When you reach a certain age – age 50 if not earlier – you are expected as a responsible sort of adult to prepare to die, by which I mean things like a will, health care proxy and power of attorney. This is designed to insure your wishes are met and help your survivors clean up after you when you’re gone.
It’s not a lot of fun, but you can spice it up a bit by planning your own funeral and the music you would like to have played. When there’s a funeral home wake, many like to expressly forbid that smarmy background music which manages to be both creepy and spiritual at the same time. In its defense though, it tends to make folks suitably weepy while hiding the sounds of those snickering, bickering and laughing in the back of the room.
But the real fun is picking out the songs to be played as part of a service. If it’s in a place of worship there might be no choice, or limited choices. But in a funeral home – where you’re paying for it – anything goes.
Those in the British funeral business track these things annually, and it seems the number one song on the Death Hit Parade is from the Monty Python movie “Life of Brian” – that jaunty singing and dancing anthem “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life.” An astounding choice, since the song (and movie) parodies the Christian church and parts of the Bible. All well and good if that’s how you feel, but I want to stay on friendly terms with my maker when I go to meet him/her.
A recent Facebook poll on the subject, which seems to have a more American slant, picked “Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ written by Buffalo native Harold Arlen. Very few gay people would object to the song made famous by Judy Garland and themed on rainbows, but who knew so many heterosexuals were into it?
A close second was Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which oddly, is also popular at weddings and anniversaries. Also scoring big was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” although it always struck me as a bit arrogant and self-centered.
There of course are hymns, led by Psalm 23 (The lord is my shepherd…) and the traditional English burial hymn “Abide With Me” along with “Old Rugged Cross,” and “Amazing Grace.”
“We’ll Meet Again” a song from World War II by Vera Lynn, scores high. Recently Stephen Colbert used it as he killed off his long running commenter character on his final show. It’s also remembered as part of the closing in “Dr. Strangelove.”
To be contemporary, choose something by Taylor Swift. Her songs keep popping up on funeral lists, including “Long Live,” “Safe and Sound,” “Fearless,” and “Ronan.”
There was a real lack of show tunes. I would have singled out “Seasons of Love,” from Rent, “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera and “To Dream the Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha.”
For myself, I might pick something like Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and if live performances are allowed, I wouldn’t mind the Village People doing “YMCA” in front of the casket, in full costume. Can you tell I came out in the disco age?
But it doesn’t always matter. I had a very close friend with AIDS who had big plans for his funeral. He picked the funeral home, the color casket (white), his clothing to match his hair, the flowers and the music, which included Barry Manilow. He shared it with me, and I am sure he shared it with his sisters. But in the end when he died, the family swooped in and gave a funeral that was nothing like what he wanted. And his gay friends were made to feel decidedly unwelcome.
So plan now for your ultimate end, but don’t forget to have some fun and plan the music you want. It may be your only chance.
Rod Hensel is based in Buffalo, NY where he was a gay activist and Mattachine Society chapter president in the ’70’s and ’80’s. He later co-founded Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. He is currently helping to organize the SIlver Pride Project of the Pride Center of Western New York to address issues of concern to LGBT seniors, and writes on LGBT senior issues for Buffalo’s Loop Magazine. You can find him at facebook.com/rodney.hensel.