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“When I die, gimme six crap-shootin’ pall-bearers / Chorus girls, sing me a song / Put a red-hot jazz band at the top of my head / Hallelujah as we roll along.”
The question of how to dispose of my mortal remains has weighed on me of late. Raised Baptist and Episcopalian by turns—with a meager annuity of Judaism courtesy of certain paternal relatives—I’ve since strayed from the path of righteousness into the turpid thickets of cohabitation and Crescent City blues. Which means, of course, that for this agno-mystic, ruminations on divine judgment and soul-transposition present thickets of their own—as does the cadaverous question that opens this paragraph. Old-fashioned interment calls for expensive cedar and the chance of an open casket situation—neither of which I can abide. Cremation, on the other hand, has clear advantages: quick, clean, and a fine consummation of the “ashes to ashes” rap they’ve been laying on us all these years. (A Viking cremation would be especially nice.) In any scenario, I expect to be gutted of all worthwhile and potentially worthwhile organs—as I have testified on the back of my driver’s license, in various legal documents, and to many of the kind folk who wait in line with me at Safeway.
A curious “third path” is that of the New Orléans-style “jazz funeral,” which legitimizes through sheer panache the otherwise unappealing coffin-based approach. I have long been an advocate for this practice, and my enthusiasm for it was affirmed last night at the Black Cat, where the Portland-based MarchFourth Marching Band opened for Antibalas. MarchFourth is a feast for the eyes as much as for the ears—a seething mass of top-hats, trombones, men and women on stilts, and drum harnesses jerry-rigged from old bicycle parts. Sporting a weatherbeaten, kaleidoscopic caricature of marching band uniforms, the troupe plays jazz, funk, and African inflections with grit while swaying in unison, dropping wisecracks, conducting mass singalongs, and generally mugging (in the undead-and-loving-it vein) for the benefit of a transported audience. Bluesy voodoo ambient grotesqueries—a fitting dirge for the unrepentant.
As I watched these guys do their thing, I was reminded of the lyrics to “The St. James Infirmary Blues” (which receives admirable renditions from Louie Armstrong and from these fellas). “If horn licks like that can’t sanctify vice,” I thought, “they can at least send it out on a high note.”
Check out the video below for some interesting shots of the group in Hamburg. Meanwhile, I’m off to points north for a weekend of godless debauchery and fine music.
Photograph courtesy of MarchFourth