Saturday, 23 June 2018

Funerals, Friendship, Death and Birthdays

I recently spent my 41st birthday at the funeral of a very dear friend, it got me thinking, how good does a friend have to be to make you change your planned pulled-the-day-off-work-for-my-birthday activities of lying about in the garden drinking cider and reading old Peanuts cartoons? Friendship is a difficult thing to measure at the best of times, and I think those who try to measure it, and gauge which friends are better than other friends can probably all fuck off.

I am now convinced that the people who post all those, 'Get rid of all the negative needy, selfish people around you, shake them off, you are a beautiful butterfly,' memes on facebook are almost certainly the very selfish, needy, fuckawful dickheads they are talking about. On the other hand, many of them are my friends, and I would most certainly go to their funerals over my own selfish drunken plans.

This chap comes to us all eventually, don't miss the party

A person who will remain anonymous was perplexed that I would willingly choose to spend my birthday at a funeral, saying it wouldn't be much fun. Now, there are two very important points here, one, my friend will only ever have one funeral – I should have plenty more birthdays, I get one a year after all (not like that birthday hoarding, two a year selfish monarch of ours, does that make her 157 now?) and I've already had about fifteen more than I planned on. And secondly, I put the fun in funerals. Seriously, I've never been to one I haven't enjoyed (apart from that one where the wake only had tea and cake, what is wrong with you? Who doesn't have booze at a funeral? Note to all my relatives, there must be a bar at mine.)

My anonymous acquaintance also claims to share my legendary misanthropy. The difference being that I hate people in general – the abstract concept of having to share my space with others – but I very rarely meet any specific people I don't like. My acquaintance, on the other hand, has trouble being alone, and wants to be around other people, but finds the actual, specific people problematic and not quite malleable enough for their needs. I have had 'oh but you like everybody!' thrown at me as if it's an insult before. Frankly, I'm pretty proud of it, I do like everybody I meet. It takes a good deal of effort to make me not like you, so if you've managed it, well done, that's quite the achievement.

Anyway, I was sitting in the funeral parlour, contemplating my own mortality, as you do at a funeral, and suddenly the voice of the deceased came into my head. I quite distinctly heard him chuckling 'Fuck's sake Dave, it's my funeral, you could at least have worn shoes!' Which would have been fair. His son, who contacted me about it, told me we had to go for bright colours. I had forgotten the unwritten rule about the 'celebration of life, bright colours' funerals that states you must still wear a suit, shirt and tie, nothing stronger than a pale blue and still mainly black, and rolled up in my multi-coloured patchwork shirt, purple Prince trousers and that hat. And I don't wear shoes between May and September usually, so sandals it was. I could hear him laughing all the way to his coffin, he'd have loved it.

This hat here – which has become much too regular a feature of this blog

It was a good funeral, I saw some very dear people that I have all but lost contact with over the last few years that I was very glad to see again. You could tell it would be fun when the first thing the grieving widow did on seeing me was grab me and whisper, 'I'm free and single now Dave,' in my ear with a raucous laugh. It continued, with this singular family who I used to see so much of all heckling each other's eulogies, clapping the readings and talking over the contemplative music. I have not cry-laughed so much since This is Us finished.

I do draw the line at talking over the music though. When I finally pop off you're going to have to listen. I've been working on the funeral setlist for years, I would like some well-meaning member of my family to turn to the crowd and say 'shut the fuck up and listen to the song, this bit's really good', as we near the 28 minute mark of 'Thick as a Brick'. Heckling is fine, and to be encouraged, indeed, please shout 'Stop making me listen to Jethro fucking Tull again you dead bastard!' rather than muttering amongst yourselves guiltily.

I do advise everyone to sort out your funeral songs, if you're not careful somebody else will pick them, and they'll get them wrong. You don't want to end up with people sitting in quiet reminiscence of you to the St Winifred's School Choir. This is your chance to get your own back, as my friend did by making me listen to Don fucking Mclean for one last time. Bastard, well played.

Things go wrong in planning, I remember another funeral for another friend a long time ago where the order of service was to have guitars on it, as he was a guitarist. This friend had, in our last conversation about a month before he died – a conversation that at that point I had no inkling would be our last – royally ripped the piss out of me for gigging exclusively on bass, saying I was a guitar player, not a shitty bassist. I had to stifle a laugh as I entered the service and found his grieving relatives had accidentally put two Fender Jazz Basses on the front. I could hear his voice shouting 'Fuck's sake Dave, I'm a guitar player, not a bassist! What are they doing to me?'

Tell people what you want, I'm not revealing my set list here, but my wife and a couple of back up friends have it for when the inevitable happens. It's good, and I might add a few more for the service. The wake will be even better, you're all invited, it shall be a rave in a field, you can pick the tunes for that, as you'll want to be dancing – in my fevered imagination I see people begging to have my songs played as loud as possible, in reality I am still very much aware of how bad they are, and you really can't dance to them. I will be there in spirit, as I have ordered an effigy of me dressed in my finery be burned atop a huge fire – like an old school Guy Fawkes night – to keep the revellers warm.

It's going to be fun, and well worth missing a boring old normal 41st Birthday for. You'll see a load of people you haven't for years, make a few new friends and remember someone you (hopefully) liked.

Here's an artist's impression of what my funeral might look like
Obviously that guy in the hat will be a model on the fire

and only dancing in spirit


  1. My own funeral list, actually a finished 'ready to mourn to' compilation CD of the chosen tunes, actually the specific versions of specific tunes I want, is something I really must get to sorting out. I'm so worried that because of my well known long standing association with Toyah Willcox that someone will assume I like 'It's a Mystery', then find the really shitty awful acoustic piano version that came out in the 'Tring years' (as those of us real diehards refer to it), and I will throw up in my coffin (even though already dead). People who don't have music in their souls whilst alive will not get how important these things are when thinking of the inevitable. Choosing my own Father's funeral music is the only thing I was capable of contributing at the time, and it probably wasn't right, but it's better than it might have been without at least some thought amongst what in hindsight was a terrible impersonal service. My aim, will be to make people cry as much as humanly possible in the service, so that the worst is out by the time they get to the pub. I want serious sobbing, wailing and gnashing of teeth or I'll sue.

    1. I will be dancing on the casket....

      Now it's over I'm dead and I haven't done anything that I want...