Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What song do you want played at your funeral?
While there are a lot of really appropriate answers to this question—Smog’s “Dress Sexy At My Funeral,” for example—I think ultimately I’d want a back-to-back combination of The Clancy Brothers’ boozy “Parting Glass” and something insanely upbeat like Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca Plane Pour Moi." I’m not really of the mindset that a funeral should be a heartbreaking event, but I would want to be woefully mourned, and that’s what the Clancy Brothers track is for. Everyone could get drunk and morose for a few minutes before “Ca Plane” chimes in to remind everyone that, hey, I had a good run while it lasted.
Easy: “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison (with an obligatory nod to The Chiffons). I have waxed and waned throughout my life regarding my religious convictions, but I always felt that “My Sweet Lord” was sweetly spiritual without getting too hymnic, plus it could apply to lots of other faiths. I think it would be a good sendoff to the afterlife. Also, I always liked the idea of a happier type of funeral, so this fulfills that need. And finally, George was my favorite Beatle, which is as good a reason as any.
I’d like to be buried as the theme music from The Legend Of Zelda plays. It will be performed on an ocarina, natch, and preceded by the musician shouting, “HEY! LISTEN!” 500 times to my most treasured loved ones. Speaking of, I want to be buried with all of my rupees, because I foresee myself being a miserly old man who doesn’t want to share (also toss my iPhone 4S in there, too). Then my grave will turn into the entrance to a maddening and horrifying dungeon requiring all the strength, smarts, and fortitude of those I hold most precious. Everyone will then intimately know what games meant to me when I was alive: an escape from thinking about our inevitable death.
For a happy kid, I spent a disproportionate amount of class time in middle school fantasizing about my own funeral. I came up with two personal touches that seemed like great ideas at the time. The first was hiring a funeral clown, who during the visitation would cheer up my bereaved family by making them balloon animals, console crying friends by pulling an endless hankie out of his pocket, that sort of thing. (I still think the idea is comedy gold, but I nixed it when I realized how many people are terrified of clowns.) My other, only slightly more plausible fantasy was having The Clash’s “Stay Free” play as my casket was lowered into the ground. I can’t think of a more perfectly punk-rock way to leave the world than with one of the great tributes to youthful insolence and freedom. As awesome as that kiss-off would be, though, I’ve realized with age that I’m not remotely as punk as I thought I was as a kid, and that my loved ones would be more confused than comforted by hearing a sneering Mick Jones offer a final fuck you to the world as they said their last goodbyes. I suppose all of my youthful daydreaming was for nothing, then, since I’ve settled on a clownless, music-free traditional funeral.
If anything other than Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” gets played—make that cranked—as I’m being consigned to my ultimate fate as a buffet for wormkind, I will come back and personally haunt the iTunes of each and every motherfucker responsible for said transgression with a loop of Gold & Platinum, forever and ever, amen.
It’s been out of my everyday rotation for a while, but Moby’s “Everloving” is a song that evokes strong feelings every time I hear it. A wordless composition from his once-omnipresent album Play, it features a simple but effective dynamic build from an acoustic guitar all the way to a lush, haunting keyboard melody with drums crashing over it like waves on the beach. Eventually, it returns to the single guitar, evoking the feeling that an entire life has been lived within its three minutes. Its wordless nature allows listeners to put their personal stamp on its meaning, which also feels appropriate for a time in which at least four people may or may not be sad that I’m no longer around.
My father is a funeral director, and because he lives above his funeral home, I’ve attended hundreds of funerals, assisting in my fair share of them along the way. Spending a great deal of time in the company of the bereaved, I got to see many musical tributes, and after careful deliberation, I’ve decided that the entirety of Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet would be the perfect soundtrack at my funeral. While it’d be nice to have a sendoff that would make my family, friends, and assorted well-wishers misty-eyed, I’d rather they all get together and have a crazy party instead.
I wouldn’t like a particular song so much as a particular kind of funeral: a jazz funeral. A tradition in New Orleans (used hilariously in Live And Let Die, and beautifully in Treme), the funerals seem like the perfect way to mourn. I’ve been smitten with the idea since I read Louis Armstrong’s autobiography, Satchmo, in which he describes the events in colorful detail (they’re one of the places he honed his craft). A dance party in Louisiana is the best way to go out, if you ask me. If pressed about whether the band should play any particular songs, I’d request the horn section from “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band, which was arranged by New Orleans’ own Allen Toussaint.
For style, crowd-pleasing lyrics, and sheer daring, I’ll have to go with My Chemical Romance’s “Helena,” because the music video is a dress rehearsal of what I would like to go down at my funeral. (Just kidding—not really. Well, a little… But not a lot.) A rock band, dancers, black eyeliner, ballet slippers, and everything else that made 2000-era emo so intolerable? Yes, please. Attendants will be required to rise and sing the chorus: “So long and goodnight.”
