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At Your Funeral: Patrick Wolf – “Lycanthropy”

on March 15, 2010, 2:15pm

I’ve given a decent amount of time to thinking about what I’d want my funeral to be like. More specifically, I’ve thought about what I don’t want my funeral to be. I’m not obsessed with my demise, but I cringe every time I see what a spectacle funerals have become when a public figure dies. It’s not that my funeral would have any reason to be similar to Michael Jackson’s, but all I can think is, “What a waste.” Lavish funerals are a waste of money — I can’t see the flowers. And they’re a waste of time – shouldn’t the living be seizing the day rather than lamenting it? They’re a waste of tears – be sad for someone who wasted his life, not for someone who enjoyed his.

Because funerals are for the living more than they are for the dead, and because I won’t be in any position to make demands from The Beyond, I hope my loved ones do me proud. One of the few requests I have is that music be involved in the ordeal. Music is a big part of my life, so it should be a big part of my sendoff. Whether I’m buried, cremated, or burned at sea, music needs to be there. The playlist I’d like to hear is long and wide reaching. Some tracks are obvious (Radiohead’s “Videotape”), others are epic (Sigur Rós’ “Untitled #8”), and a few are non-sequiturs (Madonna’s “Vogue”), but I just think they’re really good tunes.

Yet, the one song I’d like to be the focal point and serve as the thesis for my life is Patrick Wolf‘s “Lycanthropy”. In some ways it captures the spirit of all the other tracks I mentioned above. It begins with a few jarring lines about self-mutilation that would certainly shock my funeral attendees. They’re also kind of funny in their crass delivery, which I think would help break any tension. Plus, the opening notes are playful and suggest that we’re about to hear a lighthearted folk song based around woodwinds. It’s a strange mix of grotesque and innocence, which amuses me and sums up my sense of humor, if nothing else.

The primary reason I look to “Lycanthropy” as a great exit song comes in the third stanza. Wolf exclaims, “But there’s no answer, just surrender/Send all your barriers into the fire/And let no foot mark your ground/Let no hand hold you down.” In a few simple lines he sums up a healthy approach to life: stop questioning and start doing. That Wolf released this song when he was barely 20 isn’t surprising, as the sentiment has hubris you don’t often see in adulthood. But that’s the beauty of it — he’s captured that moment when you don’t want to compromise your principles or be a victim like everyone else around you seems to be. It’s idealistic, but it’s easily forgotten once you get caught up in the proverbial real world. I hope that in the moments before my death I would look back and think I spent my life doing what I wanted and not following someone else’s lead. I hope other people would think the same.

After this stanza, the song segues into an electronic-folk song that uses drum loops and digital white noise to augment the softer instrumentation. In subsequent lines, Wolf describes someone who became stronger with experience. “You were once so sad till you cut your suffer off” and “you were once so weak till you sewed your wounds up” describe most people in their formative years, whenever you consider those to be. I think every person looks back at their previous decade and wonders, “What was I thinking?” In four minutes, Wolf sums up what I think a good life should be: an example to be true to yourself. (Cliché, I know, but it’s true for a reason.) The title alone evokes images of a weakling transforming into a strong creature you wouldn’t want to cross.

By the time we get to the final lines, Wolf serves as his own cheering section, with backing vocals repeating, “Let no foot mark your ground/Let no hand hold you down.” In the foreground he rallies, “Be your own hero/Be your own savior/Send all your suffering/Into the fire.” Aside from the fiery allusion that might make my funeral attendees think of Hell, what more could you want in a concluding song? Wolf’s energy is so high that you can’t help but sing along. You can clap to the beat. As the music fades away, you can hear the song unravel a bit when the vocalists and musicians laugh and hoot. It’s a wonderfully informal ending rather than some ostentatious finale, which Wolf has done plenty of times.

In the moment, you believe in his optimism. People spend enough of their time being sarcastic and bitter — I’m as guilty of that as anyone — so why not end on a better note? Why not let people walk away from my (hopefully awesome) funeral a bit happier than when they arrived? If my life was fun and everything I wanted it to be, the memorial should reflect that. Hell, even if it ends up not being everything I want it to be, then let people learn from my mistakes. Either way, “Lycanthropy” tells a message that should be heard and lived.

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