The Funeral Party: Freebird-Free Mixes for the Afterlife…


Every now and again, I’ll have a sobering thought.  The kind of thought that makes the world go still, and the air turn cold, and the hair on the back of the neck stand up.  Today’s thought struck me with mortal terror.  In looking at a list of songs that Britons want played at their funerals, it occurred to me that someone might very well play James Blunt at my funeral.  And knowing how important music is to me, and that I run this site, people might feel that I had chosen such a song.  And then, as in this life, the afterlife would be full of people who wanted to mock me.  Only this time, it would be for eternity… Yikes!  And so, with an energy and an enthusiasm I wish I could feel when working on my dissertation, I resolved to put down a few thoughts on the subject.  And since it’s a curious sort of subject, I thought I’d ask your opinion…

In my entry on Mayonaise by the Smashing Pumpkins, I raised the subject of playing music at my funeral.  To me, this is a perfectly natural thing to wonder about – every bit as appropriate as it might be for a wedding or birthday party – but it has since come to my attention that some people find this to be a rather odd thing to focus on. Growing up with lots of Irish family and friends, many of which have since passed on, I really can’t help but link death and music.  In fact, I have at least a dozen recollections of “The Last Rose of Summer” or “Danny Boy” being sung to someone’s bones. (1)  Of course, given this effusion of sentimentality, I also can’t help but link wakes and laughter, so there might just be something to this whole “music to be buried to” thing…

Just now, I was listening to the Clancy Brothers perform Dylan’s “When the Ship Comes In” (and it absolutely makes the list), and I got to thinking about revising the playlist I’ve been keeping for just such an occasion.  As I’ve written elsewhere, I rather unfortunately laid down on the job when it came to my own father’s funeral, and so I got to experience that most dreadful of clichéd moments as the words “If I leave here tomorrow…” floated overhead.  (2) An experience like this does, in fact, elicit something other than rage and unmeasurable embarrassment.  For me, it instilled a profound sense of “either you choose, or it will be done for you.  Probably by Celine Dion fans…”

So, given that, a list is needed.  In many ways, this presents the classic mix tape problems.  Except, of course, you’re not trying too woo anyone.  I would say that the biggest difficulty posed in conceptualizing such a mix is trying to provide an atmosphere of peace and remembrance without either going “All Elton John, all the time!” or “This is the greatest tragedy since the death of Jesus” in tone.  You want the songs to say something about you, and who you were, and you want them to leave the people who have come to see you feeling all right.  Hey, you might even want them to smile.

Which is why you are not allowed to play “Heresy” by NIN or Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory.”  I would also maintain that avoiding the lamely ironic (Blue Oyster Cult, anyone?) is probably advisable.  Instead, I would argue, you should put that energy into finding a list of things that says something about you and the life you’ve lived.  That’s why this list needs revision over the years, and it requires your attention.  And, I suppose, it requires someone who will stand up for you, even if you have put “The Rainbow Connection” on your list.  Sometimes, things just need doing, right?

But this makes me wonder: should we really do all of the choosing?  If the point is to say something about who you were, and what you mean, then surely that’s a task for the mourners?  Or the people dancing in joy on your grave (which, I’m guessing, is done to reggae or ska)… So, just how much can we pre-plan an event like this?  And what’s the etiquette for telling people that your dying wish was that there would be “nothing awful” playing at the wake or the funeral?

So, before we go a lot further, I’ll just put my working list here.  It’s not complete, and I go back and forth on things, but that’s the way life is.  And so, I suppose, that’s how death is.  Not every single one of these is going to make the cut, but they all have a reason to be there in my mind. (3)

Now that you’ve seen mine, I’m sure you’re filled with a newfound appreciation for the fact that blogging software really does let just anyone, regardless of handicap, contribute to the global conversation.  Well, good for you!  But we’ll turn it around, and I’ll ask you: What songs would you absolutely want played at your funeral, and why?  What would cause you to literally turn over in your grave, become a zombie, murder the assembled well-wishers (mmm, brains…), and then return to the underworld to brood about the fact that someone played (well, maybe Underworld) at your funeral? (4)

Let’s go top five, just to make it more interesting, shall we?

  1. Although, as it turns out, the Church is adopting a “no Stairway!” approach to Danny Boy in some places… [Back]
  2. Somewhere, I am certain, my father waits for his moment to have vengeance.  One day, like old Hamlet’s ghost, or Banquo, he will come again, and he’ll be flanked by the Van Zant brothers… [Back]
  3. We’ll just talk about it later, if you’d like… [Back]
  4. I’m going to stick with Freebird.  Or anything by Celine Dion… [Back]

Leave a Reply