Perhaps it was the approach of Halloween, or perhaps the post-IBMA World of Bluegrass mental fatigue, but my mind has suddenly turned to the macabre.
More specifically I’ve begun thinking about the writing on headstones. Epitaphs are often fascinating, sometimes horrifying, and occasionally just dull. But have you given any thought to what you would like said on your own gravestone?
This topic comes up in bluegrass songs now and then: In There Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone, the singer requests that those words (the title) be written on his or her headstone. There Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone is a pretty negative—or perhaps just overly honest—message to have on your own headstone, but that was what the request was, and it seems like it should be honored.
In the Pee Wee King classic, Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine, recorded by Hank Williams, the Stanley Brothers, and others, the final verse says:
On a stone these words were written
Thy soul is God’s thy memory mine
(or “your soul is God’s . . .”)
That’s simple and touching, I think. But what about your own? Difficult as it is to talk about (“What are you thinking of having on your headstone?” makes a lousy conversation opener at parties), it would be a good idea to leave behind some instructions for whoever may be in charge of these arrangements for you.
Leaving it to friends, family members, or co-workers can be taking a big chance. A resentful brother may opt for something like, “He was spoiled by mom and dad but we’ll miss him.” A somewhat unhappy spouse may choose this: “Though inattentive and unfaithful, many considered him fun to hang out with in bars.”
Or worse, if you’re in a bluegrass band, allowing your bandmates to decide what goes on your headstone is especially risky. You could end up with these winners:
“He played pretty well in A”
“She liked to rehearse a lot”
If you’re a bluegrass musician or artist, you may have a vague idea of what you’d like to have “chiseled in stone” about you, but may not feel able to express it in the right way. I’m going to do my best to offer some suggestions. I’m afraid “Father of Bluegrass” and “King of Bluegrass” are already taken, but here are a few others. These are tailored to the kind of role you play in the business:
His life had too many stickers for a single banjo case
Forward was how she rolled
His backup was as important as his lead
Thumb-index-middle-thumb-index-middle . . . The End
She was more in tune than most
The slow man with the fast tremelo
What she lacked in taste she more than made up for in intonation
The angels are requesting Sally Good’n right now
A lead singer/band leader:
We always told him how important he was… and he seemed to believe us
We’ll miss her voice, her presence, her autograph
He knew every word to Barbara Allen and The Little Glass of Wine
We were all terribly impressed
It was all about the groupies and the backstage snacks
It was all going so well until her love asked her to take a walk down to the Ohio River
Though some say it could have used more digital editing, his was a well-mixed life