This is like the scene from the film This Is Spinal Tap, where the Tap are gathered around Elvis’ grave at Graceland. After trying to harmonize on “Heartbreak Hotel” and failing miserably, Nigel Tufnel reflects that this whole debacle “really puts perspective on things”. To which David St. Hubbins replies “too much f*cking perspective”.
Thinking about what music to play at one’s funeral puts things into WAY too much perspective. I sincerely hope that I have another 40 to 50 years of record collecting and new music to choose from before the gig goes down. But if I don’t, it would be a (quiet) riot for someone to just hit Shuffle All Songs on my iPod and see what comes up. It could lead to something beautiful, but it could also lead to something completely inappropriate. Maybe they should save Shuffle All for an informal memorial party and stick to a few carefully selected songs during the service.
“Such Great Heights” is a song from a 2003 album called Give Up, by a group called The Postal Service. It’s a cool song, but around the same time it was completely reinterpreted by Sam Beam (of the band Iron & Wine), which you might remember from the Garden State movie soundtrack. The Iron & Wine version is very stripped down, acoustic, and gorgeously austere. The words probably aren’t a perfect match for a bachelor’s funeral, but they are evocative of someone sailing high above the clouds, looking down at those left behind. I’m reluctant to believe in the simplified sunday school characterizations of heaven & hell, but it is a beautiful idea to dream that the afterlife gives one a chance to float effortlessly above the earth, lazily gazing down at the people and places below. At any rate, songs are always open to interpretation and their meanings can change depending on the context of the listener, thus “Such Great Heights” would work fine.
The last song on Radiohead’s OK Computer album is called “The Tourist”. I absolutely adore the languid pace of this song. It’s as though the band, and the listener, are completely unhurried and have all the time in the world to watch life drift by like so much flotsam on a lazy river. Thom Yorke is imploring the idiot to “slow down”, which probably draws on his neuroses about air travel and car crashes. But for me, it could easily be a song about suddenly having an infinite amount of time to see the world, like a disembodied soul that is forever destined to be a tourist.
But on closer reflection, the first song from Bon Iver’s new self-titled album is the way to go. The overall tone of “Perth” is melancholy but defiant, like someone leaning into a cold north wind in a time of adversity. The drums are reminiscent of a funeral march, the ascending melody reminds me of the best Brian Wilson songs, and the guitars and horns build to a perfect, spellbinding crescendo. And the simple chorus – “Still alive for you, love” – seems poignant and understated. “Perth” seems like a fitting epitaph for someone who’s tried to live a quiet, uncluttered life.