Theme From The Last Waltz- The Band
According to a snippet from the The Guardian, along with coordinating British burial services Co-Operative Funeral Care has also been charting favorite contemporary songs played at British funerals. They found My Way by Frank Sinatra to be that country’s most popular farewell song. Other popular songs that charted include: Wind Beneath My Wings- Bette Midler, My Heart Will Go On- Celine Dion, Angel- Robbie Williams and Simply the Best - Tina Turner. See, this is what happens when you don’t make explicit plans ahead of time. The responsibility falls to your well-meaning daughter, Carol, who sends you out of this world with a goddamn Bette Midler song. God, if I wasn’t already dead and one of these songs was played at my funeral, it would kill me.
It’s not surprising My Way tops this list though, considering the influence of Sinatra on the post-World War II generation that has all but moved on and the self-important boomers, who are way too selfish to ever die. If such a list were compiled in America I’d bet the results would be similar. And, while it’s not surprising my question is, is it really an appropriate farewell song? I understand people are vulnerable and hurt and there is a need to romanticize our loved one who has moved on. But, if you peel back My Way just a bit it becomes fairly obvious that it is an illogical choice.
In spite of what we may think, hardly any of us do life My Way. Typically we wake up in this world believing we’ll be all kinds of things: sports heroes, race car drivers, ballerinas, singers, TV stars or even the President of the United States. Along the way we get bullshited with that line, “you can be whatever you want to be,” and throughout life we are fed endless stories about how people rise above their circumstances to become rich and famous.
But, about the time we finish high school and have to start making some real life decisions reality comes crashing down and we find we’re not all that special. Because of our lack of specialness we dim our aspirations and expectations to things like accounting, occupational therapy, sanitation engineering and thousands of other necessary, but mundane occupations.
While this reality may hit the average teenager like a Mike Tyson uppercut, the truth is we have been socially engineered from the moment of birth to sit down, shut up and follow along. We are subject to subtle and not so subtle forces beyond our control which shape our behavior and tell us what is important and acceptable. We have the Constitution and Penal Code, a Bible and Commandments. At work we have policies and mission statements. At school we have rules, regulations and more mission statements. And, we’re required to recite The Pledge of Allegiance every day. Then we have fashion magazines to tell us what to wear, music magazines to tell us what to listen to, people magazines to tell us who’s important, gossip magazines to tell us who’s cheating or suffered a tragedy. All this before we even talk about social media.
I’m not passing judgment, I’m just pointing out this notion of My Way, is rather absurd and the height of egotistical self-delusion. Every minute of our lives is spent conforming or being conditioned to conform and we wouldn’t know My Way if it doubled us over with a swift kick to the nuts. (Even the non-conformists are conforming to non-conformity).
On top of that My Way is a really bad song. Through the first four verses it has a moody reflective kind of vibe, a bit fanciful, but not totally unpalatable. But, in the fifth verse when the band kicks it way up the thing gets out of control and becomes kind of ridiculous, lacking in any kind of humility whatsoever. All this grandiose stuff about biting off more than chew and standing tall and and doing it my way. Yeah, sure!
After this it drops back into its moody reflectiveness for a couple of verses building steam for the epic finale that I suppose seeks to create a feeling of absolute unrepentant victory. All this bombast about what it means to be a man with the requisite macho bullshit about taking the blows, standing tall and doing it my way.
Absolute nonsense. How anybody, even a true icon like Sinatra, could sing this pretentious over the top horseshit with any kind of sincerity or think of themselves in these terms is beyond me: when there was doubt you spit out … yeah sure Sir Francis Blue Eyes, then why did Paul Anka write this song for you? Because you were so pleased with your show business career, accomplishing everything you could ever dream? Or because you were tired of being disrespected, tired of being kicked around by forces greater than you and not getting things your way? Worse still, when the time came to quit, which is what you said you were going to do and why young Paul Anka felt compelled to write this august ode to your total and complete oneness and then you did a Triple Lindy flip-flop and never quit the business.
With a little truthful self-reflection I’m sure Sir Francis Blue Eyes and all those common dead schmucks in Britain who made this the most popular funeral song would agree, maybe grudgingly, My Way is vain and not representative of what we really are—piss ants. All of us, piss ants—me, you, your neighbor, your boss at work, even Frank Sinatra. Society only functions when we all make compromises of the self. It’s a constant negotiation and we are conditioned to play our part or be ostracized and rejected by the larger group. Some at the edges have the ability and charisma to mix it up and push us in a different direction, but most of us just follow the first sheep dog that gives our asses a little nudge.
This necessarily isn’t a bad thing. Without these rules, without these compromises or this conditioning we wouldn’t know our places in the world. Like, I wouldn’t know that instead of me, those fake blonds with surgically enhanced breasts tooling around in the Lexus SUV’s were reserved for middle management assholes that listen to Coldplay and shop at Hollister. And, even though I think The Arcade Fire and Florence and the Machine are pretty cool I wouldn’t know it’s pretty creepy for a guy my age to go to one of their shows.
So, while My Way may be popular, it’s not exactly representative of anybody’s humanity. That’s why, to kick off this playlist I chose the Theme From The Last Waltz by The Band from the epic 1978 movie and live album, The Last Walt.
Over a bed of atmospheric keyboards Robbie Robertson plucks out waltz measures evoking a pleasant tribute to the tiny piss ant nature of the human condition.
In my head this song creates an image of 18th century dancers’ right out of a Jane Austin novel, replete with bodices, hoop skirts, frocks and giant pork chop sideburns. Erect and proper these dancers with austere faces look blankly into each other eyes and move in the endless fixed boxed pattern of a waltz, save for the occasional twist. The dance is slow and monotonous and abounds with futility. That’s what life is: a slow monotonous dance repeated over and over and over again. It is a trivial exercise and a reminder of how enormously small we all are.I’m not such a pessimist or lacking in perspective that I don’t see the big picture. I understand the microscopic role we all play in humanity’s slow march to perfection (that is if we don’t blow ourselves up first) and I’m trying to do my part. But, through all this toil, struggle and anguish we call living it’s hard to keep sight of this. I suppose that’s why we need God and songs like My Way, to bullshit us into thinking there is some higher purpose or what we do matters. From where I’m standing though, it’s sometimes hard not to think we are just fleeting bits of DNA engaged in a tiny little dance. A dance which I think is fairly and artfully represented by The Theme From The Last Waltz.