While there’s nothing quite like precious fall in Geneseo, the neatest thing about the season is that we are literally surrounded by death. Those beautiful leaves of auburn, gold and chestnut - they are all dead. Despite that, death does not have to be entirely sad. In fact, death has inspired some truly beautiful pieces of art, as can be heard in this playlist. Some are painful and some are upbeat, but they all make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
1. “Someone Great” by LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy’s greatest gift as a songwriter is his ability to deliver complex messages using the simplest of language. Murphy laments the death of a loved one, singing, “The worst is all the lovely weather/I’m sad it’s not raining.” The world continues to go on unaffected despite the absence of someone great. Set against a hypnotic electronic arrangement, this song is at once heartbreaking and mesmerizing.
2. “Memphis Skyline” by Rufus Wainwright
Two of the best songwriters of their generation, Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley, rivaled one another for a short period in the ‘90s. Wainwright resented Buckley for his prowess until Buckley’s untimely death in 1997. In this stunning ballad, Wainwright retells the story of Orpheus trying to rescue his wife Eurydice from the Underworld by playing a song for Hades. It hits me right in the feelings, every time.
3. “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads
This song is not as explicitly about death as the others. The opening lyrics do, however, offer a beautifully concise summation of life itself: “Well we know where we’re going/But we don’t know where we’ve been.” None of us can definitively know from whence we came, but we know exactly where we will end up - spoiler alert: We all die.
4. “Somebody Got Murdered” by The Clash
One nice thing about The Clash is you can meet someone and ask, “Do you like The Clash?” If that person does, you can bet he or she is going to be cool and interesting. This song, reportedly written after Joe Strummer saw a dead man lying in the street, is a sobering exploration of the senselessness of violence set to a deceptively upbeat rhythm.
5. “On and On and On” by Wilco
I love Wilco so much it hurts. Jeff Tweedy presents as compelling a case as any for the acceptance of one’s mortality. What’s more, he infuses it with a twinge of optimism. Bless your soul, Tweedy.
6. “Until I Am Whole” by The Mountain Goats
For a playlist comprised of songs about death, the previous selections have not been too bleak. Well, I cannot say the same for this dark track about the pitfalls of depression. Let’s just move on, shall we?
7. “Elegie” by Patti Smith
Patti Smith only needs two minutes and 44 seconds to capture the loneliness of losing a loved one. One of the most underrated songwriters of her era, Smith has influenced dozens of musicians, from Madonna to Michael Stipe of R.E.M. She is a revelation and is still putting out brilliant music today.