10 Songs I Want Played at My Funeral

I probably need to start this post with a caveat, given that I’ve occasionally written about having issues with depression: I’m not thinking about killing myself. I’m not actually planning my funeral (although I recently told a few of the homies that since I imagine I’ll die in a way in which my body won’t be found, their duty as pall-bearers will be to carry a casket full of liquor to the ceremony while a second-line band plays behind them). Rather, my friend and fellow blogger Juan Alvarado Valdivia—a man who’s been known to have an existential crisis or two himself—noted that we haven’t done complementary Top 10 lists in a while, and he suggested this topic. Juanito clearly knows me well, because if there are three things I like writing, they’re Top 10 lists, music-snob posts, and ruminations about the impermanence of our existence. So, in honor of Kevin Costner (who was the body in the coffin in the famous You Can’t Always Get What You Want funeral scene at the beginning of The Big Chill), let’s make a going home playlist.

We’ll start with a bunch of honorable mentions for the extended playlist: Come On Up to the House, Tom Waits, because “The world is not my home, I’m just passing through”; Pour Out a Little Liquor, Thug Life, because y’all better pour some out; Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd, because duh; A Kiss Before I Go, Ryan Adams, because I want “One shot, one beer, and a kiss before I go”; Don’t Let It Bring You Down, Neil Young, because “it’s only castles burning”; Castles Made of Sand, Jimi Hendrix, because “Castles made of sand slip into the sea eventually”; 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten, Lucinda Williams, because I like the notion of being “too cool to be forgotten,” even if it is bullshit; Brokedown Palace, The Grateful Dead, because “I’m going to leave this brokedown palace”; Angel From Montgomery, Bonnie Raitt, because “To believe in this living is just a hard way to go”; Paradise, John Prine, because “I’ll be halfway to heaven with paradise waiting, just five miles away from wherever I am” (and yes, I know I really just doubled-up on John Prine); The Boxer, Simon & Garfunkel, because “I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains”; and Life Without You, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Yellow Ledbetter, Pearl Jam, and Samba Pa Ti, Santana, because those fucking guitar solos, man.

Man, I could do this all day. That’s a lot of great songs, and we haven’t even gotten to the party yet. On to the top 10. (And for even more great music, check out Juan’s list here.)

10. No Woman No Cry, Bob Marley

Sort of an obvious one, but I’ve always found this to be the most soothing song. I remember driving in a car with my sister once years ago when we were both having astonishingly shitty days, and singing along with this tune had a healing effect for both of us. I like to think it could do the same at an event where at least, I don’t know, a few (?) people would be sad.

9. Bring It on Home to Me, Sam Cooke

You don’t get to change your mind about anything after you’re dead—especially not about leaving anyone behind. But there’s something so timeless about the want and the need in this song that makes it a perfect goodbye number.

8. They Reminisce Over You, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth

You know there’s gonna be some old-school hip-hop at J$’s funeral, and this one from early-90s golden age rappers Pete Rock & CL Smooth has been an unavoidable goodbye jam since I first heard it, long before any notion of my own mortality had really risen to the surface. (Side note: On a visit to New York in the mid-90s, I made my dad drive around the Bronx in rainstorm looking for a record store where I could find a copy of this album; Apple was a little late for me on this one…) It’s a beautiful shoutout to family and how we’re bonded together for better and for worse. And I can imagine climbing up through the clouds on the notes of that sax solo—you know, if I actually believed that we had spirits that went somewhere when we died.

7. Happiness, Elliott Smith

As one of the world’s most devoted Elliott fans, it was hard for me to pick just one of his songs. Ultimately, though, I couldn’t go any direction by Happiness (a song I once wrote about in detail). It’s sad, of course—about how most of us fall into making our lives lies and not sharing our true selves with those we care about—but the coda is one of the most beautiful passages in the history of pop music:

What I used to be
Will pass away
And then you’ll see
That all I want now
Is happiness
For you and me

It’s so simple and so hopeful and so sad and goddamn, isn’t it how we all feel about our lives?

6. Life Goes On, 2Pac

Every funeral I’ve ever been to tried to bill itself as a “celebration of life,” and while I dig the sentiment, that’s just not how this shit works. People are gonna be fucked up no matter what. That said, I expect my people to send me out by partying as hard as they fucking can. 2Pac was obsessed with death—I could make an entire funeral playlist of songs he wrote abut his own death, and there’s already a ‘Pac song in the honorable mentions—but the tune I really want played from my all-time favorite rapper is the one that has this verse in it:

Bury me smilin’, with Gs in my pocket
Have a party at my funeral, let every rapper rock it
Let the hoes that I used to know
From way befo’ kiss me from my head to my toe
Give me a paper and a pen, so I can write about my life of sin
A couple bottles of gin, in case I don’t get in

Pour another one out for me, yall.

5. Learning to Fly, Tom Petty

Here’s where three trends start: the sentimentality, the flying theme, and the songs I took from other people’s goodbyes. This one played at my longtime ex-girlfriend Lara’s funeral, so I’ll always associate it with her, but it also runs deeper than that. It’s about a fundamental aspect of life: We’re all just learning how to get by; as soon as we think we’re taking off, we’re sure to crash again. But no matter how hard you crash, you have to pick yourself up and try to take off again. What goes up must come down—but the time you spend rising and soaring among the clouds makes the descent, however painful, worth it.

4. I’ll Fly Away, Gillian Welch & Allison Krauss

I’m blatantly stealing this one as well. When the owner of my favorite bar in the entire world, Sunny Balzano (of Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook), died a couple of years ago, there was a second line from the Catholic church service to the bar, where seemingly the whole community had a shot and a beer. The song I remember from that second line? This one, of course. I’m not a spiritual person, so it may seem odd for me to want a gospel song at my send-off, but I’ve actually long loved gospel music, and well, when I die, hallelujah bye and bye, Ill fly away

3. To Live Is to Fly, Townes Van Zandt

This is the last of the flying songs, and it’s a less ecstatic, more contemplative one. Townes Van Zandt was in many ways the ultimate philosopher-songwriter, and there would be a whole block of his songs at my send off, but this is the one he really packs it all into. I could quote every lyric and pontificate on each and every word, but the bottom line is that for Townes (much like with Tom Petty), flying isn’t’t what we do when we’re trying to get to heaven; flying—both low and high—is what we do in our lives everyday, and this song isn’t about being sad about what we’ve missed out on or what we’ve lost. Rather, it’s about appreciating the journey we’ve taken. Even if life is sad and fucked up, there’s still beauty in it. So shake the dust off of your wings, and the tears out of your eyes.

2. Wild Horses, The Rolling Stones

When I was in college, there was a bum named Guitar Dave who used to sit on the stoop of the liquor store and play songs for beer money. My buddy Josh always told me not to talk to him—that I would cause a rip in the space-time continuum by getting too close to future Justin. Guitar Dave used to play Wild Horses, and while I’m sure he’s not around anymore, I sure hope I get to jam on this number—one of my two or three favorite songs ever—with him in the afterlife.

1. Desperados Under the Eaves, Warren Zevon

There are few songs I relate to more than this one. The loneliness, the fatalism, the fog of alcohol—that’s a Justin cocktail! But, really, when I’m picking the number one song on this list, what I’m choosing is the last song I would want to hear as I faded away. And I can’t think of a melody I’d rather ride off on than the air conditioner humming as we look away down Gower Avenue. Vaya con Dios, amigos.


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1 Response to 10 Songs I Want Played at My Funeral

  1. I feel you on #7 & #4!

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