Bjork performed at the funeral of fashion designer Alexander McQueen the other day (20 September), singing a cover of Billie Holiday’s 1941 song ‘Gloomy Sunday’.
It’s an odd choice of track in some ways, since it has a reputation as the most depressing song ever written, and has a morbid urban legend attached to it – namely, that it’s been responsible for hundreds of suicides.
That’s an exaggeration, though there’s an underlying kernel of truth: in January 1968, Rezso Seress, ‘Gloomy Sunday”s original composer, did kill himself, and so did The Associates’ Billy Mackenzie, who also covered the song.
Here’s Billie Holiday’s version:
And here’s Bjork’s version:
Like I say, it feels like a strange choice, because we’re used to music at funerals conveying a positive, or consoling, message. There’s no succour with ‘Gloomy Sunday’, only despair. Then again, perhaps that’s the only authentic response when confronted with the death of a friend. You’re hardly going to want to bogle to ‘Bad Romance’.
Even so, we’ve all read those surveys that reveal the UK’s favourite funeral songs – and the Top 10 is always made up of unspeakably cheesy drivel. One such survey, conducted in 2006, included James Blunt’s ‘Goodbye My Lover’ and ‘I’ve Had The Time Of My Life’ off the Dirty Dancing soundtrack (what are the congregation supposed to do during the latter, shoulder-shimmy down the aisle, Swayze-style?)
In Australia they display a better sense of humour, if not a great deal more sensitivity: the most popular funeral track there is apparently ‘Highway To Hell’ by AC/DC.
That kind of light-heartedness rarely holds sway at celebrity wakes. At Michael Jackson’s service, for example, mourners were treated to sentimental renditions of his own songs, such as ‘Heal The World’ and ‘Will You Be There’ – though oddly not ‘Rockin’ Robin’.
Me? I’d be happy with ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ by Arcade Fire – but let’s be honest, I’m hardly going to be in a position to care, so if some joker wants to crank out ‘Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)’ by The Outhere Brothers, good luck to ’em.
But which song would you pick? I asked a few people in the office to name the tunes they’d most like to check out to.
Paul Stokes: LCD Soundsystem, ‘Someone Great’. I hope the mourners would appreciate the irony.
Tim Chester: ‘Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd, accompanied by a montage of pictures and silent sepia video of me, Birds Of A Feather-style.
David Moynihan: I’ve always thought Sebastien Tellier’s ‘La Ritournelle’ would be a great song to play at a funeral as the piano melodies are like a gentler, heartstring-tugging version of Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, or a warm and fuzzy update on Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’.
Except the lyrics, after starting perfectly with “Nothing’s gonna change my love for you” declare “I wanna spend my life with you”, which kinda gets the message wrong when you’re in a box about to be interred/barbecued/fired into space.
So maybe stick with ‘Adagio’ after all, before hitting bawling attendees with something ridiculous like Tag Team’s ‘Whoomp! (There It Is)’ on the way out. “Ha! Party Dave! What a guy!”
Alan Woodhouse:’I Fought The Law’ – The Clash’s version. Just because it would give people a laugh. It doesn’t really sum up my life, but if I was to be more accurate, I would probably depress people.