Alan Ball was known for his masterful use of music in Six Feet Under. He's lost none of his touch when it comes to his current HBO series, True Blood - which happens to be set in the Louisiana swamps, not terribly far from Houston.
Maybe it's the fact that Art Attack grew up with no religion, or maybe it's the fact that Art Attack has spent too many nights with Paul Fredric of Asmodeus X in a weird competition to see who can out-nihilist the other one. Either way, death has never really had any fear for us.
Oh sure, dying sounds like it sucks the calcium deposits right off the Grim Reaper's pelvis. Cancer, car wreck, rhinoceros encounter, they all sound like way too much freakin' ouchie. Death itself, though? No, we're not really scared.
Gary Calamar, who is in charge of True Blood's music and thus also the paycheck we draw from talking about it (Hi, Gary!), knew he needed just the right vibe for the Season 4 finale of True Blood, and he knew that "And When I Die" was the song that he wanted to use.
But which version worked the best? The Laura Nyro version? After all, she wrote it. Peter, Paul & Mary, or perhaps the more famous cover by Blood, Sweat & Tears?
No, in the end Calamar got in touch with The Heavy to record a brand-new version that would fully embody the half-trailer park, half Dark Shadows vibe that makes up True Blood.
"I immediately thought of The Heavy," said Calamar in an interview with KCRW. " I love The Heavy's blend of sweaty soul and crunchy rock, and they had a spiritual feel as well. Their neo-soul anthem 'How You Like Me Now?' is an all-time favorite of mine.
"They were thrilled with the idea. Next I got on the phone with singer Kelvin Swaby to go over our needs for this recording and how it fit in the show."
The song, whoever is singing it, is a celebration of death and its benefits. That touches us rather deeply, because the one great truth you can learn in life is that we're all going to die, and if that is all someone has to threaten you with, then they have no threat at all.
Ten years ago, we were supposed to be having an early practice with a few friends with whom we had hoped to form a band. Instead, we watched towers fall, planes crash, lives alter and worlds themselves wounded. If we could go back in time and tell the world anything on that day, it would be this:
The men who did this are powerless over you. They say they will kill you if you do not cease being who you are. Laugh at such threats because they believe that they themselves will somehow escape death through their actions.
It is a graver loss to give up who you are. They can threaten us only with what we will reap in due time regardless. In death there is only peace, no matter the manner, and no matter the man.
Hopefully that little bit of soapboxing touched you, in which case we hope you thank Alan Ball and not us for it. He put, more or less, those words in the mouth of Eric's sire Godric last season, when they decided to bury Russell Edgington in wet concrete instead of just staking him and calling it a day. (By the way, almost the last shot of the show this season is the broken hole in the concrete where Edgington used to be.)
Meanwhile, in other parts of Bon Temps, lots and lots of people have died. Jealousy, desperate attempts to save another, witch war, you know, it doesn't really matter. They may very well have wiped two main cast members off the payroll with this finale for a multitude of reasons, but in the end it comes back to those same words from Godric.
All these characters, and all the choices they have made, have led to their present situations. Take Tara, for example. Sookie's best friend has been on so many different sides that it's hard to really say where she stands at any given time. Well, in the end she decided to jump in front of Sookie to save her friend's life when a pissed-off she-wolf came to call with a shotgun.
And Jesus? That loveable nurse who brought monogamy and magic to Lafayette's life? He's gotten the pointy end of the knife after Marnie took up residence in Lafayette's body. Not to mention we watched the second sad-ass funeral in True Blood with only two mourners when we buried Sam's brother Tommy.
For all those who have passed on in the show, and for all those who are desperately trying to stay alive, take heed in the message of "And When I Die." Rapist or saint, murderer or regular Joe, vampire, witch, werewolf or human being of woman born, there is only peace when this life is all over.
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To quote Neil Gaiman, "None of us will outlast this version of the universe."
This brings us comfort. Let us go on record as saying that True Blood ends next season. It ends in a giant war with Russell Edgington, because the immortality that the vampires preach is a fiction. What do you expect from the man who brought us Six Feet Under? Death waits ahead for this column, this show, these characters and all of us. Death, and peace.
Thanks for playing along. Guess we'll see you on the other side.
Be sure to visit the Loving True Blood in Dallas blog, where Jef With One F will be a semi-regular contributor to the podcast this season.