Death. A subject most fear and refuse to ever talk about. A subject that no matter how hard you try to avoid, it’s still going to happen. Anything that starts will always end. Friendships, relationships, life. With most things in life we go through with others. We share certain moments with others such as love, laughter, tears, joy, pain- everything. Aside from death.
What fascinates me about death is that nobody can tell you what happens when your body leaves this earth. We all make our own assumptions. Some choose a religious stance, others may take a spiritual approach and some just have no opinion on the matter. Personally, I’m on the spiritual side of things- but this is not the time or place for me to put across my personal views.
With death, it is a one person thing. Just YOU feel it. YOU’RE the one that is aware of what is happening to you. Nobody else can feel that emotion. A person that has died cannot come back and tell you what it is like. Nor can they tell you what happens afterwards. This may be daunting for some, but I just find it entirely fascinating.
I’m not someone who sits and thinks about how I will die or how I wish to die. I’m not that morbid or curious. Nature can deal with it. One thing I find interesting are songs about death. Regardless of genre- death is a subject that is frequently touched on. Some may hide it better than others. Certain genres go more in depth with it. So, I’m going to choose a selection of songs that touch on the subject of death. I’m not going to make it insanely depressing; just focus on the creative side of it and how an artist expresses their views on the subject.
The first song I’m choosing to write about is one that I feel is one of the most heartbreaking songs of all time by one of the greatest bands of all time. Treasure by The Cure is quite simply, breathtaking. The fragility in Robert Smith’s voice here always hurts to listen to. It’s such a sad sad song. It is taken from the album Wild Mood Swings which was the first album I heard by The Cure. I remember finding it amongst my stepdad’s music collection, I was only 10 years old- I took the CD and was just fascinated by what I was hearing. Treasure stood out for me more than the other songs because it just sounded so dark and vulnerable. I was always an odd one, so I guess its no surprise I was fascinated with such a dark song. I suppose you could take it as a breakup song, but I honestly wouldn’t understand why. It’s got such an aura of death and dying surrounding it. The way he sings, “She whispers, “Please remember me. When I am gone from here.” She whispers, “Please remember me. But not with tears.”” It just instantly crushes you. Robert Smith sings it so delicately, like an Angel or something. His voice just sounds so pure and innocent. I love The Cure because they just hit this part of you that no other band could get to. I love The Smiths/Morrissey with all I have, but The Cure hit a part that no one else could reach. They’re a lifeline, a crutch at best. When I listen to Treasure, I can’t help but feel for the person who is telling the loved one not to cry. Knowing you’re about to leave someone forever is just as crushing as being the person left behind. You suddenly find more things you want to say to them, the time you had with them seemed to have been too short- more needs to be said. But what can you say? What can you prove? “Remember I was always true. Remember that I always tried. Remember I loved only you.” Not only is this enough to make you breakdown, it’s just so apt. You want the person to know that you were always theirs; you always tried your best for them. More importantly, they were your everything. You loved them, always. You always will. In life and in death.
If one song sums up the solitude found in death it has to be Waiting Around To Die by Townes Van Zandt. If I had to list my favourite songs of all time, this would be in my Top 5. I love the pain, frustration and anguish in his voice. A lot of his songs were just riddled with loneliness. Anyone who claims to have never felt lonely is a liar. Being alone and feeling lonely are two very different things, and to deny ever feeling that way just makes you a liar. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, well, there’s still time. Waiting Around To Die for me, just cries out someone waiting for death because means nothing; that ending it would just give it more meaning. It oozes boredom and addiction. Some may say there’s a link between the two; I say it’s all down to strength of character. The last verse ALWAYS cuts deep into my heart. With all his songs, you can hear and feel he means every single word he is singing, but this song just grips you so hard. It’s a painful grip because you can sense his pain, but for some reason you just cannot let go. Do you want to? I doubt you could. “Now I’m out of prison, I got me a friend at last. He don’t steal or cheat or drink or lie. His name’s Codeine, he’s the nicest thing I’ve seen. Together we’re gonna wait around and die.” Everyone has done him wrong, so he turns to a substance, in this case Codeine- it’s all he has, they’ll wait it out and die together. To feel that low and desperate must be such an exhausting feeling. I think it’s something that we all work hard to never ever feel. You cannot control what happens; you cannot control your emotions. Some things you just cannot fight off.
