March 11, 2018 by Jay Minkin
The final playlist is something that folks keep close to the heart. A thread through social media that became a topic on NPR hit home with this writer about songs to be played at their funeral. I must confess that my list dates back to first hearing an acoustic version of “My Death Waits” by David Bowie from the historic Santa Monica ’72 concert heard on the radio and acquired on a bootleg Lp. Since then, If I hear a song and embraced the lyrics to the point of tears, it becomes nominated for a playlist titled Closing Ceremonies.
From ‘75-‘77 a group of friends and I spent many evenings at Boulder Junction in Uniontown listening to Alex Bevan play songs which eventually landed onto his Springboard album. One of those is called “Rodeo Rider” and over the years it’s turned into Bevan’s definitive song. The verse He’ll end all his days ridin’ fence in Montana/On the high ground his dreamin’ gets done/He sings oh, all my life, oh my life was always the dream destination I’d hope to end my days. Next on the timeline came Todd Rundgren playing piano and singing “Dream Goes On Forever” from the Agora ’78 show found on Back To The Bars and the musical storytelling introduction of “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen from the legendary Agora ’78 concert. Broadcast live on the radio, the cassette tapes literally wore out playing the Boss and knowing the stories word for word. As Bruce so eloquently stated: Last summer me and Steve and these two friends of ours, we drove out to Salt Lake City, Utah and we bought this used Ford, drove it down to Reno and uh….we were out along the desert someplace and just off the road there was this house that this Indian had sculptured from stuff that he’d scavenged all off the desert and out in front he had a, had a big sign, had a big picture of Geronimo, it said ‘Landlord’ over top of it….and then he had the big white sign that said ‘This is the land of peace, love, justice and no mercy’ and it pointed down this dirt road that said ‘Thunder Road’.
If you remember where you were when John Lennon died, then you’ll understand why The Beatles “In My Life” made the cut. Another on the list include the deaths of James Honeyman Scott and Pete Farndon of The Pretenders who Chrissie Hynde wrote I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh/Those were the happiest days of my life in “Back On The Chain Gang”. Knowing death was eminent, Warren Zevon gave us the deeply moving “Keep Me In Your Heart” and Gregg Allman sang “Going, Going, Gone” with his last breath on his final album release Southern Blood.
There is a ray of sunshine with my favorite Bob Dylan song “My Back Pages” and the lyric Good and bad, I define these terms quite clear, no doubt, somehow/Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now. The definitive performance of the song was at the 30th Anniversary Concert with legendary rock and roll guitarists Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, George Harrison, and Bob doing a verse. The first play on the jukebox is “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” by The Rolling Stones followed by U2 “Where The Streets Have No Name” and finishing with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers killing it on “Breakdown”. Too many Neil Young songs to choose from but “One of These Days” with the opening lines “One of these days/I’m going to sit down and write a long letter/To all the good friends I’ve known/And I’m going to try/And thank them all for the good times together/Though so apart we’ve grown” makes the list. The playlist would not be complete without The Grateful Dead and the tearful somberness of “Ripple” whose blending harmonies sing “If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine/And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung/Would you hear my voice come through the music/Would you hold it near as it were your own?” Oh my … but there’s more…
The list has come and gone, was lost and restarted many times over the years. The Americana roots influence has inflicted salvation beginning with Ryan Adams and “Let It Ride” with Tennessee’s a brother to my sister Carolina where they’re gonna bury me/And I ain’t ready to go/I’m never ready to go/Let it ride /let it ride easy down the road/Let it ride/Let it take away all of this darkness/Let it ride/Let it rock me in the arms of strangers, angels until it brings me home/Let it ride/Let it roll/Let it go. The highway goes on forever with Emmylou Harris interpreting “All My Tears”, Gram Parsons singing“ In My Hour of Darkness”, Flying Burrito Brothers simply stating We’re not afraid to ride/We’re not afraid to die/So come on wheels take me home today/Come on wheels take this boy away in “Wheels”, Jason Isbell haunting vocals on “Cover Me Up”, a beautiful cover by Jamey Johnson on “Live Forever”, the gospel church exuberance of Mike Farris singing “Sit Down Servant”, Buddy Miller “Wide River To Cross”, Waylon Jennings “Dreaming My Dreams With You”, Levon Helm “Move Along Train” and not sure if you can find a better cover of “The Weight” than Lee Ann Womack on Endless Highway – The Music of The Band.
Acclaimed professor Roger Blackwell, who taught Marketing at The Ohio State University, developed a course on Thanatology—the study of death was one of the courses to give me a well-rounded education. It’s in that context that we would discuss Midnight Cowboy. The story of Joe Buck and Enrico Salvatore “Ratso” Rizzoin’s relationship in New York City is a cinematic masterpiece. John Barry composed the score and the movie version featured harmonica by Toots Thielemans, but for some reason the harp was played by Tommy Reilly on the award winning soundtrack album. Ratso’s dream of moving to Miami comes true in the final chapter after Joe buys a pair of bus tickets. Going out “Midnight Cowboy” style has been part of any conversations I’ve had about death and dying. Appropriately, it would be the last song on my soundtrack.
With my clock striking 59.00 this year, too many friends and family have been experiencing death lately, so this column is dedicated to them … especially Joseph, Todd, and Victor.