Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: Soundtrack To Your Funeral, Part VII: Switching Off

29 March 2008

Soundtrack To Your Funeral, Part VII: Switching Off

(Temple Burn, Burning Man 2008, image from


Compared to Life (if the familiar dyad even makes sense), Death is famously dispassionate. Death doesn't care when, or why, or how, or who. Death can not care, because caring is the job of the living. And so choice has precious little to do with death, which is why we clutch at whatever choices we do have about our final moments. We usually don't have the luxury of the death we would prefer, and so we do insignificant and desperate things like making living wills and funeral playlists, pre-emptive strikes at the infinite unyielding unconcern of nonexistence.

Some cultures don't consider suicide to be as tasteless as ours does (thanatophobic and euphemistic, we have a long history of plucking out our own offending eyes without mourning our lost sight). Here and now, we can do little to decide the terms of our passage without distressing the ones we love.

We can, however, write declarations of love that stamp a seal of determination on our last breath. Tenderly capturing his request to die in the presence of his beloved, Elbow frontman Guy Garvey penned an exemplar of such quietly raging hopeful confessions: the organ ballad, "Switching Off." Painting precious, half-iambic metaphors of his last night's fading lights from the perch of candid youth, Garvey imagines a distant and peaceful shutdown - and his partner's place beside him, amidst the creeping noise and the crumbling synchrony.

Elbow - "Switching Off"

Last of the men in hats hops off the coil
And a final scene unfolds inside
Deep in the rain of sparks behind his brow
Is a part replayed from a perfect day
Teaching her how to whistle like a boy
In love's first blush

Is this making sense?
What am I trying to say?
Early evening June, this room and a radio play
This I need to save
I choose my final thoughts today
Switching off with you

All the clocks give in, and the traffic fades
And the insects like...like a neon choir
The instant fizz, connection made
And the curtains sigh in time with you

You're the only sense the world has ever made
Early evening June, this room and radio play
This I need to save
I choose my final scene today
Switching off...

Ran to ground, ran to ground for a while there
But I came off pretty well, I came off pretty well...

You're the only sense the world has ever made
This I need to save
A simple trinket locked away
I choose my final scene today
Switching off with you


This song is one of the truest love letters I've ever heard, daisies growing from a double grave, holding hands to die of old age, because "You're the only sense the world has ever made." Whatever happens between now and then, God save this feeling, this certainty and adoration, togetherness and memory, this "simple trinket locked away," until I can look back and smile at its accurate prediction.

We may not get to choose how we die, but we can hope against hope that we die in someone's arms. We can't carry anything across that threshold, but we can carry our cares right up to its silver edge. We can adorn our lives with these solemn vows, giving worth to each living moment. We can prove that death is in fact meaningful, because it is by death that we determine what is valuable. Romance as I know it is a skull with rose window eyes, burgeoning even as it breaks. And so there is nothing more romantic than telling someone you want them there when you die.

"Switching Off" is a perfect portrait of recognizing what matters. It is the beauty of yearning listening as it strains against fadeout. It'd be a strange song to play at my funeral - bringing the particulars of my death into sharp focus, where wishes may not hold against facts - but I would put it on my funeral playlist anyway, because it so gracefully captures for me the timeless splendor of love. Because we may not get to choose, but we can always hope to choose. And after years of arguing for the concrete value of choice, I am only now beginning to understand the diaphonous, glistening value of hope.