Monday, October 15, 2007

Love Shack (The B-52's)

As a wrap-up of this week's discussion of death, I share the following... which I wrote, and made the accompanying mix (on a cassette tape!), in February 1998 - it's heartening to know my philosophies and choices still stand (except I've long since traded in my white zin for the much-preferred Pinot Grigio... :-)... and I'm already putting together a list for Volume 2 (hey, lots has happened musically in the last ten years!).

To Whom It May Concern:

Here is the commentary for Both Sides Now, my ultimate funeral music tape - I could envision this music being used in a variety of ways: specific selections during an actual funeral service, and/or at some sort of ritual for ashes-scattering (or maybe floating out to sea in a hollowed-out coconut, dramatist that I am ;-)... and the entirety of the tape being played at a big old farewell party in my honor (featuring Corona beer, blender drinks, and white zinfandel as the beverages, and smoked fish dip with saltines, Fritos with spinach dip, and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups as the hors d'oeuvres!). Yum, maybe I'll stick around after all...

I would like to think this tape chronicles the yin/yang of my life, represented by some of my favorite artists and songs - I hope that it does not descend into the maudlin, but is more of a seesaw between my contemplative nature of "the other side" and the joie de vivre (zest for life) that is my trademark. Most of these songs have been in my head for quite some time now - a few new ones have broken through as "meant-to-be's" also. Anyone who knows me well will understand the song choices, artist selections and inherent philosophies behind the music - Susan M, this is your life!

Side One
~ Amazing Grace (Laura Love) - This is obviously the classic funeral song, whether it is the old country gospel rendition or hauntingly played on the bagpipes - I had many versions from which to choose (Joan Baez, Rod Stewart, Ani DiFranco, Judy Collins) but ended up with this one for a few reasons. One is that it is a very unique Cajun style of a traditional song, and the other is that this adaptation is a yin/yang in itself (beginning slowly and plaintively, and seguing into raucous and joyful) - those would be the two flip sides of my own coin, I do believe, and the intention of this tape... to show the balance of life and death, joy and sorrow.

~ At My Funeral (Crash Test Dummies) - What a perfect song this is - the first time I heard it I knew it was meant for inclusion! I love Brad Roberts' deep, soulful voice and feel that every word of the lyrics suits ("perhaps my friends will see fit then to judge me, when they pause to consider all my blunders, I hope they won't be too quick to begrudge me") - yes, I've made my share of mistakes (and who hasn't?), but I hope I'll be more remembered for the good I've had to share, rather than the stumbles on my path.

~ Tapestry (Carole King) - She is one of my all-time favorites, and this song was a given - just her voice and those beautiful keyboards are all that's needed. I hope that my "life has been a everlasting vision of the everchanging view, a wondrous woven magic...a tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold" - that's what I strive for, anyway.

~ Blue River (Eric Anderson) - This was the first song I ever heard of his, on late night college radio, and as soon as I realized that was Joni Mitchell singing harmony vocals, I was hooked - throughout time, the river has always symbolized life or death, from Siddhartha to Styx (the mythological current, not the rock group ;-) "Blue river keep right on rollin', all along the shore line, keep us safe from the deep and the dark, cause we don't want to stray too far..." - rollin', rollin', rollin' down the river (Ike and Tina, I believe!)

~ Forever Young (Joan Baez) - I usually try to include the original songs on my tapes, but since this is a Dylan song, it made sense to put in Joan's version - after all, here the words are everything, and Mr. Dylan does have a tendency to slur (sorry, Bob!). I hope this song would be considered my legacy, not only of how I have tried to live my own life, but of what I would like to pass on to my loved ones (family *and* friends) - as my body has aged from head to toe, I have attempted to maintain a young heart, mind and soul, through my music, my thinking and my actions. If I started quoting lyrics, I'd have to print out the entire song, so just listen carefully to this sage advice...

~ Secret O' Life (James Taylor) - Yes, my would-be-life-partner had to be on here somewhere, that tall, slender guy with the stunning sense of humor that could have had my hand (he already had my heart), if he but asked - I adore this song, and it fits just about anywhere. I have been known to include it on a new baby's arrival tape and a cherished friend's birthday tape - "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time...since we're only here for a while, might as well show some style, give us a smile...try not to try too hard, it's just a lovely ride". Uh-oh, Tilt-a-Whirl time...

