assuming there is a tomorrow…

So, without further delay, here are the first 8 of the 15 songs I want played, in order, at my funeral. And should anyone try to slip in some dreadful cliché like “Candle In the Wind” or “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” so help me I’ll sit bolt upright in that coffin and deliver a butt-whoopin’ this world’s never seen. (Granted, Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” might be particularly funny, though I can’t not associate it with that ridiculous shot of Sally Kellerman “dancing” her way through the party at Thornton Melon’s apartment in Back to School, so perhaps not.)

1. Smog – “Dress Sexy at My Funeral
Too on the nose? Maybe. But don’t let the title fool you. There’s no denying the upbeat appeal of Smog’s (AKA, Bill Callahan’s) tongue-in-cheek nod to death. Here Callahan pleads to his wife to not only dress to the nines at his funeral, but to “Wink at the minister / Blow kisses to my grieving brothers.” What’s more, Callahan asks that his widow regale the audience with tales of all the places the two of them, well, “got to know one another” in a more intimate manner. If nothing else, the speaker sounds like a man who almost welcomes death, if only for the opportunity to, “for the first time” in his life, appear to be the ultimate ladies’ man. And as far as I’m concerned, why not start the day off on an up note? No reason this day shouldn’t be laughable.

2. Pavement – “Heaven Is a Truck
Not only does this allow me to pay tribute to one of my favorite bands (and records) of all time, but it allows me to introduce a bit of absurdity into the mix. Perhaps not regarded as Pavement’s crowning achievement, particularly coming from an album loaded with greatness, “Heaven Is a Truck” remains one of my favorite Pavement songs. Slow, stripped down and almost simple in nature, the song has always made me smile and even laugh. Hell, even the metaphor of heaven as a truck is ridiculous, and therefore funny. I mean, just consider some of the lyrics: “I know arks can’t fly / I know the sharks, they don’t have wings.” Yet sung in Stephen Malkmus’ easy, yet off-key vocals, it’s dynamite.

3. They Might Be Giants – “Dead
Like Pavement before it, this track by They Might Be Giants is also quite absurdist, which isn’t saying much for TMBG. Still, it also includes one of my favorite sets of all TMBG lyrics, which is: “I will never say the word / ‘procrastinate’ again. / I’ll never see myself in the mirror with my eyes closed. / I didn’t apologize for when I was eight / and I made my younger brother / have to be my personal slave.” The song, then, not only tells the story of a man recounting his regrets, but also realizing that maybe there’s not much difference between life and death, since it would appear he squandered it either way. (“Now it’s over, I’m dead / and I haven’t done anything that I want / or I’m still alive / and there’s nothing I want to do.”) Either way, a song about death that always moved me, yet never brought me to tears. Well, unless laughing counts. (And by the way, the clip for “Dead” is set to a slideshow of one of my favorite sites, Garfield Minus Garfield. I highly recommend it.)

4. Richard Buckner – “4 AM
You know, a lot of people still haven’t heard of Richard Buckner, which is a crime as far as I’m concerned. He’s put out two remarkable records (Since and Devotion + Doubt) plus a handful of other really strong albums. And even though “4 AM” isn’t a song about death, the sense of desperation in Buckner’s voice is palpable, particularly at the song’s conclusion when he wails “Where are you?” in his trademark scratchy, off-key yet beautiful voice. This is a love song, really; it’s a song about yearning — “Oh my one, my one / You’ve broken me / At the vow, below the vine / But where are you tonight?” — and yet it somehow seems so eloquently right for a funeral. I’m sappy that way.

5. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – “Death to Everyone
Well, I suppose the title says it all. “Death to Everyone,” from Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s (AKA, Will Oldham’s) fantastic, yet rather depressing record I See a Darkness, is as vocally stripped down as it gets. As far as they lyrics go, it’s really a song about embracing death. Not enjoying it, exactly, but understanding its inevitability. And because of that, Oldham is able to sing lyrics like, “And since we know an end will come / It makes our living fun.” In that sense, really, it’s a song about embracing the lives we were given and making the most of our time here. For the record, Oldham is a bit of – well – he’s kind of “off,” so to speak. And yet there’s such an honesty that permeates his music that “off” translates to “realistic.” Either way, good stuff here.

6. The Pixies – “In Heaven
This isn’t a Pixies song. Not exactly. It’s a song covered by The Pixies (as well as a ton of other bands), though it first appeared in the film Eraserhead, as sung by The Lady in the Radiator. What’s more, it never found its way onto a proper studio album. And yet when I think of the numerous songs recorded by one of my favorite bands of all-time, it’s “In Heaven” that comes to mind first and foremost in terms of my funeral playlist. Utilizing a rather common Pixies technique, the song builds from a whisper to a scream in a matter of a single chord. Black Francis quietly sings/speaks the lyric, “In Heaven / everything is fine,” repeating it two more times before the lyrics, “You got your good thing / and I’ve got mine.” And once he hits “mine,” he and the entire band absolutely erupt. Nice way to shake up a funeral as far as I’m concerned. And what’s more, a pretty positive message, no?

7. Ween – “Buenos Tardes Amigo
When I think of “epic” songs, I think of “Buenos Tardes Amigo,” from Ween’s stellar Chocolate and Cheese. Musically, it sounds like it could have been rolled into a scene from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, borrowing Morricone guitar lines and a subtle old west vibe. Lyrically, this more than seven-minute track tells the tale of a man whose brother was murdered, and how he sought revenge against his murderer. As it turns out, though, the murderer was, in fact, the still living, jealous brother who is telling the story. Sure, it doesn’t sound too funny, yet in the hands of Ween pretty much anything is hysterical. Just hearing Gene Ween pronounce the word “chicken” makes the song listenable.

8. The Thermals – “You Dissolve”
I can say for certain that “You Dissolve” is not my favorite Thermals track. What’s more, it doesn’t come from my favorite record. And yet it’s hard to ignore this song in terms of relevance, considering the record (Now We Can See) is pretty much told from the dead’s point-of-view, ending on this single. What makes it work so well (which is typical of pretty much all Thermals songs) is the song’s ability to balance what isn’t necessarily upbeat subject matter with ridiculously catchy hooks and melody. For instance, it’s hard to feel good if reading lyrics like, “You dissolve / It’s the only way you depart / It’s the only way you operate / It’s the only way you dissolve.” Yet hearing it paired with the music gives it a different feel entirely. Again, people are at the funeral. They know someone has passed. So why not, in my mind, at least give them some foot-tappin’ music to enjoy in the meantime? (Because I couldn’t find a link to this track, here are The Thermals rockin’ out on a slightly older track, “How We Know.”)

Stay tuned for the rest of the playlist in Funeral Dirge, Part 2…


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