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Ten Songs About Death and the Eternal Journey

Music is a diverse form of expression that takes in many styles. It's a popular field that can only be briefly sampled in a short article.

Heaven and Earth

By modern standards, medieval people had an unusual view of heaven and earth

By modern standards, medieval people had an unusual view of heaven and earth

On Death and Dying

Death is definitely a strange subject. Everybody has to face it eventually, but nobody knows quite how this inevitable transition will unfold. This attitude not only applies to the everyday man and woman, but also, for those in our society who function as storytellers. As it is a subject that has been covered by many, here are ten songs about death. Still, in this collection, many different approaches are included, varying from the humorous to the profound.

"As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well used brings happy death."

— Leonardo Da Vinci

What's in Hell?

What's Hell Like?

Mark Twain had a great saying about heaven and hell. It goes like this: "Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company". This hit by the Dead South is all about the company one might find in hell.....But unlike Twain's quote, this song deals all about bad company, as opposed to the other kind.


Death at a Young Age Is Nothing To Celebrate

Supposedly, Neil Young wrote this song about a few independent prairie farmers in Canada making a gallant, but deadly stand against a stronger force. Powderfinger has been covered many times, but nobody does it as well as the Cowboy Junkies.

St. James Infirmary

A Folk Classic from the Big Easy

"St. James Infirmary" is one of those timeless songs that has become engraved upon our musical consciousness. Sometimes called the "Gambler's Blues", the present day version was made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1928 and has been recorded by many fine musicians. Following is Cab Calloway's interpretation of the song from the early forties. His dramatic presentation of this sad story is an American classic.

Knocking on Heaven's Door

Written For the Movies

Back in 1973, Bob Dylan wrote this song for the soundtrack of a 1973 movie, entitled Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Over the years, Knocking On Heaven' Door has outlived and gathered more acclaim than the Peckinpah Western. Since the movie's release, a host of major musical groups have covered the song, including Guns and Roses, Eric Clapton, Warren Zevon and the Grateful Dead.

72 and Still Going Strong

John Prine is still performing at age 72

John Prine is still performing at age 72

Please Don't Bury Me

Death Can Be a Funny Subject

Nobody parodies the act of dying better than John Prine in his 1973 release, "Please Don't Bury Me" (In That Cold, Cold Ground). Though this song has been around for over forty years, it is well worth viewing Prine's performance of "Cut Me Up and Pass Me Around" as he enters his seventies. All in all, the video is a subtle reminder that we all change in appearance (and temperament) as we grow older.

Jack You Dead

Jack You Dead

Also on the humorous side is this Louis Jordan description of death. In this lesser known tune that predates WWII, Jordan begins by discussing someone , who has lost his zest for life as not being really alive. From this point, the Arkansas native skillfully navigates the listener to a wake, all the while making light of the morbid situation.

The Weeping Song

An Intriguing Duet

The weeping Song was written by Nick Cave of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in 1990. The song is a fascinating back and forth between two singers, Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld, about the nature of weeping for the deceased.

The Milky Way is sometimes viewed as a metaphor for soul travel after death.

The Milky Way is sometimes viewed as a metaphor for soul travel after death.

Death Is Not the End

Death Is Not the End

As a tribute to Bob Dylan's songwriting skill, Death Is Not the End is included here. The song, which Dylan wrote back in 1988, is performed by Kylie Minogue and friends, as it expresses the belief held by many different cultures that death is the beginning of something special and not the end.

A Native View of Death

These songs, one from the American Lakota and the other from Samiland portray noticeably similar views of the afterlife. Journey to the Spirit World is a rousing C&W styled number that delves into the Sioux approach to dying.

Along similar lies, is a song by noted Sami singer, Wimme Saari, simply titled The Eternal Journey. Unless you understand the Sami language, you will have to use the voice, the visuals and the music to interpret the song.

Journey to the Spirit World

Agálas Johtin (The Eternal Journey)

© 2019 Harry Nielsen

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