I've been thinking about funeral songs. Not because - as numerous internet threads have revealed the existence of - I'm one of those creeps who lies around fantasising about my own funeral, but because I was listening to Bat For Lashes track Laura, and thinking what a rad funeral song it would be. Mournful, nostalgic, as though she's yearning for something now gone, I assumed, without really listening to the lyrics, that it was about a dead person. But it would appear the song is more about the death of a lifestyle, and therefore probably not funeral appropriate.
Or is it? How death-dependent does funeral music have to be?
In the last few years there have been loads of fun polls and studies conducted about the shift in funeral trends. Apparently, due to the rebellious nature of the baby boomers trying so hard not to be as repressed as their parents and ushering in the era of individualism - mourning lives in black to hymns is out and celebrating them with pop is in. The more personalised the 'celebration' the better the funeral. And since we have become more and more secular a society - except for that bit about not being able to buy takeaway booze on Good Friday, what is with that? - we don't really have prescribed death rituals anymore. Other than knowing you have to do something with the body, and some kind of send-off would be nice.
I assume it is for these reasons - being individualistic individuals planning the celebration of our own lives - that so many of us have our own funeral songs picked out despite the fact that we are not dead. Like, when I started asking people, only two out of around twenty actually paused and admitted they had never thought about it. Most people could answer straight away - Jeff Buckley's Grace, P Diddy's I'll Be Missing You (twice! TWICE), The Kinks Death of a Clown, Blue Boy's Remember Me (LOL), Somewhere Over the Rainbow “by that fat hawaiian guy who's dead now”, Quindon Tarver's Everybody's Free, Rihanna's Umbrella, and lots more Jeff Buckley.
All very different songs, some of them good angel-howling funeral tunes. Others … well … “remember me, I'm the one who had your babies”?
Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is in the top twenty UK, AUS, and NZ funeral charts. Footy club tunes are quite popular too. Amazing Grace is not. Nor is anything played on an organ by an elderly person with a perm. Frank Sinatra's My Way consistently takes out the number one spot. This I can completely understand - “I've lived a life that's full … regrets, I've had a few … I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way” - but Adele's Someone Like You? Last year in Britain this song came in at number 22 on the funeral charts. I just don't think you should go to a funeral singing 'never mind, I'll find someone like you'. And I certainly don't want anyone singing it at mine.
“Oh man, my funeral song changes the older I get,” one person told me. “I remember at 16 it was Nirvana's Something in the Way. When I was 18 - 21 it was some horrible dance/techno song because I wanted everyone to pop pills at my funeral. Now, maybe Jeff Buckley or something nice like that. Who knows, it will probably change next year.”
“Yeah I'm a bit like that,” another girl agreed. “Mine used to be Gone Away by Offspring.”
Whose choice should this be anyway? Is this something I need to put in my will? Can I trust my friends and family to make the right decision? Should I actually care what they play given that I will be dead?
“I'll be dead so I won't care,” one friend told me. “I'd like my peoples to play songs that remind them of me. A medley of all my favorite songs throughout the years. Anything I've said to you girls 'This is my happy song'. Things we put on in Nate's kitchen [a reference to the kitchen we've spent most of the last 8 years partying in]”
I remember some of the boys I grew up with made a pact that if any one of them died they would play Pennywise's Bro Hymn at the funeral. When I was 22 one of my closest friends died and I said no to the Mariah Carey and Boys II Men duet One Sweet Day because I thought it was predictable, cliché, overplayed. Imagine the headlines Twenty Something RNB Lover Dies - Friends Play One Sweet Day at Funeral. In hindsight, I think this may have been selfish. Knowing her as well as I did, she probably would have loved it.
Is this weird? Should so many people have given this so much thought? Is there something about this that is just a tad vain? Or is it simply that as we grow older, as we come face to face with our mortality and the mortality of those we love, we begin to think more and more of what we want to say in that final moment, as the casket rolls past what we assume/hope will be packed pews.
My funeral song is Leonard Cohen's Bird on a Wire. I selected this back in the day when I was a morbid wrist-slitting teenager with emotional problems and a weakness for selfish and self indulgent behaviour that caused me pain as well as pain to those around me. Now that I am an adult with a weakness for selfish and self indulgent behaviour that causes me pain and pain to those around me, I continue to feel this song would be appropriate for my funeral. It might not be about death, or dying, or even celebrating my life. For me this song is an apology, a plea for forgiveness, and an explanation.