All original work © 2009 - 2018 Alexey Provolotsky

24 January 2012

Funeral beat

The first name that sprang to Matt’s mind was David Bowie. It was a good one. Matt closed his eyes and, in delirious excitement, played the first verse of “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” in his head. It was all coming so real: the beauty of the tune was breathlessly gnawed by hollow, funereal faces of his friends and relatives. Then Matt suddenly thought about the song’s lyrics: no, it really didn’t make any sense. “Time takes a cigarette…” was, of course, one of the best starts imaginable, but most of what came afterwards just didn’t fit. And ‘suicide’: he wasn’t planning it. It would be a heavy blow to his father, who, if last week’s tests were anything to go by, had a serious heart condition.

While trying to fall asleep the other night, Matt suddenly realised that if he happened to die (and accidents happen, they say – even if you are 21), there would not be any specific song playing at his funeral. Just some random crap, whatever his half-blind grannies and tone-deaf nephews would choose. Something classical, something obvious. What was perhaps even more disconcerting, was that the music could well be picked and provided by some clueless funeral office. In that case, Mozart’s “Requiem” was bound to be on top of the list. And how sad would that be?.. He really had to come up with a good song. The kind that could be both dramatic and understated, the kind that could make the sullen flock of mourners and criers cheer up a bit – and yet realise what a tragic loss they faced. The melody? Slightly lethargic – but with definite glorious undertones.

Despite rejecting “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”, Matt didn’t feel like he was done with Bowie. “Life On Mars?” was another strong contender. That emotional vocal delivery would alone do the trick. And even if the lyrics didn’t quite match the occasion, they had the right vibe to them. And anyway, who would get into specifics when there’s an open (it had to be open) casket nearby. It was about the general feeling of boundless, overpowering grief, and “Life On Mars?” certainly had that in spades. Still, Bowie’s vocal intensity on that one was a little too theatrical and overbearing. Matt decided to contemplate other options.

For instance, he toyed with some older classics. Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again”, he’d always been a fan of that one. But since it was probably extremely unimaginative and too much of a cliché, he binned it. Even “What A Wonderful World” crossed his mind at some point, but at best – it seemed cheeky. At worst – cynical. 

Johnny Cash? Leonard Cohen? Tom Waits? All three would make an unbearably grim impression, which he didn’t need.

Paul Weller’s “Going Underground” would be a witty choice were it not for the sheer drive, speed of The Jam’s punkish spirit.

Some Roger Waters’ song off The Final Cut? The mere thought depressed Matt.

A song like “Death Is Not The End” (Nick Cave’s rendition was Matt’s favourite) was slightly more upbeat lyrically, but at a funeral it would just come off as a bad, cruel, pompous joke. 

After some consideration (and since the situation left no room for procrastination) Matt thought he was on to something. He took out a sheet of paper from his drawer and wrote: “Rainy Night In Soho” by The Pogues – to be played…” He halted. He couldn’t finish the sentence. Not because he suddenly experienced a heart attack or his sister knocked on his door (it was long past midnight) or his pen ran out of ink – he just couldn’t write those words. “Fuck, I’m only 21!” So he tore it all up in as many pieces as he could, threw them under his bed and, exhausted, fell asleep.

For once, the tests didn’t lie, and after a couple of days Matt’s father died in his sleep. In their thoughts and conversations everyone kept exaggerating that bit about ‘in his sleep’. It was the only thing they could all hang on to.

Also, what made it a little easier was the question that someone raised. It was a timely distraction, and everybody's mind raced towards it.

- What song will they play at the funeral?

This could have been Matt’s little sister.

- Do we have to? – asked someone.

- No, but it would be a good thing to do, – said Matt’s mother. – Any ideas?

- Well, – it was Matt, – it depends on what kind of stuff he liked…

- No it doesn’t. Come on, you are the one who knows so much about music. Think of something.

Everyone was looking at Matt.

- Well, it’s… Okay, I’ll think of something.

Matt went to his room. Mozart was heavily on his mind, but he knew he still had lots of time. He was thinking of his father: it was the right thing to do. Matt tried to recall his father’s face, but it wouldn’t come. Instead, there were memories welling up inside his head. Numerous formless fragments, they were a lot like those pieces of paper now scattered under his bed.

Matt lay down on the bed and closed his eyes. Like a marching army, the images were overwhelming. For once, he let them in.

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