Thirty feet above the shadow clad crowd you hover, circumnavigating the funeral procession as idea only. You are dead. After honors are bestowed, and speeches given, the throng of friends, intimates, and acquaintances shuffle indoors for an awkward retelling of your life. Who is there, and what they say is not so important as what they collectively feel and affirm. But you can do nothing. Incorporeal and hoped for, you are powerless to influence how you are received – your reception. But brilliance, not unlike idiocy, strikes you between day dreams and meetings with the one way you can determine how they feel.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve made numerous revisions and omissions to my “funeral list” for as long as music has been a part of my life. I distinctly remember making a friend promise to play “Safe Home” by Anthrax. The acoustic version or the electric per his discretion. Now days I’d be more inclined to put “Only Son of the Ladies Man” by Father John Misty on the list first thing. Lyrically it seems obvious, but I’m more hopeful that someone will actually take up the mantle and try and become this titular figure. It will not work well for them, and that amuses me. The ridiculous quality of it is what’s most appealing to me. A top contender is any Avenged Sevenfold song, so long as they are actually at the funeral playing the song while my corpse is descended from the rafters with all due pyrotechnics. I don’t even like Avenged Sevenfold.
Absurdity aside (if possible) one song has always been a staple of the list. From somber to silly, one song will always be played if my friends and lovers have anything to say about it –
Ronnie James Dio’s “Last in Line.”
I don’t particularly like Dio. I don’t even own an album (I lied, I do). He’s not on any of my top ten lists, not even for metal. But in my case it’s about lyrics in conjunction with a perceived sense of triumph and affirmation – a victory song for a strange attempt, a “throw before the toss.” I imagine my best friend insisting on listening to this completely over the top song in reverent silence.
But that’s my motivation, and it certainly speaks to the radically contextual nature of music compared to many other art forms. My same list could be used at any funeral, but without those people knowing (as much as possible) who I was, my wishes, my lusts, and especially my quirks, none of it would be the same. That’s what gets us about the funeral playlist, why so many of us in small moments of humor think on who will dance with and who and to what song. Friends and strangers alike have told me they wonder about the perfect selections that will ensure their reception – literally, how one is received.
I’ll give you some examples. One interviewed person insisted on a hearty dose of Townes Van Zandt to the exclusion of all others until at least ten songs had been played. A record collector and friend only had limitations, a list of don’ts to ensure a certain level of, well, rock n’ roll. Another, when asked, wavered between Hendrix, to Hellbilly, to Bach eventually culminating in “It’s so hard for me to narrow it down to less than an hour. I mean, if they play Mahler’s 2nd, that’s the whole service, right?” Beyond the everyday, I can only imagine how rough it must have been for Cece Williams to sing “Don’t Cry for Me” at Whitney Houston’s funeral. The list (no pun intended) goes on. Sappy and trashy to ponderous and overwrought, each choice is twofold, once for the deceased and once for a final say or word. Sometimes it’s about something never communicated. Other times an attempt to justify a way of life, whatever the reason, or selection one thing is always there – a demand.
This time, this last time, you will think of me in these hues, with these tones. I color my affect without the possibility of reproach or reprisal. Even your arrival is mute.
So what, you ask, is the point of this urge or even discussing it? Are you tapping your foot waiting for the “scientists have discovered” or “as I argue here?” Does the dirge-urge indicate anything about a person, is a question I couldn’t hope to answer. Each attempt is equally informed by taste as it is neurosis, fear, laughter, creativity, and whim.
One thing may be said for certain. Any funeral list indicates that music, above all other arts, understandings and communications, envelopes even our endings. Beyond questions of memory or eternity, music can be launched at you from beyond. An auditory citation of your last will and sometimes testament.
– Matt Kay