music / Columns

411 Music Ten Deep 2.24.12 – Songs of the Grieving

February 24, 2012 | Posted by C.A. Bell


A few months ago, one of my best friends unexpectedly lost his father. Ryan is a musician, so it came as little surprise that he used music to help him through the grieving process. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but be impressed at how utterly he immersed himself in songs that sparked a pleasant memory or maybe just have him the strength of knowing that he wasn’t alone. At the time, I wanted to write this list as a way to help him in any small way that I could. The problem was that no matter how I attacked it, the writing just kept coming up shallow and cliche. What great revelation could I possibly have to share? It was apparent that there really was nothing I could do for my friend. He had to handle that process in his own way. The music that he shared with us had to come from him. That was a key part of the healing for him.

Early this week I received the news that someone I had known since elementary school had ended his own life. Generally well-liked by everyone we mutually knew (he was our senior class president, after all), this came as an utter shock to everyone from my sheltered little suburb of Kansas City. Facing death is always a serious matter. Psychologists propose that, when faced with our own imminent death or that of a loved one, we all experience five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This being the third time that I have seen the suicide of someone close to my own age, I knew how grueling this process would be. The crux of the stages of grief assume that you have time to move through them and make peace before the end. When someone you love takes that end upon themselves unexpectedly, you don’t have the privilege to move through them naturally. Add to that the feelings of anger and guilt surrounding suicide and amplify the entire thing with a heaping ton of vicariously facing your own mortality, and you have what I consider to be the most difficult experience life has to offer.

Now, I wasn’t his best friend or as close as a family member. Truth be told, we hadn’t even spoken in three years. So, why have I nonetheless spent the last three days cycling through extreme fits of sadness, rage, detachment and utter exhaustion? I haven’t even begun to prepare myself for the answer to that question. The one thing I do know is that music has been the only real source of solace I have been able to find, the one guide down some of those darkest rabbit holes in my brain. At the end of the day, I still don’t have anything profound to say about the subject. I’m not even sure what would be worth saying. No numbers or lengthy historical discussions this week. I think I’ll just let the songs flow. It would be disingenuous to dedicate this to someone’s memory or say that I’m hoping to help other people out. All I’m trying to do is get this guy out of my head. I guess that might be profound in its own egocentric way.

Stage 1 – Denial

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – “Whistle Past The Graveyard” from ‘Em Are I, 2009.

Warren Zevon – “Back In The High Life Again” from Life’ll Kill Ya, 2000.

Stage 2 – Anger

Bob Dylan – “Let Me Die In My Footsteps” from Bootleg Series, Vol. I, 1991.

Johnny Cash – “Ain’t No Grave” from American VI: Ain’t No Grave, 2010.

Stage 3 – Bargaining

Cream – “Crossroads” from Wheels of Fire, 1968.

Led Zeppelin – “Gallows Pole” from Led Zeppelin III, 1970.

Stage 4 – Depression

Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Tuesday’s Gone” from Prounounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd, 1973.

Aimee Mann – “Wise Up” from Magnolia, 1999.

Stage 5 – Acceptance

Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Long As I Can See The Light” from Cosmo’s Factory, 1970.

The Flaming Lips – “Do You Realize???” from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002.

Peter Gabriel – “Washing of the Water” from Us, 1992.

Queen – “The Show Must Go On” from Innuendo, 1991.

Joe Cocker – “With A Little Help From My Friends” from Woodstock: The Album, 1969.

Warren Zevon – “Keep Me In Your Heart” from The Wind, 2003.

Genesis – “For Absent Friends” from Nursery Cryme, 1971.

Eric Clapton – “Tears In Heaven” from Unplugged, 1992.

Big Star – “Take Care” from Third / Sister Lovers, 1978.

Dennis Wilson – “Farewell, My Friend” from Pacific Ocean Blue, 1977.

A Festering Final Thought

I could hardly reconcile compiling this music and not discussing the tragic loss of Whitney Houston. There have been a lot of angles taken on Houston’s career and importance to music. To me, the glaring topic for discussion should be our societal acceptance of, and even borderline canonization of, substance abuse by our favorite stars. We, as music fans, have lost far too many great talents to the plague of addiction. Yet somehow we continue to celebrate the 24-hour-party lifestyle in younger artists, only to characterize those same artists as pathetic addicts as the real consequences of abuse become all too apparent. What’s worse, the source of these tragic deaths has changed from illegal street drugs to legal prescriptions, making the problem that much more difficult to address. While I personally have a slight aversion to Dr. Drew Pinsky, he made several interesting points on this very topic on a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.

It is easy for ‘normies’ to characterize addicts as weak in character. Obviously, that is their problem and their fault. The truth is, the disease is a lot more complicated than that and there is no amount of blame you can place on an addict that they don’t already place on themselves during every sober moment of the day. All I can do is offer support to those that struggle with their sobriety in the public eye. I’ve discussed Steve Earle in this column before. Personally, I just about worship the guy’s music. But, more than his music, I respect his struggle. Being an admitted addict is hard enough on one person’s ego, but try being a celebrity who publicly admits to addiction. You risk losing fans who don’t want to see you as a human being, admonishments from political figures looking to make an example out of faulty role models to fit their family values agenda, and worse yet reprisal from your program for breaking anonymity. Steve Earle looked all of this in the face and still put himself out there. You can say he’s weak all you want, but I can’t imagine what would be more respectable. I don’t know how many people he has helped recognize their own addictions, but I do know that he would have helped a lot less from the grave. To me, that’s the stuff that makes a role model. He knows that he isn’t Superman and thank God for that.

Learn more about addiction or find a program that fits your needs at Narcotics Anonymous or The National Institute on Drug Abuse. Thank you very much for participating in my own music therapy. I promise that next week we’ll get back to the goofy stuff. Have a good week and take care of yourselves.

Think I got something wrong? Want to add your own list or nominations? Make sure and leave a comment below. Don’t forget to check out the full list of songs up for consideration (all three hundred of them) on Spotify.

No synthesizers whatsoever were used during the writing of this column.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisBell81


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C.A. Bell
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