Wedding ceremonies

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With my August 8th wedding date rapidly approaching, my fiancée and I have been trying to arrange the final details of our ceremony. One of these has involved picking music and (possibly?) poetry that we would like played/read during our wedding. This got me to thinking, what pieces of pop culture would The A.V. Club like to have displayed at their own weddings? If already married, what music or literature did you have at your wedding? —Vincent

Josh Modell
Hey Vince, my first piece of advice is to stay away from poetry readings altogether. Also, try not to include that one Bible verse that everybody does—you know the one. It's super-cheesy, and full of promises that you probably don't intend on keeping, like having as many children as God will bestow upon you. As for what my betrothed and I played… Well, nothing at the ceremony, which was literally three minutes long and attended by about 10 people. (I recommend that, too!) But at the reception, we put together an iTunes playlist that was something like eight hours long, filled with the least depressing music from our collections—songs we both really liked. That's not helpful with specifics, I realize. But hey, some engaged friends of ours were over for dinner last week, and they want their first dance to be to Cat Power's cover of "Sea Of Love." That sounds like a good one—hip, but parents might like it too.


Tasha Robinson
Personally, I'm not married, nor am I the type of gal who sits around fantasizing about her wedding ceremony, so I don't have a playlist worked out for it yet. And if I were to be totally honest, having to make decisions like that is probably one reason I'm not married. But I'll tell you this: One of the best ideas for a wedding song I've heard this decade came from an AVC reader who talked about playing "How Very Special Are We" from the original animated Charlotte's Web at his wedding, and that strikes me as just about the perfect blend of sentimental, sweet, and non-cloying. And I recently attended a wedding where the music was mostly traditional, but the recessional music was James Brown singing "I Feel Good." Which made the recessional more of a triumphant, cocky couple's strut, but ain't nothing wrong with that.


Steven Hyden
Unlike Tasha, I'm totally the type of person that sits around and fantasizes about his wedding ceremony—or the reception, anyway. I actually DJed my own wedding last year, because every single professional wedding DJ on the planet is tied for having the worst music taste in the history of mankind, and there was no way I was going to leave the selection of my post-marital-vow party jams to the type of person who willingly subjects hundreds of people to Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl" several times a month. For the actual ceremony, we skipped the usual hymns and went with two beautiful love songs performed by my friend Tim on acoustic guitar, Bob Dylan's "If Not For You" and The Association's "Never My Love." Both were so gorgeous and spare, I'm pretty sure they would turn man-eating grizzly bears into cuddly bunny rabbits. My wife and I also each picked out a reading, and while she went with some highfalutin Pablo Neruda poem, I stayed in the pop-music gutter and pulled out several verses from Dylan's "Shelter From The Storm," which contains perhaps the most succinct and perfect definition of love I've ever heard: "Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm." 


Keith Phipps
I remember my wedding with great fondness, and some of those memories are tied to music. We had a wonderful DJ who, pre-meal, took over the mic for an impromptu rendition of "Summer Wind." He also read the generational vibe of the crowd pretty well: Yes, Madonna's "Holiday" [Update: We're now being told by sources close to the event that it was "Lucky Star" —ed.] was the perfect song to use as the folks the age of our wedding party entered the room. My wife and I handed out mix-CDs as favors, and that seems to have gone over well, too. Though in retrospect, I wouldn't have included so many songs from Autopsy Torment. I kid: It stated with Josh Rouse and included the George Jones and Tammy Wynette song "The Ceremony," a video of which you'll find below. It didn't work out great for those two, but the wife and I are doing just fine.


Claire Zulkey
Here is what I learned from getting married: Putting the whole thing together and pulling it off is difficult enough in and of itself, even if you have one Mrs. Zulkey handling your wedding. Finding a way to make your wedding totally original and you and unlike anybody else's ever is just added torture. Because really, what is more personal than you marrying the person you love in front of your friends and family? If they don't know you and what you're about, they shouldn't even be there. Of course, I still tried to find a few ways to make our wedding unique, although I was working within the parameters of the Catholic Church (you can't walk down the aisle to Abba's "I Do, I Do, I Do") and my mom's traditional tastes. Other than making our "guest book" pre-stamped postcards with our address on them, my one creative input was to have Steam's "Kiss Him Goodbye" played at the reception. My mom was worried that that would send some sort of bad message, I guess that my husband and I were immediately breaking up, but I had to have a nod to our allegiance to the Chicago White Sox in there somewhere. But really, my advice is, if it's not immediately obvious to you what you need to have in there, it's not worth it to struggle to find a way to unique-ify your big day. 


