death

My playlist is a Memento Mori

Peter Tork, the unusual one from The Monkees, has died. Unusual in that he seemed the least like an actor and the most like a proper musician. He was actually an accomplished folk artist before auditioning for the part, and played bass guitar and keyboards. I just about remember The Monkees; it was youthful, subversive and wacky.

“Hope I die before I get old”, sang The Who‘s Roger Daltrey, around the same time. The words are Pete Townsend’s. Both are still with us. Yet they, and those like them, weren’t meant to die or grow old. It’s all about youth and youthfulness, permanently fresh and stretching out into infinite.

I don’t have The Monkees on my 750 song playlist in the car. I’d happily include The Who but I haven’t got around to it. It has become increasingly obvious that a lot of the artists on my playlist are no longer here. This is partly my fault because my tastes go far back to a time before I was born. Yet so many have fallen off the perch in recent years, not by misadventure but through boring old age.

“He’s dead, oh, she’s dead, is she gone now?, I imagine he’s no longer with us, I wonder if she’s still around…”

Does it matter, listening to dead musicians? The music still sounds good. And I think any reminder of mortality is an awareness of life. Rock on! While you’ve still got breath – live!


image: The Monkees (Peter Tork, far left)

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Smorgasbord Me

Blogger BeetleyPete is currently showcasing some of his favourite followed blogs. It’s interesting to see what ideas bloggers have and I am inspired to give this one a go as it could be fun. (As I think it may be to promote authors, and as I am not one, I will just keep it to this place.)

The request is to write 100+ word responses to five of the 52 prompts listed. For an extra challenge, I dialled the Random Number Generator 1-52 to select the five questions from the list.

12. What is the one ambition that you still have not achieved?

I know the permanent answer to this is a peaceful departure. The old joke which tickled me on hearing went,

“When I die, I want to go like Grandfather, dying quietly in his sleep – and not like his passengers, terrified and screaming behind him on the bus.”

I wonder how we would be if we all knew precisely how and when we would die, whether it would be worse or better, psychologically. Of course, we don’t until near the very end and so we convince ourselves it’s best not to know, and so there’s hope. It’s difficult to view it any other way.

45. What is your favourite vegetable and how do you like it prepared?

I love veggies, and don’t really go in for favourites, but I will say Asparagus. They have to be fresh, and they cannot possibly be too fresh, which means growing your own. Once they’re cut, the sugars begin to starch up and they lose that desired sweetness. The season is quite short in England though, about six weeks, and then the plants need to revive and replenish. Fortunately, we used to grow them and will try to do so again soon.

We’ve tried all kinds of ways to prepare asparagus, and all sorts of dressings, but we always liked simple steaming, and a dollop of yellow butter and freshly ground black pepper over to serve.

They make your pee smell funny, that’s about the only downside.

3. Tell us about your craziest experience.

Looking down the list of prompts, I see this could also be the answer to question 14 because my craziest experience has to be a recurring dream. We all dream but the idea is that we shouldn’t remember them upon waking; this, I’m told, is the healthy option. As a rule, I can’t recall my dreams but during two, separate periods of my life, I have experienced troubling recurring dreams. The latter one in adult life, I can probably explain was triggered by stress. It’s the earlier one that’s a puzzle.

I had it from before I can properly remember much else of my life and came often up until the age of about seven when it completely disappeared. It was a very intense and abstract dream, beginning with just a long sensation of passing blindly along a passage or tunnel. Then suddenly, I’m aware of being in a room full of regular geometric shapes: pyramids, cuboids, cones and cylinders. I am perfectly still in this space though not calm. Then the dream ends. That I can remember this vividly after so many years adds to the mystery. I wonder if it has anything to do with the naturally forgotten experience of being born.

42. What is your favourite music genre and why?

I’ve had so many, I might have had them all. My most recent habit is Jazz though it’s a big field and I can’t say I love all Jazz. The thing I like most about it isn’t so much the composition as the instrumentation. I got into Jazz as an antidote to electric guitar bands, in particular Indie rock/pop which was indistinguishable from any other rock/pop to me. The sound of Miles Davis exquisitely soloing a muted horn was instantly attractive, as was a Joe Morello drum solo, an Oscar Peterson-Count Basie piano duet, and a Dan Berglund augmented double bass intro.

I’ve always loved Jazz, to be fair. I was brought up in the period when Jazz was the go to sound for incidental music on movies and dramas. It was in the air, as much as pop music is now – but it had no longer been youth music and so I had to get youth out of the way first and become educated. Now I like to hear lots of different music but I’d probably put Jazz top of the list.

5. If you were to become invisible for a day what is the one thing you would do?

I have a mischievous character and a healthy amount of curiosity – and I also live in a town which boasts about the excellence of its cctv security below its welcome signs – so such a thing could be like all the Christmases and birthdays happening at once. My immediate thoughts, however, are overwhelmed as to what I could do.

