Sunday 29 April 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 142 (Top Five) - Funeral Songs

As we said above, sorry for such a sombre newsletter but here’s the bottom line. I can’t help but feel I’ve been fighting an upward battle trying to keep this site alive, fight chronic fatigue and deflect all the job centre and ATOS interventions I’ve had over the past six months. I keep hearing reports of how fellow patients have been dying in their dozens, pushed too far by the Dickensian health system the UK now has under the Coalition system and after the collapse I’ve had this past week I thought just for a moment there that I was going to be joining their numbers. So here’s my record, should anything happen to me, of, well, records and the ones I want to be remembered by and I’ve left them here as a record for all readers who want a ‘farewell’ soundtrack to their lives a bit different to the usual songs (amazingly ‘Agadoo’ is still a popular song to play at a funeral – why? Is it a reminder of how much better off we are dead? In which case add some Spice Girls to this list and I’ll have to hope they’ve died out before my next incarnation. For the record the two AAA songs that are semi-often played at funerals are Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig In The Sky’ (Dark Side Of The Moon) and George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass’ (from the album of the same name), worthy choices both. As a lead-on subject, no I don’t believe in funerals (the church has waylaid what used to be a simple humanistic and afterwards paganistic approach which served us perfectly well for thousands of years), but it’s always important that the chance to say goodbye is there if you want it. For the record, if I’m anything I’m a Jainist, the forgotten world religion that branched out from Buddhism and is one of the world’s oldest and yet, amazingly, sounds like it could have come out of the 1960s, believing in peace, love, equality, supportiveness, has a horror of big powerful companies and disruptive interests and believes that ‘God’ was in fact an alien, leaving his children the tools to look after themselves before clearing off out of the way. I know now that this is just a bad spell and that I’ll be back fighting again as soon as possible, but the trouble with chronic fatigue is that you never know where the next heavy hit is coming from and if any of you do want to remember me, this is how, as my last message to you dear readers (even though this isn’t the end, honest, its far from being all over...’ so don’t ask me for my record collection in my will just yet). It’s just that I’d kick myself if I’d had all this time to write to you and hadn’t got fitted this top five into there somewhere...

1) The Beach Boys “Our Prayer” (‘Smile Sessions’, recorded 1967 released 2011)

As you know, ‘Smile’ is the greatest piece of art ever made. If you didn’t know that then go back and read the above review – sure the box set itself is flawed but even with all the superfluous extras and repetitive takes its still one of the most spiritual, magical and all-encompassing works ever made, no check that the most spiritual album ever made. ‘Smile’ is like that instruction guide to life that I’ve been looking for so hard and I curse the fact that it took me so long to find it, with an album that stretches out to infinity at a moment’s notice and yet is as down-to-earth and grounded as any piece of music ever made. It hasn’t been around for long, of course – well not for people who didn’t have access to the record tapes at Capitol anyway. Brian Wilson is as close to the messenger for our life’s purpose as we’re ever going to get I feel and so hence this opening track off ‘Smile’, a monkish Gregorian chant that sets up perfectly both the rollercoaster of the album to come and the rollercoaster life that we all suffer in creation’s wake. ‘Smile’ was often referred to as a ‘teenage symphony to God’ – usually I sneer at such things (as God will always be in the eyes of the beholder and can’t really be passed from one person to another), but not here: Brian definitely saw something in 1966 and here’s the biggest, most tangible proof. After all, what can be more spiritual than sudden inspiration that arrives out of nowhere – by refusing to embrace repetition or ‘fill in’ missing pieces but to take each line of each song in exactly the direction it wants to go in by each sudden insight ‘Smile’ is easily the most inspired piece of work out there and a fitting overture to this top five.

2) Lindisfarne “Clear White Light” (‘Nicely Out Of Tune’, 1970)

Here’s another spiritual song befitting of the occasion, but as we’ve discussed many times on this site the statement is not ‘I believe’ but ‘do you believe?’ Alan Hull was inspired to write this song after working in a mental health emporium back in his pre-Lindisfarne days when he was a jobless dad with a baby on the way and worked lots of strange and extraordinary jobs that all made their way into his writing. Despite being one of the church’s biggest critics, Hully saw enough of his patients cling to religion at the end of their lives to be inspired to write this song, which hedges its bets until a last, affirmative, suddenly flowering verse that throws all his doubts away. A song calling to give love and understanding our neighbours just ‘one more go’ (‘because you never know what you might know’), its a sterling effort by a band who deserve to be better remembered, with a remarkable coda of psychedelic sound effects, guitar riffs, church organ and the musicians tripping over themselves. In the words of Nils Lofgren, if this is heaven then I hate hell.

3) Jerry Garcia “To Lay Me Down” (‘Garcia’, 1973)

The best song about death ever written and one that I’d been trying to track down now for years, ever since hearing an inferior live version by the late-period Grateful Dead not at their best (the song, though, sounds majestic in any form). As we said in news and views 138, Garcia was a man who sounded old long before his time and again here sings with such wisdom and fragility way beyond his then 32 years on earth. This song from his first solo album talks about ‘laying me down one last time’ but now amongst nature rather than his bed features one of Bob Hunter’s career best lyrics, with a typically Dead mixture of the earth and the sky. Pining for a lost love who passed over some time before, this is a marvellous portrayal of death as something to be celebrated, not as something to be feared. The fact that the singer doesn’t quite know how to say his final goodbye, though, and brings the song into the chorus over and over, as if willing himself into some long needed sleep, is one of the key moments of the Dead canon.

4) Crosby, Stills and Nash “After The Storm” (‘After The Storm’, 1994)

Trust sensitive soul Graham Nash to work out what I want to say most to all the people left behind (Nash has been reading my mind since I discovered The Hollies at the age of five). ‘After The Storm’ is a classy, unfairly forgotten standard from a period when CSN were at their most unfashionable. Thanking those who have given support, this is the message of all departing beings from the planet I think, that they want to see love in the eyes of the people they have left behind, not tears. In three exquisite verses Nash explains why despite all the problems, despite all the ‘pain’, people, children and – sweetly given the amount of rows CSN have had over the years – music is worth all the pain. That goes double for this website, by the way, writing about such life-affirming music is more than worth all the pain.

5) The Beatles “Goodnight” (‘The White Album’, 1968)

There had to be a Beatles in here somewhere and this is the most fitting choice, with Ringo at his vocal best on one of John’s sweetest songs (it’s not Paul’s, as many fans assume from the Lennon/McCartney writing credit!) Now the time has come to say goodnight, sleep tight – what better message can a chronic fatigue patient leave behind him than these words? Dream sweet dreams for me, dream sweet dreams for you.
plus an honorary mention for Dennis Wilson and "The End Of The Show" (Poacific Ocean Blue, 1977) with its moving tagline 'thankyouverymuch for everything I ever dreamed of...goodbye!')

That’s not quite the end however – and it’s far from being all over. Tune in next week for some fun with telephones and a much happier newsletter all round!

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