At Your Funeral: The Weakerthans – “Left and Leaving”

At your funeral

There is nothing more terrifying to me than dying. Maybe heights…probably heights…yeah, okay, heights. But I still think about death fairly often, and the idea of picking a song to play at my funeral is one I’ve pondered on many a long drive or drunken night. Do I want my funeral to have a happy celebratory vibe? Do I want people crying their brains out because I have left this land and they will no longer see me or have amazing life changing conversations with me or laugh at my extraordinary wit and sense of humor? Ye gods…questions, questions.

I have unfortunately attended my share of funerals in my nearly 26 years of life, and have heard many hymns and organs played. I know one song I’d enjoy having played is “Amazing Grace”. Every time I hear that song, it immediately makes me think about funerals and sadness, but that’s not the song I want to write about. It’s too sad. Too basic. My roommate said I should write about it and then make it seem like I was the only one to think of it as a good funeral song. I like that concept, but I guess I’ll take this a little more seriously. Perhaps at another time.

So now it comes down to whether I want to have a joyous/ridiculous song played or a melancholy one. Do I pick something like “Light and Day/Reach for the Sun” by Polyphonic Spree, one of the jolliest songs I know? Or do I pick something like “Princes of the Universe” by Queen and request that either my body be shot out of a cannon like Hunter S. Thompson or pulled from my coffin from wires and swung out over the crowd of gaping mouths while lasers and fog machines go off? Hot damn, if only!

I think I’ll go with slight melancholy. While I do want my funeral to be a celebratory moment, I believe having a bit of downheartedness is always good. There were numerous songs I picked through. “Skipping Stone” by Andrew Jackson Jihad, “Genesis 30:3” by The Mountain Goats, “Innocent When You Dream” by Tom Waits, and the clichéd, almost joke pick of “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed, but none of these have had a big impact on my life, and I wanted something that is meaningful…like a tattoo. This is why I have chosen “Left and Leaving” by The Weakerthans.

I first encountered this song courtesy of a friend in high school. He posted on his website that he had found beauty again by listening to the song. As someone avidly looking for new music, and this friend being my main beacon to guide me on the search, I downloaded it and prepared for something amazing. I wasn’t let down.

The opening riff was slow and steady and had the perfect tinge of reverb. John K. Samson’s vocals were high and clear, and the delivery of the first line automatically had me hooked: “My city’s still breathing but barely it’s true through buildings gone missing like teeth.” It made me think of my own small town as well as the neighboring St. Louis, the areas that were once booming blocks of commerce but now had fallen into disrepair. The line “buildings gone missing like teeth” was one of the cleverest and most beautiful pieces of imagery I had heard to that point. I was less than a minute in, and already I knew what my friend was talking about.

I listened that first time alone in my family’s dark computer room late at night. As the verses went on, I felt solitary but surrounded by the tingling cymbals and echoing guitars dripping out of my headphones. There was a deep sadness in Samson’s lyrics, but also a sense of spite at his lost love. It was the perfect thing for my angsty teenage mind. The following lines of “wait for the year to drown. Spring forward, fall back down. I’ll try not to wonder where you are” seemed to articulate my thoughts incredibly well. How could someone be writing exactly what I wish I could say? My mind was blown.

Then came the chorus: “All this time lingers undefined. Someone choose who’s left and who’s leaving.” Spot on delivery, a slight quiver in Sampson’s voice. I started to get chills that didn’t stop. The breakdown of “I wait in 4/4 time. Count yellow highway lines that you’re relying on to lead you home” is a lyric that I think about every time I am driving at night on a long empty highway to this day. It gives me the same kind of lonesome feeling that “Cowboy Dan” by Modest Mouse does, that expansive reverb on a dark night highway. It’s a feeling I can’t forget.

As I am writing this, I have the song on repeat. This is going to be super cliché and overly dramatic, but I love how music, great music, can transport you back to the exact spot that you fell in love with it. For me, it was on that first listen. This whole time I have been feeling that warm night blanket around me, the low hum of the furnace under my feet, and the knot I got in my stomach when I sat in that computer room my sophomore year of high school and listened to this song over and over again. As I listen to it now, I know that I made a good decision picking this song. There aren’t many songs that I listened to then that I can still listen to on repeat. That is my sign of a great song: It has longevity. And while at my funeral, the longevity of my life may have ceased, this song will still be amazing. These lines will still bring tears to my eyes, and probably to the eyes of those in attendance. After this, I may request that they play “Ready to Die” by Andrew WK to lighten the mood.

Great, now I’m all nostalgic and melancholic. I’m gonna go listen to the entire Left and Leaving album and read Perks of Being a Wallflower. Thanks a lot, Consequence of Sound.


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