The Last Waltz 

Saddam's final mistake: failure to plan his funeral soundtrack.

Death. The final boarding call. The last french fry on the plate. The ol' dark 'n' gloomy. A Goth's graduation. That big bunch of membranes that suddenly stop packaging and transporting proteins within a cell as the body's circulatory system slows and the brain ceases to function.

According to scientists, everyone will someday die, and that means that someday everyone will have a funeral. And you know what that means. Someone other than you will choose what music to play at your service. Your brother Wyatt will insist on playing that Dave Matthews tune that so encapsulated your relationship. Your mother wants to hear "The Wind Beneath My Wings." Your dad wants to hear "Amazing Grace" played on bagpipes. And you. You lie motionless in your coffin unable to protest, let alone share with the world the revelation that when we die we are actually fully conscious in our bodies and therefore bored as shit for eternity. That's one subject they have yet to deal with on Six Feet Under.

"Where's the murky organ?" you think to yourself, pining for funeral music à la Addams Family. You want to hear a somber Wagner work played by a walleyed hunchback, not "Annie's Song" over a Philips boom box.

But before you died, you neglected to do your research. Organ music is so passé in funeral homes. People want something more contemporary, so they either bring their own music or choose from the selection at the home. There are myriad companies that have put together license-free compilations of mausoleum Muzak to provide funeral directors with a soundtrack. The Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland offers several selections for each service: Contemporary Selection #1 -- "The happiness of good memories is reflected in gentle and relaxing themes -- acoustic guitar, flute, piano, synthesizer"; Contemporary Selection #2 -- "A beautiful orchestral performance conveys feelings of contentment and peace"; and #3 -- "A delicate touch and tender approach to the keyboard create soothing and comforting feelings." And for the fella who everyone is glad died at a ripe old age, there's the "Big Band" selection: "A swinging big band arrangement with step-out clarinet."

Comfort Music in San Clemente is one company that creates such bland background mood music for the dearly departed. It sounds not unlike the corny background concerto at the Grim Reaper's grocery store -- where the automatic doors don't work and they're forever out of Chips Ahoy. It's like a fetid elevator stuck on the thirteenth floor with a KABL loop playing on into infinity. It's bad, bad music for people who probably never listened to music in life anyway.

But for people who do like music, there are songs that have become regular standbys at burials. Arvis Jones is a funeral director for Whitted-Williams Funeral Home in Oakland, and she also sings at the services. She says that the most requested songs are gospel tunes like "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," "Precious Lord Take My Hand," and "Goin' Up Yonder" by Tremaine Hawkins. "I'm always willing to sing special requests," she says. Jones is surprisingly upbeat for someone who sits through funerals day after day. "It is hard," she admits, "especially when they are young."

Boyz II Men has the lock on funerals for people under thirty, especially those who died by gunfire, accident, or suicide. "So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," "End of the Road," "A Song for Mama," and "One Sweet Day" all fit the bill. Country band Diamond Rio has the monopoly on songs for dead crackers, with at least three somber ballads. For the biker potheads, "Mama I'm Coming Home" by Ozzy, or of course "Free Bird." And if these legit numbers don't float your corpse, Clair recommends "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen, or "Hell Awaits" by Slayer -- the latter might be appropriate for Saddam's wake.

The moral of this story? Plan ahead, or lay in state to the strains of a DJ who thinks that Patrick Swayze's solo career was too short. In fact, Clair will declare it now, in front of ninety thousand witnesses: When I die, the jukebox had better include the Bee Gees' "Run to Me," David Bowie (anything from Scary Monsters except "Fashion," but probably "Teenage Wildlife"), Big Star's "I'm in Love with a Girl" from my honey, and some Naked Raygun as a shout-out to my Midwestern peeps. My body is to be cremated and the ashes poured into tasteful sachets and handed out to the guests to do with what they will. Otherwise I'm just gonna have to live forever.


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