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Almost Two Dozen Songs for the Ascension

You're dead.

Whether you want it or not, there will more than likely be some sort of ceremony to mark your passing, and you hope it will be a celebration of your life, not your death. Either way, let’s say that before you kicked the bucket you’ve specified the manner in which you’d like to be disposed, and that’s been carried out. (I, for instance, plan to be buried in my ’73 VW Beetle in my backyard beside all my beloved cats and dogs.) Have you given directions for your wake—how you would like to be celebrated? Most importantly, have you made a playlist? If you haven’t attended to this detail, it’s possible that your send-off could be to the crappy strains of “Sugar, Sugar,” “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” or “We Built This City.” The horror!

In an excerpt from my novel Flying Shoes, the main character, Mary Byrd Thornton, worries about just such an indignity occurring at her funeral. On a plane flight, she scribbles her will on a barf bag—final instructions for this and that: what to do with jewelry, the ladies she wants as pallbearers, there should be a bouncer to prevent “assholes from dancing on [my] grave.” She mentions that a separate playlist of the music she’d like played is “TK.” Although I feel the same as Mary Byrd about the bouncer and assholes, I adore dancing and really hope I end up at that American Bandstand in the sky when I die. (Soul Train would be way cooler, but I would not make that spectacular line.) And I would really love for all my friends to literally dance on my grave to my favorite dance tunes. These aren’t necessarily my all-time favorite songs, but to come up with, say, an hour of grave stompin’, here’s what I choose. Let the wild rumpus begin!

  1. 1. START ME UP, Rolling Stones. Rooster Strut à la Mick. Or Hustle.

  1. (TILL) I KISSED YOU, Everly Brothers. Swing, Shag, Jitterbug.
  2. I WANT TO TAKE YOU HIGHER, Sly and the Family Stone. Boom shaka laka laka...

  1. IN MY ROOM, Beach Boys. Best seventh grade make-out song ever. Bear hug. Guys—concentrate on not springing one.
  2. GET ON UP, James Brown. Shake your money maker! Boogaloo, or the White Man Overbite Dad Dance.
  3. PARTY KISS, Johnny Fallin. Everybody stop and do what Johnny sez! La la la... Hmm. I’m thinking Hucklebuck. And if you haven’t seen Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton—the real Ed Norton—do the Hucklebuck, you need to check it out.
  4. BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE, Talking Heads. Freestyle with plenty of tom tom Shimmy.

  1. THE TRACKS OF MY TEARS, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Cool down. Bear hug, or Stroll.

  1. QUARTER TO THREE, Gary U.S. Bonds. Commence to do the Hully Gully.
  2. BILLIE JEAN, Michael Jackson. Get your pop-and-lock on and attempt to moonwalk.

  1. EVERYTHING IS BROKEN, R.L. Burnside. Remix from the fabulous soundtrack to the film Big Bad Love. Dylan oughta be proud.
  2. WALTZ #2, Elliott Smith. There must be a waltz, and this one is so gorgeous. PORPOISE MOUTH by Country Joe and the Fish would also do to honor my days in San Francisco, as would any ole Willie waltzes.
  3. I LOST IT, Lucinda Williams. Buck Dance or Clog.

  1. HEY YA, OutKast. Twerk out.
  2. GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, Jerry Lee. Jitterbug. Duh.
  3. VOLARE, Alex Chilton. Homage to my Italian grandmother and her crazy sisters who would sing this 253 times on our family trips to Atlantic City. Of course, they had Dean Martin’s version in mind, but Alex’s wonderfully awful interpretation is irresistible. Swing.
  4. I CAN FEEL THE FIRE, Ron Wood. C’mon and do the Bump, or whatever you like to do to reggae.

  1. SUFFRAGETTE CITY, David Bowie. Such a peppy, clever little tune. Pogo, Slam.
  2. BRICK HOUSE, Commodores. Electric Slide.
  3. SITTING IN LIMBO, Neville Brothers. Must have cha-cha.
  4. FLASHLIGHT, George Clinton and P-Funk. Maybe best dance tune ever. Go crazy.
  5. BOOGIE TILL YOU PUKE. Root Boy Slim and The Sex Change Band. For my DC homies—boogie till you almost puke. Dance on my grave, yes; hurl on it, would just as soon you didn’t. Mosh pit Slam. Or whatever.

  1. CHAIN OF FOOLS, Aretha Franklin. Yes, it will be required that everybody makes the chain, I’m afraid, for the grand finale.

A dance party to this list and I’d be good for eternity, I think. People, make your playlist now or your heavenward send-off might be to “Dust in the Wind.” Or maybe that could be cool, if you used Will Ferrell’s version from Old School? I’m just sayin’ . . . RIP me.

“Last Will,” an excerpt from Lisa's book, was published in the OA’s Summer 2014 issue. Find it online here.

Lisa Howorth

Lisa Howorth lives in Oxford, Mississippi, where she and her husband opened Square books in 1979 and raised their thre children. Her writing has also appeared in Gardin & Gun.