In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of all the horrors, we’re picking our favorite songs about death.
In a recent Staff Picks I extolled the virtues of John Galm’s debut solo album Sky Of No Stars. It’s an incredibly bleak record, but one that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that heard his old band, Snowing. During its brief time together Galm covered a wealth of topics with his lyrics, but one that seemed to always rise to the top was his deceased father. At times these references to his dad were packaged as uproariously fun sing-alongs (“Sam Rudich”), but they could just as easily go the other way, serving as bleak meditation on the nature of life and Galm’s own death–however far off that may be.
“Could Be Better Forever”–the closer to the band’s lone full-length album, I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted–is the latter. Throughout the song Galm shifts his focus, at times pondering what will happen after his death, if anything at all (“Will Saint Pete assess my soul? / Will I sleep without dreams in some hole?”), before immediately wishing for his own demise just a line later, “I’ll drive my car off the road / I’ll pray that the tank explodes / The impact will snap my bones / And I’ll plunge headfirst to the unknown.” Yet, it’s what Galm says before any of these morbid curiosities that make “Could Be Better Forever” something other than a discouraged plea for death, something almost hopeful: “And I know some day I’ll die / But I’m alive.”
Due in part to spending much of my youth in the basement of my father’s funeral home I’ve come to see death as not something to be feared, but a fundamental part of human existence. When Galm offers those three words–“But I’m alive”–it speaks to my (perhaps somewhat warped) thought process that we’re all just alive until we’re not. It’s a phrase that is buried amid lines that are downright troubling, but it’s that juxtaposition that makes “Could Be Better Forever” such a powerful song. It acknowledges every macabre thought in Galm’s mind before settling on the fact that if he’s still alive, he might as well keep on living. After all, it’s better than the alternative.