8/13/2021
Sailing by

Sometimes, usually when I'm idle, I find myself imagining up features that would've been a good idea on the music blog I used to run. Not that I yearn to do it again. I sometimes just think like an editor.

One of the best features we ever pulled off there was The Five Songs I Can't Live Without. I've played with that idea for months, but I only really sprang it, if my memory isn't failing me, at a Shakey's in the fringes of Cubao. It was Shalla's nephew's baptism reception - I was the godfather - and we had this short exchange while waiting for the food to arrive. Or was it after? Whatever. I remember telling her about it, and her saying it is a good idea.

It was also one of the more challenging features we ever pulled off, because up until that point we didn't make a point of pursuing interviews with musicians - or anything close to that, for that matter. Let's put it this way: one interview took eighteen months (and several space explorations) to pin down, while another popped up from out of nowhere that I found myself buying a marker in a convenience store near the Taipei hotel we were staying in.

I mention all that because the feature I thought up over the weekend was a riff on that: The One Song I Want To Die With. Meaning, what song do you want playing in the background as you take your last breaths?

Yes, it is not a good idea at all.

I mean, why would you want to ponder your own mortality? No matter what state of mind you're in, thinking about how you want to spend your last moments on this mortal coil is scary. I'm certain I'm not the only one who shudders at the thought of things fading away, because it makes you ponder where you are in life, and that's not good. Chances are, you're not where you imagined yourself to be at this point in time, unless you're ultra-privileged or something. Nobody wants to deal with those thoughts. It's why nobody really talks about it, much more out loud.

Also, the question is an incredibly idealistic one to even ponder. Who's to know how you'll die? Unless all the stars align in your favor, you won't be able to have a song of your choosing in the background as you say goodbye. Most of the time it just happens. A distant relative of mine - my mother's uncle - once woke up, sat on the rocking chair, turned on the television, and died. I highly doubt he planned that. And of course, there's the possibility that you'll be shot in a secluded place that, for some reason, is near some really loud speakers that's blaring out "Ice Cream". That's a really bad way to die.

It did sound like a good idea at the start. For one, you only have to choose one song rather than five. But even then, it's difficult to choose just one. I tried. What would I want playing in the background when I die? If I was feeling lazy, I'd go for Keane's "Everybody's Changing". It's my absolute favorite song. It's the song that arguably put me on this path of "music lover as personality trait". It's the song I kicked off the old music blog with, just because it's a no-brainer.

But then, I like a lot of songs, and what's on high rotation will depend on so many circumstances. As I write this I've listened a lot to Japanese Breakfast's "Be Sweet" (side note: for some reason, Shalla has seen her live and I haven't) although at some point it will be overtaken by Billie Eilish's "Lost Cause". Or maybe it'd be Pearl Charles' "Only For Tonight", a strong contender for my most played song of 2021.

Why limit myself to songs released this year, though? I still listen to a lot of things. I'm on another classical phase right now, although I'll say it's because Ireland's classical station also doubles, somehow, as a pop station, in a good way. Lately I'm obsessed, once again, with Ronald Binge's "Sailing By", composed in 1963, most familiar to British listeners as the music that precedes the late night shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4. It's never played in full; the program always has to start at 48 minutes past midnight, so it's used as a filler between shows, critically to help those at sea to find the frequency it's on. It plods on, sweetly, softly. The context means it evokes images of calm seas (or rough ones, depending on the forecast) and whatever is out there. People talk about this song being played in funerals, as the deceased are sent off to wherever their bodies go next. Me, I imagine putting on my earphones and pressing play, the piece meandering as I shatter the glass on the window in the living room, climb out to the ledge, and jump off.

And your responses...

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