When my grandpa died a couple years ago, everyone came back to my hometown to cry a lot, drink too many fermented beverages and eat ham and Jell-o salad with carrots in it.
The night after his funeral, six cousins hung out in a bar in Wisconsin and listened to Cannibal Corpse at 2 a.m.
It didn’t start out like that. We just went out for a can or two of Leinenkugels in one of the town’s two bars. It’s called the Pioneer. It looks like a hip cabin-themed bar in Brooklyn, but it’s not a hip cabin-themed bar in Brooklyn. It is the real thing.
It has a jukebox; one of those fancy new ones that allows you to download from a massive catalog. Jukeboxes of this type are dangerous to my brothers and me. It means we get to curate. It means we take over. It means we aren’t limited to Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt and (I don’t even know anyone else to include in this list). It means my cousins, brothers, and I commandeered the jukebox for the whole night and alienated everyone else in that bar. We cleared the place out with our song selections. It felt good. We liked to think it’s how grandpa would have wanted us to cope: strangely, with irreverence, and too many beers.
It started out simply enough. A little Boys II Men to wash down the whiskey. We acted out the song, sappily, but there was truth in there. Our beloved grandpa was dead and we couldn’t let go.
One family Christmas in the “˜90s, we played Wesley Willis for gramps. He thought it was hilarious and wonderful; when he’d really get laughing, he’d tear up a little and shake his head, pinching at the corners of his eyes. So of course it entered the playlist that night. (Bonus: this version on YouTube is interpretive!)
Then we continued with some New Wave. As everyone knows, nothing will make you feel happy like New Order can (except maybe Joy Division).
Then we brought it up a notch with some Low.
A few songs in a row started to prove we were sad, so we had to put a stop to that. So we danced the Roger Rabbit to this classic ditty by Peaches.
After awhile, we abandoned nostalgia or the mockery of the emotions we were pretending not to have, and we just started to distract ourselves. And out came the Slayer. Everything is better with Slayer.
At bar close, we exited the establishment while “Hammer Smashed Face” played into the darkness – until the bartender pulled the plug. Now, whenever I hear any of these songs, I think of my grandpa, eyes twinkling, laughing and shaking his head.
After all, this is the man who had “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” including all the verses, as his funeral recessional.
RIP, Grandpa. We miss you.