Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Music In Memoriam

It was a relatively new album to me at the time, but Laura Barton's review in the Guardian last year of Bon Iver's “For Emma Forever Ago” for some reason struck a chord.

I guess it was primarily her observation that time spent doing things other than listening to that album felt like time wasted. As is the wont of proper journalists, this is inevitably an overstatement, but not by very much. I know what she meant. This is an album I have grown to love in the last year or so, and one I've yet to tire of.

It's 18 month long part in my life has coincided with high levels of emotion for me and my family, losing my mother, my uncle, my uncle's partner, one of the family dogs and my boss in that time. Almost inevitably in such circumstances, and coinciding I guess with a modest advancement in years, I've found myself increasingly inclined to listen to music that might be best described as morose, maudlin even, prone on occasion to inducing tears.

Furthermore my mind has turned to selecting the music I want played at my funeral.

I guess I've always felt it was important to have the right music for the right occasion. To a degree it's about being in control – it used to be that I knew that I knew best – you were very much mistaken if your musical likes differed from mine. Eventually I descended from such high self regard, and grew to accept that I was not actually the sole arbiter of taste (though I still knew better than most....) and am now able to embrace (even) the fact that some people like modern so-called r'n'b, heavy though it maketh mine heart.

For me, this focus on getting it right started with mix (we used to call them compilation) tapes for teenage holidays, moved on to CDs for wooing the ladies (well, wife...) and then working out DJ sets for my brother-in-laws band's gigs. For some years now, as an extra, very personal (and admittedly low cost) Christmas present, I've been putting together a “Best Of The Year” CD (some years, a double CD) for family and friends. Like I say, I've always enjoyed foisting my musical taste on others – the rare party held at our house invariably ends with me plugging the iPod into the stereo and regaling all those present with a wide variety of sounds – not that there's much chance of more than a minute of any one song as there's always another great piece of music I want everyone to hear....and so little time.

As much as this though, it's the planning process itself I enjoy. Any collection of songs has to flow just right and/or be appropriate for the occasion for which it is compiled. My wife Wendy would no doubt confirm that before our wedding back in 1999, I was (perhaps a little to her frustration) more concerned with selecting the right music for, firstly, our wedding ceremony (if you're interested I went with “La Cavelleria Rusticana” by Mascagni,

“The Lonely 1” by Wilco and Semisonic's “This Could Be My Year”) and for the reception (for which I created four CDs worth of music) than any other marriage related issue. Though I'm sure that getting this right played no small role in making the ninth of the ninth ninety-nine the very best day of my life.

Whilst the beautifully crafted eulogies bring a tear to my eye
It's the music that's played that really makes me cry

So to the emotionally charged surroundings of a memorial service and the selection of appropriate music. As I say above, I've had more opportunity in the last year to consider this than anyone would choose.

For my mother, whose interest in music had never been especially specific, the family chose a selection of popular classical pieces to accompany the one especially relevant choice of “Jerusalem”, the hymn of my mother's beloved Women's Institute. Words and tune I have always loved and as ever, it extracted a powerful and stirring rendition from the many friends and family gathered to remember her.

At my uncle's magnificent memorial service, alongside Fairport Convention's elegiac “Meet On The Ledge” (Excuse me, I've a little dust in my eyes....)

and a traditional Irish drinking song, once again “Jerusalem” was played, this time as the old school hymn, and of course a tune I will now forever associate exclusively with my mother. Tears flowed freely – not least because the date of the service coincided with the anniversary of mum's passing.

At my uncle's partner Marie's funeral it was Sandy Denny singing the exquisite “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” that brought us all to tears.

My concern in making sure the music suited the magnitude and mood of the occasion of a memorial service probably began a few years ago when as well as being asked to deliver the eulogy (the proudest and at that time most moving experience of my life) I was amongst those asked to suggest a piece of music to play at my friend Kevin Godfrey's (Epic Soundtracks) funeral service – his own song, the gorgeous “There's A Light Up In The Sky” was the consensus choice, and never more fitting. Some years later, I suggested for his brother Nikki Sudden's funeral a song from his last album, “Green Shield Stamps”, a paean to more innocent and childish times, but was, thankfully, over-ruled as the wondrous “Stay Bruised” (from the “Treasure Island” album) prevailed and resulted in truly one of the most moving five minutes you could ever imagine.

So I know what song I want played at my funeral.

“Re:Stacks” by Bon Iver.

It's a song about gambling. Cards in particular. I have rarely gambled and certainly never played cards for money so it's lyrics have no relevance to my life. But it is the most beautiful song I have ever heard and invariably sends a shiver through me if it hasn't already reduced me to tears. Really. It is a hypnotic sparingly constructed tune beautifully played and hauntingly sung by Justin Vernon, and you must listen to it. It cannot fail to move.

There may be other songs yet to be heard to add to the list of preferred funeral music, but I know that "re:Stacks" will remain a constant.

No comments: