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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Music to remember dead friends by... a punk-rock compilation.

Music to remember dead friends by… 

Mumblings on those that have passed and contemporary observations on the songs that surround them.

It’s great to write a music article again, and for no apparent reason this article is peppered with photos of bands I’ve seen recently.

Over the past few years, a few people close and not so close to me have passed away. More recently, I was sat alone at a third division Danish football match, slighty morose after two beers that topped me up from the night before, and I spent the whole match in a day dream about all those whose souls had moved on. I found it therapeutic. This all came to ahead a few weeks ago when I heard two songs on shuffle, back to back, that reminded me of dead people, and thus the idea of the ‘Songs to remember dead friends by’ compilation came about. What follows is a run down of the tracks that made it, and why.

Disclaimer: It’s difficult to find songs that exclusively deal with death, outside of ones that are directly about an individual or a community, so I make no apologies that some of these songs may be about loss in general. 

Track One: No Use For A Name – On the outside

I’ve never given a shit about the death of celebrities or famous people. In fact, it nauseates me to see endless amounts of people posting links on social networking sites about the latest celebrity death, “Robin Williams RIP”. It’s like people are resorting to DIY journalism, to be first at the scene. Needless to say my comments on this received a tonne of criticism. Still, I stand by these words, and it’s typical of the society we live in today when people feel more sadness towards the death of a celebrity, rather than working class heroes or those in their local community.

Tony Sly was different. He was just a punk-rock songwriter that managed to write songs that resonated with me as a teenager growing up ‘out of step’ with the world. His death shocked and saddened me, and it brought back fond memories of a time in 1999 when we went to a gig in Sheffield to see some US bands, and afterwards we had an epic game of 5 a side with Tony & the rest of No Use For A Name in the adjacent car park. The amount of bands that contributed to the tribute LP is testament to how widely loved he was – RIP Tony Sly.

Choice lyric: “I'm dying on the inside, you're never coming back, and now I know whatever we go through, my heart is stuck with you.”

Track Two: The Murderburgers – All my best friends are dying

Perish the thought. I’ve never had a ‘best’ friend die on me, yet the impact some deaths have had on me, I dread to feel the sadness. This is a beautiful song, melodic and catchy music, combined with dark and regretful lyrics. A perfect song for a post- Gin & Tonic melancholic mindset.

Choice lyric: “Snap back a few years ago, we had loads of fucking time. All of our omens seemed benign, now all we see is warning signs.”

Track Three: Against Me! – Dead friend

Have you heard the new Against Me! Album ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’? If like many of us you disappeared from the horizon after some poor musical output during their time on a major label, then it’s time to re-visit. Tom Gabel’s transition to Laura Jane Grace, combined with band members leaving, has led to an introspective look at themselves, and this new record is a ‘return to the roots’ effort, full of pacey, catchy punk rock anthems, full of anger. They were incredible during their recent Leeds show, and once again proved how damn good they are. ‘Dead Friend’ is one of the new tracks, and it’s simple chorus serves as a poignant reminder not to forget those who have passed by the wayside.

On a side note, Tom Gable (now Laura Jane Grace) coming out into the mainstream as a transgender is one of the best things to happen in punk-rock recently. It’s great that these issues are permeating the mainstream, and hopefully it will inspire a generation of transgender punks to be more confident in themselves.

Choice lyric: “God damn, I miss my dead friend.”

Against Me!

Track Four: The Vandals – My girlfriends dead

A bit of a bizarre choice here: This is a tongue in cheek fictional song about someone who can’t cope with telling people that his girlfriend has left him, and the on coming questions that ensue, so he just tells people that she died to end the conversation. It’s classic pre-banter humour as we have come to know from the Vandals, and its inclusion on the compilation was merely to provide some light relief from the heavy content.

Choice lyric: “I say it's leukemia or sometimes bulimia, or a great big truck ran her over and chopped off her head.”

Track Five: Sage Francis – Jah didn’t kill Johnny

I’d been a fan of the ‘Crakpipes’ debut Sage Francis record since it’s release on Epitaph records, as it stood out on a punk label. Good quality ‘white man’ hip-hop that has deep socio-political lyrics. At a recent show at the Brudenell Social Club, Sage went on a long rant about paying homage to those of yesteryears, and how they should be remembered. I was expecting the usual homage to a dead rapper, yet out of the blue he announced the song was about Johnny Cash – it was a great cross over to see homage come to someone outside of the genre – this is creative hip-hop. The timely message is a denouncement of all the religious bullshit of ‘god give life, god take it away’, and eulogises the rebel heart in a way that he should always be remembered.

Choice lyric: “But God, God, God...would never...kill...Johny Cash. He had a train to catch. He had a date with death. And we've all got a train to catch.”

Sleaford Mods

Track Six: Leatherface – Not a day goes by

The obvious choice Leatherface song here would’ve been ‘Andy’ – a song about a former member that died – however, with the recent death of Leatherface driver and manager ‘Big Rock’ it felt appropriate to include an alternative track that symbolises the loss of a loved one. For more information on the life of Chris Schaefer, see my previous post: CLICK HERE

Choice lyric: “No I, didn't think you were wrong and I can still sing your favourite song. It's not as simple as forgetting presents that were bought. And not a day goes by when I don't spare you a thought.”

