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Death & Music

Second Line ParadeBy Nancy Buchan

There’s a whole mess of annoying crap that happens to us as we get older.  First it’s the vision thing.  You can’t see worth a darn, then when you do get the appropriate glasses, you’re always putting them down somewhere where you can’t find them. I can’t read music without them, or change a string, or even tell how cute that guy is in the middle of the audience who keeps winking at me. Or maybe he’s just got eye problems like me, thanks so much for the reality check. Most musicians suffer from a bit a hearing loss if they’ve been standing next to the drummer for years or play electric guitar with the amp turned up to 10. Usually the loss is at either end of the auditory spectrum – the highs and lows of pitch. When I was younger I loved being right next to the drummer, especially if he was a slamming rock all-over-the-place kind of player. “Bring it on” was my motto then – now it’s “huh? Say again, I can’t hear you…”

The crummiest part about aging is that your family and friends and fellow musicians start dying off before you. It’s hard to remember to be happy about having them in your life when all you can dwell on is that they are no longer part of your everyday life. ‘Tis sad, and sometimes so thoroughly depressing that we forget we are all facing the same end….we’re all gonna die someday.

Here are some of the lyrics to a Kasey Chambers song that I think is profound and funny at the same time.

We’re all gonna die someday Lord, we’re all gonna die someday.
Momma’s on pills, Daddy’s over the hill, and we’re all gonna die someday.
Well it hurts down here on earth, Lord, it hurts down here on earth.
It hurts down here cause we’re running out of beer and we’re all gonna die someday.
They can all kiss my ass, Lord, they can all kiss my ass.
If they wanna kiss my ass then they better do it fast – cause we’re all gonna die someday.

Now, I don’t mean to be either gloomy or to trivialize someone’s pain or sadness over losing a person –  or for that matter a dog – that they love, but we all have to and get to choose how we’re gonna face the inevitable. I love the New Orleans attitude of celebrating someone’s life instead of mourning them. We dance down the street behind the coffin on its way to the graveyard – that is called the Second Line parade, and even has a distinctive rhythm to it – and we wave scarves and sing rowdy songs and tell tall stories about the dearly departed. One of my favorites is a happy, bouncy song called “I’ll Be Glad When You Dead You Rascal You”, written in 1931 by someone named San Theard. It was recorded by all the hot shots of the day – Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and New Orleans favorite son, trumpeter Louis Armstrong. One of Armstrong’s first film appearances was as himself in the animated short film by the same name, starring Betty Boop.

I’ll be glad when you’re dead you rascal you!
Well I let you into my home – you gonna leave my woman alone!
I’ll be glad when you die you rascal you.
I’ll be glad – oh I’ll be tickled to death when you leave this earth, it’s true.
When you’re lying down six feet deep, no more fried chicken will you eat.
I’ll be standing on the corner high, when they drag your body by!
I’ll be glad when you’re dead, you know I’m gonna be so happy when you’re gone, you dog!
You asked my wife to wash your clothes, and something else I suppose, you know you done me wrong you rascal you!

Having this song played by your musician buddies and a brass band at your wake, with your friends singing along and folks dancing under umbrellas, is a sure sign you’ve ‘arrived’ – and can now be sent righteously on your way.

Pretty much all music genres have songs written about dying, but blues and country artists have never been shy about tackling the subject. There are tons of songs written about car wrecks and motorcycle accidents – Jethro Tull’s “Too Old to Rock and Roll and Too Young To Die” is an example, as is Pearl Jam’s song “Low Light”, about a troubled couple losing each other in a car wreck and not being able to reconcile. The Beatles sang “he blew his mind out in a car…” and in the Radiohead song “Airbag” they sing “an airbag saved my life…” Roy Acuff and Bruce Springsteen both sang about the “Wreck on the Highway” and Garth Brooks had a hit with “Papa Loved Mama”, about a jealous truck driver who crashes into a hotel room and kills his cheatin’ wife. There’s a ton of these songs, sometimes sickeningly sentimental and designed to make you weep, some outright gloomy and others weirdly glorifying the dramatic event to make it seem desirable.

Country singer Tim McGraw wrote a song called “Live Like You Were Dying” from the standpoint of a guy who just got the seriously bad news from his doc about his time left, and was giving his slant on things to the rest of us.

I went skydiving – I went Rocky Mountain climbing – I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu.
And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter – and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.
Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.
Like tomorrow was a gift and you get eternity to think about what’d you do with it.
What did I do with it? What would I do with it?
I finally read the Good Book and I took a good long hard look at what I’d do if I could do it all again.

Now I am in no way qualified to give either religious or spiritual insight into the whole life/death thing, but I’m pretty sure that the ‘forgiveness’ part is important…. as is a sense of humor.

As far as I’m concerned, one of the finest philosophers and narrators of the human condition is Chicago’s homespun singer/songwriter John Prine. He can take a huge subject, like dying or getting old or dancing in the moonlight or a child’s view of the universe and put it into words that make us hopeful and unite us with our fellow humans. I’m tempted to write out the whole damn song, but here’s pieces of his funny yet profound wisdom from his song “Please Don’t Bury Me”. I do think those two things go together… funny and profound.

Woke up this morning – put on my slippers – walked in the kitchen and died.
And oh, what a feeling when my soul went through the ceiling and on up into heaven I did ride.
When I got there they did say – John, it happened this way – you slipped upon the floor and hit your head.
And all the angels say, just before you passed away, these were the last words that you said…
Please don’t bury me down in that cold cold ground.
I’d rather have ‘em cut me up and pass me all around!
Throw my brain in a hurricane and the blind can have my eyes.
And the deaf can have both my ears if they don’t mind the size.
Give my stomach to Milwaukee if they run out of beer – put my socks in a cedar box, just get them out of here.
Venus de Milo can have my arms – Look out! I’ve got your nose!
Sell my heart to the junkman and give my love to Rose.
Give my knees to the needy – don’t pull that stuff on me.
Hand me down my walking cane – it’s a sin to tell a lie.
Send my mouth way down south and kiss my ass goodbye.

Get out and listen to some live music! It’ll make you feel better about most everything and will help keep things in perspective. Look out for the black cows in the middle of the road if you’re driving…. Check out the Best Fest in Uvita on February 7th – 9th, and the Envision Fest also down south in Uvita on February 21st – 23rd. Kim Carson, New Orleans honky-tonk and country singer will be playing with Ben Orton and myself at Roca Verde on Friday nights until she heads back home for Mardi Gras. Thanks for supporting live music in our little part of the planet….

Music here is as much a part of death as it is of life. Sidney Bechet, New Orleans jazz musician

Eight crapshooters to be my pallbearers – let ‘em be veiled down in black. I want nine men going to the graveyard, bubba, and eight men coming back. Blind Willie McTell from his song “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues

So I’ll keep fighting to live till there’s no reason to fight. And I’ll keep trying to see until the end is in sight. You know I’m trying to give so c’mon give me a try. You know I’m dying to live until I’m ready to die. Edgar Winter, blues musician


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