~ And When I Die (Laura Nyro) - I do love Laura, who herself passed on much too soon in 1997 at the age of 49 from ovarian cancer - Blood, Sweat and Tears made this one famous, but she is the only one who can do it justice, in my opinion. I love the message of this song, that there's nothing to be scared of, that peace can be found, and that a child will be born to carry on - I only want to go "naturally", and know that someone else will come along to perpetuate my dreams and desires.

~ Into the Mystic (Van Morrison) - This is a little-known but stunning Van Morrison song - it always makes me cry, but in that "hits me in the sweet spot" kind of way. It speaks of wind and sun and the sea and sky - "let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic...and when that fog horn blows, I want to hear it, I don't have to fear it". This song absolutely rocks my gypsy soul...

~ Going Back to Georgia (Nanci Griffith) - I have a soft spot for Nanci too and, given that this song is not only about Georgia but features Adam Duritz of Counting Crows on harmony vocals, well... "no-brainer" might be the term I'm looking for ;-) - what a gorgeous sound of their two voices mingling, as they swap out verses, too. Who would have thought of this unlikely combination? (but I'm so glad someone did!) - "I've been blinded by the sun, washed in the rain, scattered in America, I'm scatterin' again, but if you're goin' south, darlin', I guess I'm travelin' with you." Yep, Georgia's always on my mind....

~ Paradise (John Prine) - I've been a John Prine fan from way back, and this song is so sweetly sentimental for me - plus, who should sing terrific harmony vocals here but my old friend Steve Goodman (or would that be Arlo Guthrie? ;-) This is another nod to The South, the river symbolism and well-worn memories "when I die let my ashes float down The Green River"... or Ft. Myers Beach - I'm not picky!

~ Summertime (Janis Joplin) - Now didn't I get lucky here? - I could pay tribute to two favorites, George Gershwin and Janis Joplin, in one fell swoop. Gershwin is a songwriting musical genius (in my humble opinion), and Janis infuses this tune with fresh, soulful meaning - a unique blend of the smooth sounds of the 40's and the rocking strains of the 60's. Given Janis' tragic end, this is even more appropriate - "now, hush, little darlin', don't you cry...". And to this heat-seeking Leo, summertime *is* truly the best season anyway...

~ Waters of March (Art Garfunkel) - This is an Antonio Carlos Jobim (a Brazilian songwriter) composition, beautifully sung by Mr. Garfunkel - the song is an amazing collection of words, creating a poetic comparison in rhyme, capturing all the magic and misery of life. So simple yet so complicated - from "a stick, a stone, it's the end of the road" to "it's the promise of life, it's the joy in your heart" and everything in between.

~ Wonder of Birds (Innocence Mission) - This song is so beautiful - the lyrics, the melody and Karen Peris' pure voice to blend the two. I like the metaphor of the birds here, as the tune soars skyward, liltingly and hauntingly - "we know that someday we will fly away... and we will surely sing... when we will grow our wings, with all the wonder of birds" - maybe I'll come back as a seagull...

Side Two
~ Big Nuthin' (The Roches) - Hey, they had to make it on here somewhere - what better song than one that tells us that we have a tendency to blow things in our life out of proportion, even death! Suzzy supposedly wrote this after their experience on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, when everyone told them that the appearance would be a turning point in their career - and nothing changed. "I guess I just never knew how big nuthin' could be" - yep, that about sums up most of the things we worry needlessly about...

~ Uncle John's Band (Grateful Dead) - Another nod to the psychedelic 60's, by the original performers (although Buffett and Indigo Girls do kick-butt versions of this great song) - it has references to rivers and time and a violin and dancing. "How does this song go?" and "where does the time go?" - two of the ultimate burning questions of life.

~ I Take My Chances (Mary-Chapin Carpenter) - Oh, MCC is the best - this song catalogs the need to live life on the edge, and maintain some flexibility while we're at it. It's a rocking ode to tempting fate and working without a net - "I've crossed lines of words and wire and both have cut me deep, I've been frozen out and I've been on fire and the tears are mine to weep, now I can cry until I laugh, and laugh until I cry, so cut the deck right in half, I'll play from either side... I can't cling to remorse or regret - I'll take my chances" (you go, girl... ;-)

~ Don't Forget to Dance (The Kinks) - This song is an important one for me... on the virtues of not forgetting to dance and smile, even with a sad and lonely heart - I'm getting older, but I still want the young punks to whistle at me... and I want my legacy to be that I "danced real close". How else is there, I might ask?