Track Seven: HDQ – Hand me downs

It had to be a back-to-back Sunderland song choice. This song is about the author’s brother who fell to addiction. It brings tears to the eyes, even without that context. We don’t want another one from the clan disappearing – if you’re reading son, steady away tiger.

Choice lyric: “Brother, where art thou? I feel like the Soggy Bottom Boys without the voice. Your hand me downs I’ve long since grown out of, I miss you, I’m missing you”.

Rocket From The Crypt

Track Eight: Descendents – Jean is dead

A track about suicide? Henry Rollins got a lot of shit for calling the act selfish for those that are parents. As a parent myself, I can empathise with these thoughts. I have never seen eye to eye with the man, yet this time round I think he had a point. See link here for more background on the story: CLICK HERE

Choice lyric: “I would have done anything, I would have taken you with me, or brought you a ring, but now you're gone and, I'm alone!”

Track Nine: Bad Religion – Pity the dead

A punk-rock compilation without a dissecting look at the issues of looking at death from the outside wouldn’t be complete? We could have had other Bad Religion songs here: ‘Better Off Dead’ – how often do we feel this towards those that anger us? Or ‘You don’t belong’ – an analysis of some of those that faded away during the early days of the LA punk scene. However, ‘Pity the Dead’ is a classic Bad Religion thinking song, which begs the question, is life actually better here in the living?

Choice lyric: “Well, you've seen the disease, suffering and decay, and you whisper to yourself blissfully "it's okay", and you still refuse the possibility, that the dead are better off than we.”

Evil Blizzard
Track Ten: Body Count – The winner looses

‘You wanna get high out the sky, you’re kissing your life goodbye’  - a great chorus line, almost better than ‘No Coke’ by Dr Albarn which offers ‘Cocaine will blow your brain, and ecstasy will mash your life!’ Who needs straight edge hardcore when you have Ice T and other cultural icons offering these pearls of advice? Experimenting with drugs can be a positive eye opening experience for some, yet along hard addiction has seen too many break on through to the other side.

Choice lyric: “He took the money to the dope man, and he said he had the best,
next thing ya knew, cardiac arrest!”

Track Eleven: NOFX – We threw gasoline on the fire…

There is a reference at the end of the song to the death of former Maximumrocknroll editor Tim Yohannan, which is quite a turnaround from their song ‘Im telling Tim’ which is a critique of his manner, and written whilst he was alive. I guess in this day and age when everyone is a NOFX henchmen, Fat Mike really does miss those that were able to call him out on his shit. 

Choice lyric: “Remember the good old days, remember the sound, remember the sweet mustiness underground. No, I don't feel the need for reliving. Some things are better off dead.“

Track Twelve:  Teenage Bottlerocket – Without you

The kings of pop-punk songs about being a looser and failed states to do with women. There could’ve been a number of songs from these guys. I just went with an obscure song for something different.
Choice lyric: “And those nights we talked for hours on the phone, but now you're gone and I feel so all alone.”
Means to an End Festival
Track Thirteen:  The Phoenix Foundation – To a lost friend

This track is about someone the author considered a best friend when they were younger, and as they grew up, they grew apart. It’s a beautiful song, and not by any means a familiar Phoenix Foundation number. Ironically when they crossed paths again in the future, and the person in question had heard the song and asked if it was about them.  The relevance of the song to the article just goes to show how easily people can drift apart, and be easily forgotten.

Choice lyric: “What are you thinking now. When all we had is gone. What if you’d see me now. Would you act like nothing’s wrong.”

Track Fourteen: Manic Street Preachers – Further Away

You have to wonder how many Manic Street Preachers songs are about missing Richie Edwards. This is a candidate, and considering it’s on their first record since his disappearance; it almost has to be. Without an official post-mortem, and no record of death, it must be even harder to deal with the loss, and Richie Edwards has almost become a metaphor for those lost without explanation.  

Choice lyric: “The happier I am when I'm with you, the harder it gets when I am alone.”

Track Fifteen: Bad Astronaut – The Passenger

Supposedly written from the perspective of a passenger on the 9/11 flight, which in itself is an incredibly challenging topic to base a song on, it’s even more haunting that in the outro there is a recording of a voice reading a passage from the Koran. Many religions believe in some kind of ‘life after death’, ‘re-incarnation’ or a ‘transition of the soul’ kind of thing. Yet for the rational among us, we know this is a load of old shit. When you are dead, that’s it. Gone. End.

Choice lyric: “I'm held accomplice to man's will, the faith transcending reason,
the passenger descending, and in an instant time stands still, fade, planet heartbreak , Stop thinking.” 

Manic Street Preachers


  1. Very thought provoking! Really does make you think 'what's it all about' - well researched and descriptive. Any more writing in the pipeline?

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I have 22 other articles that are listed in the 'Archive' section in the right hand toolbar. Plenty more in the pipeline, such as trip reports from Thailand & Egypt, as well as music articles such as 'Anti-capitalist songs of the Pet Shop Boys'.