Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I haven’t posted on unusual web searches that have led people to this blog, but one today was poignant: a Google search on “song for when someone dies.”

The closing, valedictory song of Concert for George is a piece of Tin Pan Alley that I hadn’t heard, “I’ll See You in My Dreams” by Gus Kahn and Isham Jones. A sweet wistful bit of mourning for George. It struck me that I couldn’t think of a rock song that would have sounded so sweet and sad.

According to the booklet notes for the terrific album The McGarrigle Hour, Rufus Wainwright sang Irving Berlin’s lovely wistful “What’ll I Do?” at his grandmother’s funeral. Another apt choice.

But both songs ring slightly wrong too, because they’re overtly about romantic love.

The characters in that flick “The Big Chill” played the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” at another character’s funeral -- seemed sardonic.

I heard a friend sing an overpoweringly dark and guttural version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” at his rakish father’s funeral, because one drunken night years before his father asked him to. Not what I would choose for myself or anybody else, but from what I know of the deceased, it seemed appropriately sardonic.

“Dream a Little Dream of Me” would be spooky and sweet. Romantic too, but slightly less exclusively so than the others.

“Golden Slumbers” by the Beatles. It would give a meaningful context to the line, “Once there was a way to get back homeward.” A lullaby might make sense.

I’ve thought about recording Michigan’s alma mater, “The Yellow and Blue,” as a tribute to deceased Michigan relatives, a stately melody with pagan words.

The first time I heard the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away” was the day Fred Astaire, who introduced the song, died. A college DJ played Sarah Vaughan’s magnificent version and dedicated it to Fred before resuming regular college radio programming (reggae). It was a great tribute.

“The Way We Were” is a beautiful song but perhaps too awkward to acknowledge the rose-colored glasses of memory at a funeral.

“Danny Boy” might make sense.

Again, too much romantic love, but the great Arlen-Harburg tune “Last Night When We Were Young” deals with the question of the collapsible nature of time in memory very beautifully.

Lots of religious songs -- “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “I am a Pilgrim,” “In the Sweet By and By” -- many others.

My friend Johnny H used to sing a mournful country waltz with the tag line, “The best of friends must one day part, so why not you and I, my love, so why not you and I?” That’s all I remember of the song, I don’t know where he got it, and Google turns up nothing. This might be my favorite choice, but I don’t remember enough of it.

My dad wants a cousin of my mom’s with a beautiful baritone voice to sing “Taps” at his funeral. Dad’s a vet. He’s starting to make his plans.

Dear Googler from Ontario, I am sorry for your loss.

I’d love to hear about it if anybody has suggestions or any songs you’d like sung at your funeral.

Hi John,

Got this tidbit about "Our Love Is Here to Stay" from one website on the Gershwins:

As a requiem to his brother, Ira Gershwin completed the song with this introductory verse: "The more I read the papers/The less I comprehend/The world and all its capers/And how it all will end./Nothing seems to be lasting/But that isn't our affair/We've got something permanent/I mean the way we care."

At my dad's funeral, we wanted to have someone sing "End of the Road" by Harry Lauder, but the church wouldn't allow it (too secular). A friend of mine recorded it for me anyway.

The most moving performance paying hommage at a funeral I've heard is "The Gospel of Gone" performed by Kazutoki Umezu with a ragtag band of musicians marching through the streets as they mourned the loss of cellist Tom Cora. It was a Cora composition and the interpretation was so true to the sensibilities of his music.

The Albert Ayler performance at John Coltrane's funeral is another powerful moment where one can hear a sincere reaching toward the beyond to say "goodbye and thank you."

"Tell Him Not To Talk Too Long" by Mary-Lou Williams from her mass is a respectful yet whimsical take on the occasion.

Another one that comes to mind is "Love, Love, Love" by Wayne Horvitz - composed in response to Tom Cora's passing.
a belated thank you, Kerry and Devin, for your comments. I haven't heard the music you've mentioned, and I want to.

Kerry -- I knew that story, but I never thought of the song as a death song -- I think of it as a wedding song! but it could be a death song too.

Devin, I had forgotten (if I ever knew!) that Ayler played at Coltrane's funeral. Is there a recording, do you know?
My friend Dan plays that mournful country waltz you mention - I have been meaning to ask him what he calls it, but it's kind of like "It's Hard to Love" on this site:
Noted your comments on "The Yellow and Blue." Any idea where I could get a copy of the sheet music (for piano).

Funny thing, I remember a music theory class in my Freshman year, taught by a man named Chudacoff -- he used the opening phrase of the Alma Mater to demonstrate the interval of a minor 7th.
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