Thursday, July 26, 2012

Death Music: Songs About the End

Let's talk about the three Ds: dying, dead and death. (Ooh, let the fun and games begin, right?)

I have such a complicated relationship with them. If we're talking dead, as in not being alive, as opposed to death, the moment when life ends, I'm good. I figure that being dead must be a lot like sleeping. As long as I don't see it coming, there's nothing to fear but fear itself -- and a corpse that isn't discovered until days, or weeks, later.

Which brings us to the moments before when life ends, which is an entirely different and terrifying beast. I probably spend an unhealthy, inordinate amount of time wondering and worrying about it. A palm reader once told me that I will live a lengthy life that will end in a prolonged illness. I'm not sure how I feel about the prospect of living past 78, but I'd definitely pass on the long goodbye. Now I get to spend the rest of my life not looking forward to an extended farewell tour.

And then what?

My brother and I recently had the most morbid conversation about songs we'd like to have played at our funeral. At one point, I was set on Sarah Brightman's version of "Time to Say Goodbye" (her solo version, without Andra Bocelli), but now I think I'd prefer for the funeral planner to surprise me.

To be completely honest, though, I'd rather skip the funeral entirely and head straight to the afterlife, not that I'm 100 percent convinced that there's going to be one. You know, I hate goodbyes, and if I'm going to spend months before I expire saying them, I'd rather just rest in peace and quiet than have to lie still through yet another round of them. But if there's music involved, I'll reconsider. I may not be able to dance to it, but half the fun of having a party is in planning the soundtrack.

During that same conversation with my brother, he suggested that I do a post on goodbye songs. I haven't gotten around to it as of yet, though I did include three "goodbye" songs in another post a few months ago. For now, I guess that this -- my personal death wish playlist -- comes close enough, for what is death but the ultimate, and final, goodbye?

"Death's Door" Depeche Mode "Death is everywhere, there are flies on the windscreen for a start..." Oops, wrong song. This is an even better song, from the 1991 Until the End of the World soundtrack, an essential death album and until Trainspotting came along five years later, my favorite soundtrack of the '90s.

"Days" Elvis Costello More doom and gloom from Until the End of the World.

"The First to Leave" Elvis Costello/The Brodsky Quartet Costello was on some death roll in the early '90s, wasn't he? A standout from The Juliet Letters, 1993's excellent chamber-pop experiment.

"What's Good" Lou Reed The crowning achievement of Until the End of the World's death triple.

"Cemetery Gates" The Smiths A bit of gallows humor to liven up the most morbid date ever.

"Dead" Pixies The messy, sonic flip side to resting in peace.

"El Paso" Marty Robbins Perhaps my earliest exposure to death. As a kid, I never wanted the song to end because it's a great song, and because, well, I knew exactly how it was going to end.

"John and Elvis Are Dead" George Michael Not quite as affecting as Elton John's "Empty Garden" (look, Ma, no tears), but right up there.

"Gone Again" Patti Smith Two years after the 1994 death of her husband Fred "Sonic" Smith (who, incidentally, was her duet partner on Until the End of the World's "It Takes Time"), the Godmother of Punk returned with one of the most cathartic bracing rockers of her life, co-written with Fred.

"Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park" Cowboy Junkies The 1992 song (from Black Eyed Man) that presaged my current obsession with crime-time TV. I saw Cowboy Junkies at the Beacon Theater in New York City when the band was touring behind Black Eyed Man, and John F. Kennedy Jr. (R.I.P.) was in the audience, which makes this song, which Cowboy Junkies performed that night, even creepier to listen to today. (Pardon the lo-fi video below -- I couldn't find any studio versions on YouTube -- and just buy the album.)

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