As a teenager, I got myself in the mood for my exams by playing the theme from Rocky before I left the house and biked to school. It sounds a little cheesy now, but it seemed to do the trick then. And more to the point, it's the first time I can specifically recall choosing music for an occasion.
Although I wholly lack for the ability to make, sing or play music, the music I listen to has always been a key part of who I am and what I do. This gulf between execution and appreciation doesn't trouble me in the slightest -- there are plenty of people who take great joy in reading but can't craft a sentence (and actually shouldn't try) or who love good food but can't cook.
Fiona and I never did get around to getting married, so 'Wind Beneath My Wings' never got an airing. (I jest, but only partly -- that song did move me to tears when Hattie St John sang it in memory of AIDS victims at a Hero Party many years ago.)
But our older boy, Jimmy, was born to the sweet, sweet sounds of rocksteady reggae at St Thomas's Hospital in London in 1991. This Coxsone production of a very young Jacob Miller was on the tape:
One of the nurses was ungracious about the music, but who cared? I even got a shout-out for it on the Lightning FM pirate station when I got home to Brixton and called them up to make my proud-Dad announcement.
In the years since, I've always put as much effort into the playlist for a birthday party as I have the food and drink. And now, I'm approaching a big one: I'm 50 years old a week from today. I know, I know, I don't look it -- I'm lucky in that sense -- but lord I feel it some days.
My friend Pete Darlington approached such a birthday by choosing a track for every year of his life and giving his friends the mixtape, but he has a librarian's training and I'm not that systematic. But I will play a little DJ set for my friends on Saturday night. I had a lovely fan experience recently when I decided that for that set I really needed a high-quality copy of the legendary Bobby Busnach's remix of Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love':
It's a fabulous take on the greatest dance record of all time. But I'd missed the download. So I messaged Bobby one Saturday morning on Soundcloud. He got back within the hour: of course I could have it. He re-opened downloads on the track just long enough for me to grab it. And he said:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY. HAVE A GREAT TIME. AND THANKS FOR POSTING MY SHIT! :}
This is what the internet is for.
Although I'm in no sense hastening towards any end, a big birthday does bring with it intimations of mortality. I've revisited the evolving list of Songs I Want Played at My Funeral. I love the idea of the funeral playlist: you get to DJ from beyond the grave, and no one's gonna complain or make requests.
Many years ago, when my friend Wayne Elsey died in an accident, The Saints' 'Messin' With the Kid' was played at his funeral. I couldn't be there, but it always struck me as a magnificent, mournful song to say goodbye with.
Nonetheless, I think I'd still go with 'Know Your Product'. Those are the blaring horns and guitars of a life informed early by punk rock.
There would have to be some sweet and sad rocksteady from the hand of Mrs Sonia Pottinger:
One that has popped into contention recently is Lawrence Arabia's 'I've Smoked Too Much'. It has no particular funereal resonance, but its existential musing, wry humour and song-cycle feel might fit the occasion:
So there needs to be a dance track; an ineffable classic. Let's go for the Frankie Knuckles take on Jamie Principle's bedroom-recording classic, 'Your Love'. But might it risk misunderstanding to have a man breathing "I can't let go" all over a song aired on behalf of the deceased? We'll risk it.
So I'm at this point and I'm thinking: where are the ladies? I love women's voices and I haven't got one in the final set. Do I chuck in some Florence and the Machine? Ha ha. Good one. Not.
Maybe a DJ could mix Candi Staton's 'You Got the Love' into 'Your Love'. Same backing track and all. Heard Dick Johnson do that once.
But maybe we need something a little prettier and more downbeat. I met Nico once, you know. She was dope.
This is getting to be one long-ass funeral. We're runing out of time for anyone to say how dope I was. But we still need something a little more spectral, to acknowledge the fact that I am being accepted back into the body of the universe. (At my funeral, no one will be allowed to even suggest that I am now in some cloud-city wandering around in the clothes I died in. That's ridiculous.) Some Sun Ra:
Well, at least this one's easy. Y'all know this one. It's the music in my head:
Aw hell, I still don't know if I have this right. Bit like life, really.
Well, what would you do? What's your hatch-match-dispatch music?
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