Donna Bowman
I'll add a hearty "hear, hear" to Claire's overall philosophy. Unless you were raised in the orphan's home (and even then, the matron might want some say), your wedding isn’t just yours. It is not an act of personal creative expression. It is a way for your diverse circle of intimates—including hip friends, but also very, very square relatives—to celebrate your change of status. Weddings are rites of passage, and rites of passage are owned not by those who go through them, but by the culture that dictates them. So go with the poetry. It's the one time in your life that you can have some fearsomely beautiful words spoken over you, because honey, you're not going to hear what they read at your funeral. Personally, I'm all about the Song Of Songs. No one can object, because it's biblical. But it is sensuous and elevated at the same time—a tremendous tightrope act on a day that combines high moral ideals with the recognition that you will soon be gettin' it on. I'd also recommend skipping the stress about what music to include in the ceremony ("Air On A G String," buddy, you got no complaints), and have fun with your musical selections for the reception. The song you pick for your first dance is a recognized and codified personal statement, of course, but I'll disagree with Steve here and say that the lame DJ selections should be embraced wholeheartedly. Party music is not what you would make the world dance to if you had the only PA in town; it's what the world has collectively decided should be danced to. "You Give Love A Bad Name" isn't within shouting distance of my iPod, but damned if the whole hipster douchebag A.V. Club staff wasn't thrashing away to it when it was blasted at the Tobias nuptials.


Kyle Ryan
While Donna makes valid points about weddings not being yours, I disagree. I think weddings are acts of personal creative expression—how much so depends on the couple. Obviously, you want to please your guests and family, but this is a chance to celebrate the two of you and what makes your union so great. It's your day, so do what you want. That's the approach my wife and I took six years ago: We decided what we wanted to do, then figured out how to make it as enjoyable as possible for our guests. For our ceremony—a small, family-only event held on a cliff over the Pacific near Big Sur, California—we wrote our vows, but let the earth-mother minister handle the rest (after excising the cheesier parts).

For the reception, we rented out one of the best music venues in Chicago, The Empty Bottle, which completely ruled. We burned a couple hours' worth of music on CD, then our friends' bands played later in the night. (As people entered, we gave them a little box with 1-inch buttons we made for the party and the bands, along with earplugs.) I thought it was the perfect mix of a traditional wedding reception (food, cake, dancing) and what we really wanted (bands and beer). It was a total blast. 


Emily Withrow
My husband's extended family is largely Jewish, and mine is Southern Baptist, so we had a wonderful time planning our ceremony, joking about all the ways we'd probably end up offending our families. In a way, I felt like my wedding was my official coming-out to them as a bleeding-heart liberal. I had no engagement ring, a best man instead of a maid of honor, and a judge for an officiant, and we didn't do many traditional wedding things, since I was too busy shouting through a megaphone about the wedding industry's co-opting of post-sexual revolution feminist slogans. Charming, I know. So while I didn't latch onto flowers or tablecloths, I did care a great deal about what would be read during the ceremony. My husband and I had a terribly nerdy (slash romantic!) early dating period. We went to readings, gave each other our favorite books, and generally bonded over the remains of our useless literary degrees, so it was only fitting that we obsess about what passages might reflect our relationship. We ended up settling on a poem by Stanley Kunitz, who wrote in beautifully plain language about longing and growing old, and a passage from Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness Of Being. It was tough to find a sex-and-death-free passage from the novel, but we chose it because, infidelity aside, the book revolves around the honest anguish of falling in love, and the frightening question that follows behind: Who will die first? Unbearable Lightness is also about a happy accident—a contrast to the romantic idea of destiny. We were trying to embrace the contradictions a wedding represented to us and our sensibilities, and to say, “We're going into this marriage with our eyes open, but also in love.”


Leonard Pierce
I am exactly the kind of dick who would never dream of having a poetry reading at my wedding, and who winces when some party DJ gives "The Chicken Dance" a spin. Which is why I'm destined to die alone in a gutter, while my less tight-assed friends enjoy decades of marital bliss because they're able to put their arch senses of irony on hold for five minutes. So asking me what I would like played at my wedding is, in practical terms, like asking me what kind of dinner I would like served on my first day visiting the Land Of Oz. However, I have been to a lot of weddings that I have greatly enjoyed (including that of our own Claire Zulkey), and while most of them have had moments of cheesiness, those are totally subsumed, even for jerk-asses like me, in the sense of happiness and good feeling toward the happy couple. As long as there's an open bar afterward (I can’t stress the importance of that element enough, Vincent), it's not really going to bother me what gets played or doesn't. I will mention two related things I thought were pretty neat: one friend of mine stuck with a pianist playing pretty traditional romantic music at her actual reception, but also made special mix-CDs as part of the booty for guests; another couple I know pulled the all-time topper of hiring a live jazz band for the wedding, and having them play Piero Umiliani's "Mah Nà Mah Nà" as they walked down the aisle. You can relax: people are going to be happy and have a great time no matter what you play. Throw in something unexpected or personal, and it's just gravy.


