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Requiem for an Infidel

Preramble

Bach's 'Mass in B minor'I’m trying without much success to plan my funeral. I am resolved to have no minister spouting comfortable fairy tales, though I have no desire to offend believers and wanna-be believers who, after all, I want to be comforted. I welcome those who will want to believe I’m in a ‘better place’ where they’ll see me again. The sad reality is, however, that I seem to be incapable of expressing my beliefs honestly in words that do not offend beloved friends and family members who are sincere people of faith. (That they often express their beliefs in ways that are offensive to me should not matter. Wrong + wrong != right.) It’s probably too late to join a Unitarian church and hire a gently agnostic minister who might express what I cannot.[1]

Too much music

Beyond what I don’t want, I have spent considerable time picking out the music I do want. Too much music.

Gotta have Van’s “Sweet Thing” to express what faith I do have (as in, “hey it’s me I’m dynamite and I don’t know why”). Probably can’t get away with 15 minutes of “Summertime in England” (“it ain’t ‘why why why why why,’ it just is”). Settling on one relatively brief piece from Bach’s vast catalog is daunting to say the least. Essential: Sexsmith’s gorgeous “How on Earth” for my wife (it’s our song), and Dylan’s “You’re a Big Girl Now” (not really a dad-to-daughter lyric, but indelibly linked in my mind to a time when my two toddler daughters were teaching me what unconditional love was all about, while I was marinating in Biograph).

What is certain to be in is my personal last wish for my family, Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet’s “The Birds Will Still Be Singing” (particularly suited to me as an enthusiastic bird geek, whose almost 4-year-old granddaughter asks, “Grandpa, how come you know so much about birds?”).

I had Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” slated as my walk-off music (because I don’t imagine encores are really a thing at funerals), but I read that it’s practically a cliché these days. Should I care?

Joni Mitchell’s “River” (just beautifully aching), Warren Zevon’s “My Ride’s Here” (admirably stoic), and Beethoven’s “Große Fugue” (too long and falsely implying that I understand its defiant power) are contenders. And it would be nice to have The Beatles’ “In My Life” (thinking of “people and places”) and Neil Young’s “Long May You Run” (a parting hopeful blessing to family and friends).

The Talking Head’s “Heaven” is right out, unfortunately, though I kinda like it as alternate walk-off music.

I could go on and on. But, really, can I expect my friends and family to sit through 30 minutes or more of my favorite musical selections? Should I burn mix CDs as giveaways?

Decisions, decisions…

On the off chance that some of my readers are unfamiliar with “The Birds Will Still Be Singing,” and as a treat for those who are (lyrics are reproduced below video):

Summertime withers as the sun descends
He wants to kiss you.
Will you condescend?
Before you wake and find a chill within your bones
Under a fine canopy of lover’s dust and humorous bones
Banish all dismay
Extinguish every sorrow.
 
Eternity stinks, my darling.
That’s no joke
Don’t waste your precious time pretending you’re heartbroken
There will be tears and candles
Pretty words to say
Spare me lily-white lily
With the awful perfume of decay
Banish all dismay
Extinguish every sorrow
If I’m lost or I’m forgiven
The birds will still be singing.
 
It’s so hard to tear myself away
Even when you know it’s over
It’s too much to say.
 
Banish all dismay
Extinguish every sorrow
If I’m lost or I’m forgiven
The birds will still be singing
 
Written by: ELVIS COSTELLO, IAN BELTON, JACQUELINE THOMAS, MICHAEL JAMES THOMAS, PAUL CASSIDY
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Notes

  1. It seems unnecessary since, oh, the end of the Inquisition, but I will say it anyway: I wish only to have a funeral true to myself, not to offend anyone of faith. Really and truly. The “comfortable fairy tales” remark reflects my belief. I ask only to express it as freely as people of faith express theirs. [^]

 

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