In a play I experienced as a reading this summer during the PlayPenn new play conference in Philadelphia, Clementine in the Lower Nine by Dan Dietz, a New Orleans jazz musician muses at one point about playing in groups and pick up bands for memorials. This character reflects on selecting the music for a memorial, in what was a laugh line but one that struck me straight in the heart:
“Don’t let nobody pick the music but you.”
Well dang, I thought. Speaking my language, this playwright and this musician.
For years now I have used a phrase with my fellow music lover, my comrade in arms, my life partner, my husband. “Honey, that goes on The List.” He will give me a smile in recognition, often wry, almost always with the undertone of: I really don’t want to talk about this, you know? But he knows why I mention this from time to time, and out loud. We each have lost parents and beloved friends and family and have experienced varying degrees of disappointment with the services that have commemorated music-loving people we have loved. For some of these individuals, because the personal set list outlining their specific musical tastes and desires was not made explicit and available, music at funerals or memorials or other tributes was non existent or just not right. Armed with these past experiences and my emotional connection to the music in my own life, I resolved to ensure that this does not happen in my case.
The music that will commemorate our lives must reflect our lives and not what a chance assortment of event planners (family, friends, people for-hire) might do at the end of our days.
My personal set list shifts and shimmies from year to year. New entries appear, supplanting items of old. I keep lists in journals from time to time, asserting (with no certainty) that this is, as of that particular day, “the list”. I often say “this is on the list” when a particular performance comes on the radio or on a soundtrack or in a theatre or on our home audio systems. Here are a few items on the current assemblage:
- “Sing Sing Sing”. Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall.
- “Stormy Weather”. Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. April 23, 1961.
- “Do It Again”. Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. April 23, 1961.
- “More Than You Know”. how many versions may I choose? Ella Fitzgerald. Barbra Streisand. Judy Garland (Judy in Love, 1958).
- “Just in Time”. The Judy Garland Show (CBS 1963-64, episode 9); Blossom Dearie from her tribute to Comden and Green; Shirley Horn (I Love You Paris, 1994).
- “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”. Shirley Horn (I Love You Paris, 1994)
- “When I Fall In Love”. Miles Davis Quintet. Prestige Sessions
- “My Funny Valentine”. Miles Davis Quintet, Prestige Sessions.
- “I Can’t Get Started”. Bunny Berrigan (the original I listened to) or Artie Shaw (the version I favor these days)
- “Why Can’t I?”. The Judy Garland Show (CBS 1963-64, episode 25)
- “Poor Butterfly”. The Judy Garland Show (CBS 1963-64, episode 25)
- “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”. Barbra Streisand. The Barbra Streisand Album, 1963)
- “Take Five”, “Blue Rondo a la Turk”. The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out.
And it’s not just a morbid preoccupation. This review of the current favorites and ongoing emotional representations of my ongoing emotional past and present, is a kind of gut check. A heart check.
More than you know.
© Martha Wade Steketee (September 7, 2010)