On Tom T. Hall and Washington Phillips

Another great Tom T. Hall song is called “I Like Beer” – Guess what its about!

You’re listening country troubadour Tom T. Hall singing one of the best songs anybody ever wrote, “I Hope it Rains at my Funeral”.  You can find it on the album 100 Children, but you’re probably going to spend a long time looking for that one.  There is a CD that combines it with another super-rare early Hall album (I Witness Life)  that’s put out by Bear Family Records, offering 22 tracks all worth the price of admission.

Tom T. Hall records are one of those things us country music lovers haven’t been telling you about, just so we can be the ones to find them first.  There’s a captivating realism to the stories in his songs, all the more compelling because he seems so sincere.  We’ve always pictured him standing in front of a cracked mirror, shaving and getting ready to face another day of hard work, with a note on the mirror that says

Tough times don’t last but tough people do

We’ve already visited the subject of funerals, although that lighthearted post suggests we were probably having a better week.

If you don’t tell people what you’d like them to do you’re as likely be buried absurdly, with an episode of The Simpsons, say, as to be remembered with dignity.  We chose to listen to music at funerals as we do with weddings, when you think about it.  We guess there’s probably a funeral equivalent to “Wonderful Tonight” but I’m not sure what it is (“Amazing Grace” maybe?  “Precious Lord”?  Maybe Clapton’s own “Tears in Heaven”?)  You know, at Hymie’s funeral everybody listened to one of his mix tapes.

We’d bet people who work in hospice care could tell you that there are people who absolutely, must have that CD playing.  People probably plan it out, and we suppose that would make the ultimate desert island mix tape.  Speaking of which, we quoted from Nick Hornsby’s novel High Fidelity earlier this spring and we might as well try to get away with it once again.  Here’s what Hornsby’s record-obsessed Rob Flemming has to say about the music he wants played at his funeral:

And I’ve always had this fantasy that someone beautiful and tearful will insist on “You’re the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me” by Gladys Knight but I can’t imagine who that beautiful, tearful person will be.

High Fidelity became a lot more interesting to me after we, too, ran a record store, but there are a lot of insightful moments buried in its endless stream of pop culture critique.  We had no interest in reading that book three years ago, and now we’ve twice quoted it in this space.  Isn’t it funny how you’re interest is trained by what’s of interest to you?

And while for a while we harbored sick Tom Sawyer fantasies about hearing the things they’d say after we’ve gone, having lived through what happens to life after loss all we want to know now is that the people we love are going to be okay.  Living well is the best revenge, they say, and leaving well is logically next.

Oh, and my top five list, a la Hornsby, of funeral songs? We’ve always wanted everyone to listen to “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today” by Washington Phillips:

The only known photograph of Washington Phillips, discovered in the 1980s by Lynn Abbott in the Tulane University archives.

We don’t really know a whole lot about the enigmatic Washington Phillips, who recorded a total of 18 songs in the late 20s.  Two of those recordings are entirely lost, unless someone out there unearths a copy (This is the kind of thing that keeps otherwise relatively sane people digging through crate after crate of moldy records).  So little is known about Washington Phillips, in fact, that there’s not any general agreement as to what it is he playing accompanying his voice – Possibly a homemade instrument, an altered zither, or a dolceola (Sort of a zither with a keyboard).  Each of his songs forms a short sermon, and although the subjects vary there are recurring themes.  In particular, his songs encourage faith in times of adversity, such as in this one and another of my favorites, “Paul and Silas in Jail”.  Also the well-known “Take Your Burdens to the Lord”.  Actually, all sixteen are favorites of ours.

Yazoo made a great disc collecting all sixteen surviving recordings in 1995, but they have yet to issue it on LP Perhaps soon, considering they have recently reissued their collection of Blind Willie McTell’s 1928 recordings and their Charley Patton album.

What do we really want at our funerals?  Whatever will make everyone happy.  They can borrow a record from the store, if they’d like.

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