I cannot write an article on death in music and ignore The Smiths can I? It has to be Asleep. Morrissey’s gorgeous voice over the haunting piano is so comforting. It’s comforting in a way you never thought a song like this could be. It’s evidently about suicide, but the way Morrissey has written it is so clever. He regards death in this song as basically just being asleep which makes it a less painful concept. “Don’t feel bad for me. I want you to know, deep in the cell of my heart. I will feel so glad to go.” I think anyone who has felt so alone and has felt that awful feeling of just wanting to leave will truly feel that part of the song more than most. You don’t want any loved ones to feel sorry for you because it is what you want. You just cannot carry on anymore. Some people that have felt this low manage to pull through. Some sadly however, succumb to this horrible feeling and just call it quits. It isn’t right, it isn’t wrong; it is just a shame. As a massive (understatement) fan of The Smiths and Morrissey, this song just shows Morrissey at his most painful, darkest and articulate. The loneliness that pours out of Moz’s music is astounding. He makes you feel lonely even if you don’t feel it. That’s the beauty of music; it can make you feel things you never thought you could feel. Sometimes they are horrible feelings, sometimes they are wonderful feelings. What I take from music is the ability to no longer be scared of having feelings. It’s okay to feel like utter shit, its okay to be happy. There is no right or wrong, ever. Asleep is like a lullaby, an extremely dramatic and aching lullaby. You feel as if you’re floating away from all you hate as you listen to it. When you wake up, well that’s an entirely different feeling altogether.
One of the first Hip Hop records I remember buying was Ready To Die by Notorious B.I.G. His debut record is not for the faint hearted or those who have never possessed a deep thought in their life. It isn’t for those who cannot take pain and honesty. One song in particular, Suicidal Thoughts is one of the most intense and darkest songs I’ve ever heard. Not just from the Hip Hop genre, but in general. Biggie was a poet, you cannot deny that. The greatest Hip Hop artists SHOULD be regarded as poets; it’s just a shame most of them aren’t. A lot of people are always like “BIGGIE OR TUPAC?!” No. It is so easy to see that both artists were as astounding as each other, both fantastic poets who could make you really feel what they were saying. They made you feel part of the stories they were telling. They were so much more than Hip Hop artists, but the media, as ever just labelled them as thugs. The opening line, “When I die, fuck it I wanna go to hell. ‘Cause I’m a piece of shit, it ain’t hard to fuckin’ tell” The harsh feel of self loathing in this line is painful, the brutal honesty just takes you back. You can’t help but think, “How can someone feel so low?” Quite easily, sadly. This line is nothing compared to the rest of the song. Suicidal Thoughts is just brilliantly dark. It keeps you on edge; if you aren’t left feeling tense after listening to this you probably don’t have a soul. Certain lines make you squirm because the honesty hits you so hard. The whole song is one big dramatic build up. It doesn’t read like a suicide note. If you read the lyrics, you just get a sense of what goes in someone’s mind when they feel so low. He states that the mother of children would be glad he was dead, no one would miss him. It’s horrific that a person could feel like that, but it happens. The song is a phone call between Biggie and a friend. The end of the track ends with the line, “Matter of fact, I’m sick of talkin’” followed by a gunshot. Then his friend calls out for him. I swear, if this doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable then something is up with you. It’s a difficult song to listen to- you could be the happiest person in the Universe, but this song will destroy your happiness for a while after hearing it. It’s so deep, so harsh.
The song I want to finish this on is on a different level of beauty and perfection. The artist is easily one of the greatest artists ever. I remember when I first heard this song, I just cried. I cried because it was so frail, haunting and accurate. I know I said at the start that death should not be feared, but a level of uncertainty should be kept and questioned. We need to question what happens to keep us going, and to ease the fear. The song is of course, Hope There’s Someone by Antony And The Johnsons. This isn’t a song you just casually play in the background whilst cooking your dinner, oh no. This isn’t a song you play whilst getting ready to go out. This is a song you play by yourself when you just feel something that is beyond words. I don’t listen to it often because it just crushes me more than any other song. The whole song is just fear and uncertainty, but there’s one part of the song that just sums up what every single person must feel as they approach death. Whether they know it is going to happen or not, this line must be something similar to what they feel: “Oh I’m scared of the middle place, between light and nowhere. I don’t want to be the one left in there, left in there.” I think that is exactly how someone must feel as the end approaches. The piano build up in this song feels like the person leaving the world in body, becoming free. Flying away from this life and into the next. It is so euphoric. This is the kind of song you listen to with your eyes shut, and as you open them- the tears just fall. Antony’s voice is so beautiful on this song, his voice trembles and you can feel his fear. “Hope there’s someone who’ll take care of me. When I die.” We all want someone to meet us on the other side. I’d love it if John Peel and Lester Bangs greeted me on the other side with records and a cup of tea. The way Antony sings that line just makes you want to cradle him, and tell him that someone will be there; that he has nothing to fear. But can we be so sure? Personally, I believe there is someone.
So there you have it, probably the most morbid thing I will ever write. Thing is, I enjoyed writing this more than previous articles. I know there are so many songs that touch on the subject of death and dying. I just picked the ones that I feel portray the subject in such grand ways; whether it be intense or just heartbreaking. Like I said at the start, it’s something we go through alone. However, music again just proves that we are never alone with how we feel. Remember, it is okay to be scared and unsure; but do not focus on it. Make the most of what you have, for when it is over; it is only over in this lifetime. You can start over again in the next one.