Music to Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil

Hank Williams and Jim Morrison knew it. Did they ever. Temple-born bluesman Blind Willie Johnson had a pretty good idea, owning up "Dark Was the Night — Cold Was the Ground" (a crucifixion song based on the old hymn "Gethsemane") in 1927. Most people spend the majority of their lives denying it, but that doesn't make it any less true.

No one here gets out alive.

Mortality may not be the most popular topic at the water cooler or dinner table, but in music it's an entirely different story. Death is right up there with love and cars when it comes to inspiration; see box for Noise's picks for the best Reaper-related songs in (relatively) recent memory.

So what happens when it's all over? Your guess is as good as mine, but back here on Earth, music should be an integral part of how our friends and loved ones remember us. And, morbid as it sounds, there's no better place to ensure that than your own funeral.

Few funerals take place without some kind of music, but how exactly does it get there? Noise rang up Joe Earthman, a member of local groups the Allen Oldies Band and Governor's Chair — and a funeral director at Bradshaw-Carter Funeral Home (1734 W. Alabama) — for some answers.

If the deceased does not leave specific funerary musical instructions behind, Earthman says that task, like so many others, falls to the family.

"Usually you would sit down and the director would go over it with them," he says. "Sometimes, if it's easier, we'd just have them bring CDs in and we would put them on the CD player here. Or if the family would prefer live music, we'd arrange for a vocalist or a piano player." (Mariachi bands are a fairly common sight at Latino graveside services, Earthman notes.)

Provided the family decides to hold the ceremony at a funeral home instead of a church — where Earthman says someone on staff (musical director, organist, choir soloist) generally advises the family on musical selections — the circumstances determine the musical accompaniment.

"If you've got a person who lived to the ripe old age of 100, generally it's going to be, you know, I won't necessarily say festive, but it's not something that was unexpected," Earthman says. "For example, instead of having classical music in the background, we might have '40s and '50s jazz to have a little bit more of an upbeat mood."

"If it's not somebody who lived a long life, you exercise sensitivity, but you want to put something together that's very memorable," he adds. "I always start by just asking."

On occasion, those questions result in some unusual answers. Earthman recalls playing Kid Rock at one graveside service, so it hardly takes "Amazing Grace" or "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" to choke up a funeral audience.

"We had [another] service where a young man in high school passed away who was a big Metallica fan," he remembers. "I can't remember which song it was specifically, but the family requested it. The chapel was primarily high-school kids, and I remember they were very, very, very affected by it. You could really tell they were very moved by the selection."

So Metallica or Mozart? Schubert or the Staple Singers? In honor of Saturday's Day of the Dead, Noise polled a cross-­section of Houston music types (and himself) for some grand-finale playlists.

Quinn Bishop, owner, Cactus Music

Charlie Rich, "Don't Put No Headstone on My Grave": "I am married to a wonderful woman, and I think people would appreciate the irony."

Boyd Rivers, You Gonna Take Sick and Die": "Y'know, just to shake things up a bit and make people uncomfortable."

Bob Dylan, "Every Grain of Sand": "My favorite modern spiritual."

Rolling Stones, "Moonlight Mile": "I lost a great friend shortly after high school.  Her mother asked me to help select music for the service. Christy was a huge fan of the Rolling Stones, and she loved this album [Sticky Fingers]. At the time, it seemed like one of the only options that might straddle the fence of soothing attendees while honoring her good taste. I have connected with this song ever since."

Dan Castillo, poster artist, Mr.Castillo Design

Link Wray, "Rumble": "My wife, Kate, and I walked down the aisle last year to '­Rumble.'"

Reverend Horton Heat, "Big Sky": This is the first song I ever heard the Reverend play live. By far, one of my all-time favorite Reverend songs."

Cramps, "The Strangeness in Me": "Bad music for bad people."

Sisters of Mercy, "No Time to Cry": "First and Last and Always is my favorite Sisters album."

Joy Division, "A Means to an End": "If someone happens to be put in a position to pull the plug on me, be it my wife or one day our kids, I'd like them to be reminded that I put my trust in them."

Ceeplus Bad Knives, DJ and promoter
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray