Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: The Soundtrack To Your Funeral, Part IV: Cake's 4 Noble Truths

26 December 2007

The Soundtrack To Your Funeral, Part IV: Cake's 4 Noble Truths


From here on out, each installment of this column will feature at least one (and occasionally several) songs that I would put on my own funeral playlist. The first two go together - both on the album (where they appear back to back), and thematically (because they articulate complimentary forms of wisdom).

Cake - End of the Movie
People you love
Will turn their backs on you
You'll lose your hair
Your teeth
Your knife will fall out of its sheath
But you still don't like to leave before the end of the movie
People you hate will get their hooks into you
They'll pull you down
You'll frown
They'll tar you and drag you through town
But you still don't like to leave before the end of the movie
No you still don't like to leave before the end of the show
People you hate will get their hooks into you
They'll pull you down
You'll frown
They'll tar you and drag you through town
But you still don't like to leave before the end of the movie
No you still don't like to leave before the end of the show


Cake - Tougher Than It Is
Well there is no such thing as you
It doesn't matter what you do
The more you try to qualify
The more it all will pass you by
Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is
Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is
Well the more you try to shake the cat
The more the thing will bite and scratch
It's best I think to leave its fur and to listen to its silky purr
Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is
Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is
Well there is no such thing as you
It doesn't matter what you do
The more you try to qualify
The more it all will pass you by
Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is
Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is
Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is


It's a little weird to hear something so profound from Cake, those kings of swinger kitsch and self-conscious, ironic cool, but I'm always up for such a pleasant surprise. "End of the Movie" reminds me not to bitch so much about living if, no matter how much I suffer, I never ask for the check before dessert. Contrasting John McCrea's deadpan delivery with bouncing, cartoony concertina and mandolin accompaniment, it also seems to poke fun at my clinging to a world that abuses me; I can't listen to this without a poignant laugh at the human condition. One hand slaps me around and reminding me of the gruesome truth, while the other holds me like an infant. This song states the double-bind of life with such utter simplicity, such matter-of-factness, that it leaves no room for rebuttal. There's no way to argue either point, and there's no reason to. Because: shhhh...it's okay.

And then we trade out for "Tougher Than It Is," which wakes up in bits and pieces like a stirring groovy angel and then pops without warning straight into a divine transmission along the lines of what a person might expect, were this laconic pop group temporarily possessed by the Buddha. This is Cake's version of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," suddenly and surprisingly deep and wise, after an album's worth of goofing around. Paired with "End of the Movie," this couplet is an excellent presentation of the First, Second, and Third Noble Truths of Buddhism (that we suffer, that we suffer because of craving and ignorance, and that we can transcend suffering). "Tougher Than It Is" is also kind of set of pop "pointing-out instructions" - a quick-and-easy version of the Fourth Noble Truth that reminds us how to reconnect with our enlightened awareness (through attentiveness and openness, rather than trying to push around a universe that tends to fight back).

Oh, Cake. Few other artists have rendered humanity with such ruthless acceptance. Almost none have managed to do it with such catchy tunes. These two songs would be the cathartic first play at my funeral - just tragic enough to squeeze the tears out, and just comic enough to loosen people up for the rest of the playlist.

More on that soon.

(Written for iggli.com)