As a foodie, I may find myself in some unaffordable restaurant – unaffordable to me but not them – sampling my way through the menu. Maybe get into a West End show gratis.

I feel a lot of obvious things might actually be disappointing. Peeping into any person’s private life, for instance. I’ll probably stick with a bit of free grub.


inspired by and borrowed from Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Notes from a funeral

#1 The Crumb Girl

I went to a funeral. It was a modest gathering and we all went to an in-law’s house after the service. We all stood around a table spread with sandwiches and cakes while our hosts organised drinks, and suddenly I was aware of a pretty, young woman, probably in her mid-twenties, who looked the spit of a typical Robert Crumb girl.

Her face was made up with pale foundation, crimson lipstick, and black eyeliner; her hair was jet black also, and dead straight, parted in the centre and fell just below her shoulders. She wore a shortish, black print dress upon which were small, colourful shapes, possibly depicting flowers. The shortness of her dress accentuated her broadish physique though she wasn’t in the least obese, yet she had wide hips and these gave way to a fairly stout pair of pins, clad in opaque black leggings, and which ended in the chunkiest pair of booties I’ve seen in a long while; grey suede, ankle high and with a square-form, three inch heel.

She was a picture and, for a small moment, I was Crumb.


#2 The Funeral

The significant mourners spoke about how religious the service of commemoration had been, and how this hadn’t been expected, or intended, and not exactly in keeping with the beliefs of their loved one. This was the most recent of four funerals I’ve witnessed in as many years. The one previous, the husband of my wife’s friend, was an incredibly christian service, so much so that throughout it, I had an intense feeling of alienation. I knew the man a little and at no time had I the impression he was a devout believer, or any sort of believer, so it also came as a bit of a surprise. There was a good number of people in attendance and I couldn’t help thinking I couldn’t be alone in my discomfort. Still, it isn’t my place to criticise the choices of others and if it wasn’t for my wife, I wouldn’t have been there at all.

The most comfortable of these recent four funerals was the first, that of an uncle. In my youth, I knew him well and we shared a sense of humour and tastes in music. To describe him as non-religious wouldn’t do him justice; he was secular to his core, a small businessman in a variety of businesses, his god-shaped hole a handy repository for entirely worldly endeavours and intents. He was a character in that he had certain traits which might make him a good subject for a situation comedy. All this made for an informal and amusing send off, a proper celebration of a life, without all the trimmings.

It struck me with a small amount of horror that, should I die, what kind of service would be arranged? At first I thought about the two songs which I now know are required to bookend the arrival and departing of the mourners. I realise I haven’t a clue what I’d want for myself though I wouldn’t want them second-guessed by anyone else. I’m sure some folk do organise their own funerals, choosing the songs, the readings, probably even contributing to their own eulogy, no doubt, but how is this done? And how soon? I am a practical guy concerned with solutions. I’m hoping there’s a market opportunity already exploited for this sort of thing. I will google it.


#3 The Dead

Yesterday, I watched one of those odd, short online videos produced by the BBC under the title “Ideas”. As it dealt with improving our relationship with death, it seemed appropriate, and intriguing.

An author, whose name I wasn’t familiar with, began by telling us how an Irish wake wasn’t much like those depicted in dramas where people sat around a coffin for endless days, drinking pints of Guinness. He then went on to describe what really happens which, to me, sounded not a lot different to the fictitious version except for the Guinness. The thing which struck me though was the idea that in Irish funeral culture, people get used to seeing dead bodies. They begin in infancy and by the time they’re in maturity, they’ve likely seen 20 or more people laid out in coffins.

Extraordinary, I thought, as I’m well into maturity and I didn’t think I’d ever seen a single one. This is simply a cultural thing, I think, as my lifestyle shouldn’t bring me into contact with the dead: I have never worked in hospitals, for the emergency services, the police or the armed forces. In our everyday life here, such things are expedited efficiently and only a chance occurrence would bring me face to face with death.

Then I remembered such an occurrence. I didn’t see the moment of death but I heard it. I was leaving a multi-storey car park, driving my first car which would have made me about twenty. As I approached the barrier, I heard an almighty crash and naturally thought someone had pranged their car. At the barrier, I realised I hadn’t the right change for the machine so I got out of the car to ask an attendant. To my surprise, about three attendants rushed towards me, but they ignored me and passed. Turning, I saw the body of someone lying on the ramp I had just come down. A suicide.

In time, an attendant did come to help me leave, just to have me out of the way. He told me he’d seen a number of suicides there. I was curious, and still am really, to know what care, if any, a jumper takes before the fall, whether they look below or whether it’s a random moment. I guessed the latter, never look down, though what would I know? It must have been literally no more than a couple of seconds between us meeting at the same point; the closest I’ve ever been to death.


The Crumb Girl

BBC Ideas: Thoughts on dying