Given the name-checking of Northern Ontario, I think that when you’re Canadian there’s a general expectation to play Neil Young’s “Helpless” at your funeral. But it’s a fitting anthem for any dead person, suited to any ol’ soul being ferried out those “blue, blue windows behind the stars.” That said, I’d go with the Nick Cave cover. Nick Cave and Neil Young are two of my favorite songwriters, so it’s one of those “two great tastes”-type deals. Still, it’s a bit earnest for my taste… Even as a corpse. So I’d take the weepy edge off with “The Hell Of It” by Paul Williams from the Phantom Of The Paradise soundtrack. All my friends and family and other bummed-out acquaintances boot-stomping to a chorus of “Good for nothin’! Bad in bed! / Nobody liked you, and you’re better off dead / Goodbye!” suits me just fine. Frankly, as long as there’s an open bar and a shrimp ring, you can play whatever the hell you want. I’d like this AVQ&A response to constitute my living will, while we’re at it.
For my last birthday, I asked friends to each make a mix of the ten songs they want to hear before they die so I could play them all during my party. It’s a morbid way to celebrate turning a year older but it’s a fun way to learn more about someone (and to realize just how many people want to listen to Blink-182 during their final moments). My choices were a mix of bands like Against Me!, Jawbreaker, and Bomb The Music Industry!, so ideally, I’d like this entire mix played during my funeral, turning it into some kind of pop-punk fest. But if I’m limited to just one? Definitely the closer, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton,” by The Mountain Goats. It’s one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands and I can’t pass up the chance to have everyone in a church scream “Hail Satan!” at the top of their lungs.
I made a playlist for this very purpose years ago when Jack Black’s Barry asked a similar question in High Fidelity. Here is a subset of those songs, because it was just too difficult to choose one: The Beatles’ “In My Life,” because anyone who knows me also knows I have a Beatles song for every single life occasion. I’d also choose The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Little Wing”; while the lyrics are somewhat somber, the percussion on that track kicks some serious ass. The sing-along potential of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” would keep the proceedings from becoming too much of a downer. Next would be Talking Heads’ version of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River,” because it sands down a bit of Green’s gospel-tinged vocals, keeps it super-funky, and adds some cool instruments. I’d include “Rudie Can’t Fail” by The Clash just for the snark of it, then wrap it up with either Skylark’s or The New Birth’s version of “Wildflower,” because that song just works on every emotional level. I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. But if it’s the New Birth one, cut out that talking part at the end. A funeral is no place for that business.
I believe, in the immortal words of Waring Hudsucker, that when you’re dead, you’re dead, so my choice of Sly & The Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher” has nothing to do with me spending the afterlife on a fluffy cloud. It’s because there’s no song I know of that’s so full of life and so impossible to stay in a bad mood while listening to. If it doesn’t get you off your feet, you’re probably dead—and even though I will be, I hope my corpse will dance a little.
A song that keeps popping up in my mind is “Vienna” by Billy Joel. I just love the lyrics, in which Joel is wistfully trying to tell someone—probably himself—that not every dream he has will come true, and that’s okay. It’s okay to slow down, it’s okay to take the world in. Just like it did for his father, the relative calm of Vienna beckons. Joel himself has talked about how the elderly are treated with respect in cities like Vienna, where they’re still seen as contributors to society, which made him feel that it’d be okay to get old. Heady stuff for a guy who wasn’t even 30 when he wrote the song, but it’s understandable to me. It’s the way I’ve been trying to live my life, especially since I’ve hit my 30s—sometimes with better results than at other times. More than anything, “Vienna” feels like the way I’d want to be remembered, and that’s why it has become my favorite Billy Joel song, along with “Summer, Highland Falls.”
Scott Von Doviak
My answer to this question has changed, but the artist remains the same. In my 20s, I would always say “Cold Cold Ground” by Tom Waits, which is the sort of bleak choice made by a young smartass who doesn’t really believe he’s going to die. But eventually I came around to the idea that the song wouldn’t actually be playing for me, but for whatever loved ones have gathered for this occasion, and that I might want to leave them with something a little more reassuring. So my current answer is “Come On Up To The House,” also by Tom Waits, which may be the warmest, most openhearted song of his career. It’s also the sort of song that can be all things to all people; there’s a vague religiosity to it for those who want to latch onto that, but for me it recalls the Robert Frost line, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Simply put, when times get tough, the people who mean the most will be there for you. That feels like the appropriate note to leave on when they’re there for you one last time.
One part of me would want to be overserious and play something that would force everyone to think about how somber the occasion is, and how much they’d miss me. To that end, I might go for “Atmosphere” by Joy Division, or “The Guests” by Leonard Cohen (“While house and grounds dissolve / And one by one, the guests are cast / Beyond the garden wall”). But I think the better part of me would honestly prefer something completely inappropriate, so I’m going to go with “Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph, better known as the Benny Hill theme. Maybe somebody could do a mash-up of those three...
