The Sunday Dozen: Songs Of Mortality

Funeral scene from John Ford’s The Searchers.

I’ve had death on my mind this week for obvious reasons. I decided to do something different with this feature and do a thematic, not an artist-based post. Will it work? Beats the hell outta me.

Death is frightening but it’s a part of life. These songs of mourning and life reflect that little-discussed fact. I wrote most of this post before Michael Homan’s memorial service but it was on my mind. It will be on my mind for quite some time. He was an unforgettable character. I suspect he’d argue with some of my selections but you can’t please all the people all the time or some such shit.

Some of these songs have been featured on past dozens or as Saturday Odds & Sods theme songs. That’s the only reason Scattered by The Kinks is not on the list since it was yesterday’s theme song. I limited it to one song per artist: otherwise it would be half Crowded House songs.

As always, the list is in chronological order and reflects my own personal taste. These are also songs I might like played at my own funeral. I told you I felt morbid.

St, James Infirmary is a classic New Orleans funeral dirge and there’s nobody better to play it than Louis Armstrong.

We move from a dirge to a chipper, uptempo song with a downbeat title. And When I Die is nothing like Sweet Blindness lyrically even if many funerals are boozy affairs.

Meet On The Ledge was written by Richard Thompson when he was 19 years old. Another RT song title sums him up at that age: Old Man Inside A Young Man.

My late friend Michael Homan teased me about liking the Grateful Dead. I believe he called their music, “Okie sounding hippie shit.”

Whatever, dude. Love you anyway.

Box Of Rain was written by Phil Lesh and Robert Hunter. Phil wanted a song to sing to his dying father. This is it:

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door was written for the soundtrack of Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid. Bob Dylan played a member of Billy’s gang.

Have I told you lately that Kris Kristofferson attended my alma mater, San Mateo High?

Until 1987, Robbie Robertson hadn’t recorded any original music since The Band’s final album Islands in 1977. Fallen Angel was the opening track of Robbie’s eponymous solo debut album.

The angel in question was his former Band bandmate Richard Manuel who took his own life in 1986. There’s a familiar voice singing with Robbie, Peter Gabriel.

What’s not to love about a song that begins with these lyrics: “I wish you’d known me when I was alive, I was a funny fellow.”

I used She Goes On as the title for a tribute to my late mother-in-law Louise Allen Cobb Couvillion:

The Crossing was written by Johnny Clegg in honor of his late bandmate Dudu Zulu. We saw him perform this deeply moving song at Tipitina’s and met him after the show. Johnny made his own crossing  in 2019.

Are you ready for some gospel Difford and Tilbrook style? Some Fantastic Place is a tribute to the woman who introduced Chris and Glenn. It features some fabulous keyboard work by Paul Carrack.

Keep Me In Your Heart is the final track on Warren Zevon’s final studio album, The Wind. He recorded it knowing that he was terminally ill. It’s a genuine heartbreaker.

I’ve mentioned my late friend Ashley Morris’ passion for Warren Zevon many times before. Fellow OG NOLA blogger Greg Peters did this tribute video to the tune of Keep Me In Your Heart after Ashley’s passing in 2008. Greg also died way too young in 2013. We’ve kept Ashley and Greg in our hearts.

John Wetton wrote the lyrics for Bury Me In Willow for Asia’s 2012 album, XXX as in 30th anniversary. It was written when his colon cancer was in remission. It reoccurred in 2017 and he died at the age of 67.

It’s time to cheat on the format with some lagniappe: songs that just missed making the list. First, a fine Brooker-Reid song from Procol Harum. Gary Brooker died earlier this year.

Here’s Rosanne Cash’s tribute to her fallen father, Johnny:

Here’s the great country singer George Jones with a song that will really put tears in your beer.

Finally, at Michael Homan’s memorial service his close friend and Half Pagan bandmate Bart Everson led a singalong of this variation on the above song:

One thought on “The Sunday Dozen: Songs Of Mortality

  1. I know a PhD who successfully argued in their Communications dissertation that it was the Dead who put our grandparents’ memories to music. Americana Cliche` …

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