~ Closer to Fine (Indigo Girls) - With my Atlanta connection, Indigo Girls were a shoe-in, and what a perfect song for inclusion - we can look a lot of places for the secret of life (just ask JT)... the doctor, the mountains, the children, the fountains (even the bars!). "But there's more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line, and the less I seek my source for some definitives, the closer I am to fine" - Just Do It.

~ Love Shack (The B-52's) - And what would be a Susan M funeral tape without (drumroll please).... - my planned epitaph (since I'm choosing to be cremated and won't have a formal headstone, they can carve it on the coconut or something) has always been, "Her Children Knew All The Words To Love Shack!". I want people to dance outrageously when this one comes on - the whole shack sure as hell *better* shimmy, with all those references to jukebox money, love rules and glitter on the mattress. "Huggin' and a kissin', dancin' and a lovin', wearin' next to nothing cause it's hot as an oven" - knock a little louder, baby!

~ Respect (Aretha Franklin) - Everyone knows that if I ever got up the nerve (or got drunk enough) to do karaoke, this would be the song I would sing - fortunately, for the listening public, this theory has never been put to the test! Nobody belts it out quite like Aretha, and I love the message in this song - all I'm asking for, indeed. "R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me" - and smile when you spell that, pardner...

~ In My Life (The Beatles) - Oh, god, this is such a sweet, sad song - a tribute to remembered friends and lovers and current love and life. I adore the acknowledged trade-off, and how "the memories lose their meaning", when put in the context of the present - this one's for R, and his longevity "in my life". Thick and thin, for better or worse, til death do us part...

~ Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell) - Joni, my main woman - this song has always been the cornerstone of this funeral tape. I will usually choose the studio version for my tapes, but I adore this live rendition from Miles of Aisles - with the addition of Tom Scott, it has a jazzier feel, plus Joni's voice is more mature here, and she updates the lyrics a bit too, adding a few personal comments along the way. If this tune doesn't just sum up what happens between the cradle and the grave - "I really don't know clouds... love... life at all". The sooner we figure that out, the better...

~ Lovely Cruise (Jimmy Buffett) - There had to be a Buffett song, and again, this one's perfect, with references to drinking it up, endings, shared moments and harbor lights coming into view. "There's wind in our hair, and there's water in our's been a lovely cruise" - waiter, I'll have another Corona, please.....

~ Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Nestor Torres) - I end this musical journey with an (eight minute!) instrumental version of one of my favorite songs, by a local South Floridian flutist (flautist?) - he certainly gives Tim Weisberg a run for his money. I feel that the tape has come full circle now because, just like Amazing Grace at the beginning, this version starts out soft and slow, and then kicks in with such a fun, playful Latin beat, including some great percussion and even whistles (back to the old yin/yang, huh?) By this time, I have followed my own personal Yellow Brick Road right on out of here - "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore"... :-)

Take this commentary for what it's worth... a thoughtfully-prepared soundtrack for one of life's inevitabilities - either it proves that one can never plan too much ahead for one's own future (and the passing of) or I have once again confirmed, in some people's opinions, that I'm crazy as a June bug (The B-52's... ;-) Oh well - I'm a winner either way! (Mary-Chapin Carpenter, I believe!) Enjoy (weird word for this, huh?) - see ya on the other side of the rainbow......


POEM: Time Out by Mark Smith-Soto

The gift of death glows through the October afternoon.
Nothing stranded in the seasons belongs to eternity.
But I feel like a god sitting on my back porch.
Only a god would look to the left like this
and understand the redness of maple leaves
and hear the cardinal shiver in the holly
and feel the sun and cold wind sweep
through the porch screens and not care
what time it is, or what time is,
barely remembering when things were different,
the azaleas aflame, the lawn a velvet rug,
the loved woman wandering somewhere in
a poem. And this moment too will end, is ending,
the acorns pattering on the roof are saying so
with the fanfare of their leave-taking,
the gray neighbor dragging her recyclables to the curb
is saying so, even the geese calling over the house
proclaim I am not a god, no, not a god —
but my hearing’s tuned beyond any murmurings,
the afternoon stretches on, golden and heedless,
and death itself is just half-listening.

QUOTE: "I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity." ~ Gilda Radner

1 comment:

  1. Good to see your referencing Steve Goodman. He often doesn't get his due. You might be interested in an eight-year project of mine that has come to fruition -- an 800-page biography of Goodman published in May, "Steve Goodman: Facing the Music." Please check my Internet site below for more info on the book. Just trying to spread the word. Feel free to do the same!

    Clay Eals
    1728 California Ave. S.W. #301
    Seattle, WA 98116-1958

    (206) 935-7515
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