When I was in high school, the song “In The Navy” by The Village People played at a basketball game for some reason, and my friend Tony turned to me and said, “Todd, I’m going to play this at your funeral.” Since I haven’t heard otherwise from him, I assume this is still the plan.
Outkast. “Hey Ya!” Look, there’s no good reason for this. My eyes saw this question, the information got passed to my brain, and my brain said, “Yeah, I’m going with ‘Hey Ya!’” I’ve tried to discuss this with my brain, tell it that maybe it’s inappropriate to play one of the most joyous songs of all time at my own funeral, but my brain’s pretty sure it’s not gonna care at that point. So why not pick a great song that should make all of my guests happy? Figures that my own funeral would be the one time my brain would pick earnest joy instead of subverting it with some kind of bitter irony. Stupid brain. Awesome Outkast.
This question comes down to how a living person wants their funeral—an event they won’t be present at—to go, so that’s kind of like planning a really depressing party you’re not going to attend. I, too, think of that scene from High Fidelity when the Championship Vinyl employees discuss potential songs, and Rob’s monologue while sitting at the service. But I’m going to be dead, so it’s not about what I would want to hear, since I’ll be gone. I think about the people I hope will be there—surviving family, potentially some old friends—and how I would want them celebrate my life and their own continued existence instead of mourning death. In that vein, I’d go with “At Your Funeral” by Saves The Day, a ferociously melodic barnburner that acknowledges the sadness of death while trying to move fast enough to stave it off. That’s the kind of sentiment I would want at a sad moment, hopefully using the sheer force of the music to help push people forward with their own lives.
Funeral music tends to be on the depressing side because all of the traditional songs that celebrate life in death have to match that sad, slow, solemn tempo. That ain’t happening at my funeral. Thankfully, my love of punk covers has prepared me for my personal end times (the will and all that “who gets what” stuff will just work itself out because the bigger problem with my family would be who gets stuck with my collection of eclectic, worthless junk rather than who gets to take what). Joey Ramone’s cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” would be a perfect choice for my funeral because it’s got a sad but solemn message of hope for those I’ve left behind, sung by one of the freakin’ Ramones.
My first instinct was to be lowered into the ground to Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” preferably with a friend or grandson or something dancing around in an anachronistic military “uniform” that doesn’t fit. Then I remembered that I don’t actually want to be buried, which dampens my Arrested Development tribute enough to nix it altogether. Scattering my ashes to the song makes even less sense than my original idea, and just playing it at my funeral confuses my meaning. Also, I just realized my friends stole the song to walk down the aisle (well, beach) a couple weeks ago, so instead I’ll just go with something cheesy like playing the Friday Night Lights theme song while someone scatters my ashes somewhere cool like Mars or New Austin.
As a younger man, I’m sure I would have picked some dreary, moody Smiths or Cure song to show how deep and tortured I was and set the proper mood, but as I’ve gotten older, I have embraced the ridiculous side of life more and more. That’s why I’d choose Jonathan Coulton’s “Re: Your Brains” as my funereal soundtrack at this point. Everyone who knows me knows I love zombies, and it’s the jauntiest, happiest song about zombies I know. Plus, it’s sung from the zombie’s point of view, which I will no doubt be increasingly identifying with at that point. That said, I’m fairly certain my wife, who takes death a little more seriously than I do, will veto that choice, just like she vetoed my plan to have my corpse rigged so that it sat up and raised its arms halfway through the memorial to give everyone a good shriek/laugh. Oh well, a guy can dream of a silly death, can’t he?
In the past, there have been occasions when I would’ve said I wanted The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” The Beatles’ “In My Life,” and The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” as part of the soundtrack to my funeral, and I’m still not saying that I’d complain if any of those songs ended up on the playlist (mostly because, y’know, it’s not like I’m really going to be in much of a position to bitch about it), but there’s one relatively obscure song that I keep coming back to as the absolute must-do: “Heaven Laughs,” by The Hooters. By the time the Philadelphia band released 1989’s Zig Zag, their third album for Columbia and fourth overall, their commercial fortunes were seriously on the wane, and they didn’t exactly do anything for their hipness quotient by picking a collaboration with Peter, Paul & Mary—a cover of the folk trio’s “500 Miles”—as the first single. Buried at the end of side one, however, was a sad song of farewell which somehow still manages to offer a slightly uplifting sentiment…or at least it does if you’re someone like me, who’s never had a problem accepting the idea of an afterlife. The lines Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian sing might be easily dismissed as schmaltzy by some, but for my part, I get a lovely, hopeful feeling whenever I hear the chorus: “Heaven laughs when we say goodbye / It ain’t so far to the other side / Someday soon we will meet again / Say it over and over and over ‘til then.” If any of the people who cared enough for me to attend my funeral find at least a brief bit of solace in the sentiment, then I can’t imagine it isn’t worth taking the time to give it a spin.