Zack Handlen
Well, poetry readings don't have to suck. I read Shakespeare's Sonnet CXVI at a wedding ("Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments"), and pretentious or not, it went okay. I mean, they're still married and they've got a couple kids. Shakespeare and I probably can't take credit for that, but who knows?

As for my own wedding… ehhhhh. Sometimes it seems like I've spent the last 18 years struggling with one romantic obsession or another, and I gotta tell you, at this point, I'm just too damn tired to care. I'm sure weddings can be glorious spectacles or tedious, hidebound ceremonies, or some combination of the two, but the concept has no emotional validity to me; you might as well ask how I'd plan my first moon landing. How could I possibly have any idea what a wedding should be like when I don't even know what it's like to really be in love? I guess there should be good dance music, and some romantic stuff. Maybe a recording of "Jessie's Song" from Toy Story 2, just so everybody can get all weepy. But jeez, that could be cheesy. And I can't dance for shit.

You know what would be great? A wedding that was weird and stressful and loud, where you end up having to break up a fight between that uncle who can't hold his liquor and that niece who can. Because at some point, after fishing somebody's toupee out of the cheese dip for the 15th time, you'd groan, and you and your partner would both start laughing and not be able to stop. Because for no real reason, and without saying it out loud, you'd both be thinking of that bit on The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob keeps stepping on the rakes. And in spite of everything else, the vows and the relatives and the uncomfortable clothing, that would be the part you'd remember afterward. I'm not sure what relationships are really like, and weddings are beyond me, but that's the only way I can see pop culture being part of the process—as a joke that nobody else gets, because it's just you and her (or him, as the case may be) and nothing else matters.

Good luck, Vincent! I just want you to know, we're all counting on you.


Sean O’Neal
Vincent, you neglected to mention the most important aspect of this wedding, which is: Who's paying? If you're the one footing the bill, by all means, walk down the aisle to "Ace Of Spades" and swap the traditional vows for Alec Baldwin's "Always Be Closing" speech from Glengarry Glen Ross, because it's officially your day. But to add a bit of crass reality to Donna's statement about culture dictating the way we celebrate our rites of passage, in my experience, it's the person who's shelling out for said rite of passage who gets to play dictator. My wedding lost any chance at being personal the second the guest list swelled to more than 250 people (many of whom were complete strangers to me) and we started talking about erecting tents at the Four Seasons. If I'm being honest about it, I was pretty much just an actor expected to hit my mark and say my lines, which meant my longtime dream of having our first dance to Gang Of Four's "Anthrax" was a no-go. 

However, within those considerable constraints, we were allowed to have some fun: Over my mother-in-law's gentle protests, we chose the music ourselves, which meant plenty of David Bowie, Pulp, The Cure, and Joy Division as opposed to the nice music for nice people she was hoping for—and who cares if the majority of those songs were full of cynicism and heartbreak? They're what we danced to when we were fucked-up kids for whom marriage was still a laughable prospect, and they're what we danced to while we were falling in love, so dancing to them at my wedding reception was the one part of the ceremony that felt totally natural. Getting bogged down with only picking music that has some sort of deep lyrical significance to both of you, or that treads solely on the sappy side of love is great if that’s what you truly feel, but my wife and I have always hated that shit—it’s why we’re together—so why pretend?

 As for poetry: Avoid “The Prophet,” of course, and if you have anything from The Princess Bride at your wedding, I will personally come down there and punch you square in the face. But again, don’t feel as though you have to adopt grandiloquent emotions and flowery verse just because you’re both so in lurve; my wife surprised me by asking her friend to read Gregory Corso's "Marriage" during the ceremony, and it was in that moment that I felt like she really did understand me—that it was more about getting married to me instead of just getting married. Of course, just hearing the word "masturbated" was enough to ruin the whole wedding for my mother-in-law, and she spent the reception and the next few months grumbling about how she'd been embarrassed in front of all of her colleagues, and she’s noticeably grimacing in most of the photos taken immediately after the ceremony, and to this day, she refuses to watch that part of the wedding video… But sometimes pissing other people off is the price you pay for exerting your individuality. Just make sure they've already signed the checks.

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