Can talking about death be life-affirming? That’s the goal of One Last Song: Conversations on Life, Death and Music, a new book that asks thirty contemporary musicians what final song they would choose to listen to before shuffling off this mortal coil. Written by journalist Mike Ayers with a foreword by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, One Last Song is out Oct. 13 on Abrams Image.
Ahead of its release, Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry shares her unexpected pick in this exclusive excerpt from the book.
ARTIST: LAUREN MAYBERRY, of CHVRCHES
LAST SONG: “Firework” By Katy Perry (2010)
I batter around so many different ideas of something I’d want in my last moment. I tried to choose songs that were more stoic, or what I imagined the mood would be when you’re going through something like that. Or trying to find more arty ones or ones that seemed more profound. But when I was thinking about it, would I really want to listen to something profound or depressing in that moment? Probably not. So then I went on a completely different tangent: Do I want to listen to something that reminds me of my parents? Being a kid and growing up? In that moment what do you really want?
I settled on a song that would remind me of nice times I had in life with friends and loved ones. But it’s not heavy. It’s not emotionally heavy. It’s warm, it’s nostalgic, but it’s not “Hurt” by Johnny Cash.
It’s “Firework” by Katy Perry. Don’t laugh. If you’re in that moment, and you’re on your deathbed, what do you want? I’ve always had good times with Katy Perry, and she always puts her money where her mouth is about what kind of person she wants to be. So I’d like to be reminded of that. Also, I really love the message of that song. There’s a reason why that song connects with a lot of people. I used to be snobby about pop music, but there’s some really good, emotional pop music. I put “Firework” in that category.
In hindsight, I was obsessed with pop music until I was like sixteen or seventeen. Then you learn about other things, other art forms. I think that is valid, but I think what I was doing was really that High Fidelity thing, where it’s that “What you like, not what you are like” thing. You don’t really know anything about yourself, so you’re manifesting, you’re projecting. There’s always been shit pop music, but there’s always been great pop music as well.
What do we want when we die? I think I want something that feels like a warm, cozy blanket. And I’ve definitely drunk-cried in the clubs to “Firework.” Not because I was sad, but because I was moved by the emotion of the song. What a lovely message! I remember one time I was standing next to this dad who had brought his daughter to this Katy show and they both were singing along, they both knew all the words. I think there’s something in that, if you can connect
with something in that way.
So much of life is quite lonely or you’re just trying to connect to people, figure people out. Move through life’s obstacles. Feel like you know somebody, feel like you’re understood. In those moments, something as simple as a three-and-a-half-minute pop song can connect so many different people who are so completely different, who are insane, and awful, and wonderful in their own ways—but those are the things that bring us together. We all have this emotional debt. That song pushes my buttons.
I used to run this women’s collective in Scotland and we wanted to start a club night where we picked female artists, because there wasn’t really anything like that in Glasgow. I had been playing in bands since I was a teenager, and 99 percent of the time, I was the only female in the lineup. We were like, “Let’s start a club night!” And then it became a magazine, and a radio show, and a website. Everyone was working full-time jobs; I was in a band and working a full-time job, and trying to do this club thing. Some of my fondest memories of that time were when it was almost 3:00 a.m., the club night was almost done, and everybody was allowed to have a couple of beers and sing along to Katy Perry.
It was quite a transitional period for the band and for me to figure out how to exist as a woman in public. There was a lot going on and everybody else was male or managed by men—but when you’re getting rape threats, there’s only so much they can understand about what that’s like. I feel like “Firework” exemplified how important female friendships were then and still are.
We heard it in the back of a taxi the other day and were like, “This song is just so classic.” It didn’t necessarily feel of its time in terms of the production. It’s almost like Eurovision-meets-ABBA in the arrangement; the melody is just so classic. That’s what will make it last, like a Cher song or a Cyndi Lauper song. In the band we always talk about “dance cries” being a genre we want to corner. You can dance to it, you can cry to it, or you can do both at the same time. “Firework” is our blueprint.
I really admire Katy Perry’s fearlessness. Every iteration of Katy Perry, I’ve always believed it. I believed when she was running around in a cupcake that that was her idea. That was her vision. But I also believed when she changed. That’s what the real Katy Perry wants to do.
Whenever people have the “role model” conversation, I think it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Yes, she has a lot of young fans, but she’s also a grown woman. That’s why when you go to a Katy Perry show, you see a lot of little girls, but also women my age. She’s a grown lady that’s in charge of her own agency, her own body. I like that her essence is tongue-in-cheek and camp; that there are jokes for the grown-ups. But at the end of the day, the message is very positive for young girls. Yeah, she’s running around in emoji poo, but that’s fun—pop music is supposed to be fun. And then when it comes to serious moments, she’s encouraging people to be conscious, to be kind. Be themselves. I feel like there’s so much rhetoric in the world, for young women especially, to not be that. And the fact that she’s putting on costumes, it’s to tell a story. To be a character. It’s not to be cute or pretty or desirable to men. It’s telling a story and being silly. I think that is sadly beaten out of women a lot. So, I’m like, “Katy for president.”
LAST SONG FACTS:
SONG TITLE: “Firework”
ARTIST: Katy Perry
ALBUM: Teenage Dream
LENGTH: 3 minutes, 48 seconds
CHART POSITION: No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on December 18, 2010. It was there for an impressive four weeks.
IS KATY PERRY’S “FIREWORK” ABOUT DEATH?: A MINIATURE INVESTIGATION: Perry said this to MTV News in 2010: “I really believe in people and I believe people have a spark to be a firework. A lot of times it’s only us that’s standing in the way of reaching our goals, fulfilling our destinies, being the best version of who we possibly can be.” And the music video certainly espouses that. There are sparks! (Literally coming out of Katy Perry’s chest.) But there are also sparks coming out of everyday young people who are struggling with all the issues young people struggle with. Depression. Feelings of isolation. Feelings of not being good enough. Too fat. Too weird. Too close to death and no longer wanting to live. There’s one tween girl who is wrestling with cancer. She’s bald from the chemo treatments, so it’s clear the end could be near. Or maybe not. But “Firework” is the catalyst that gets her out of bed, back into the world. Maybe that’s not directly about death—it’s more of a middle finger to death—but it’s still a narration on it. Katy Perry may have written a song about fulfilling our destinies, and for one of the video’s stars, that destiny is to keep living. Which is the direct opposite of death. But you can’t say it’s about life when you have that dichotomy. Right?
ARTIST BIO: Lauren Mayberry is the lead singer of Scottish electro-pop band CHVRCHES. Formed in 2011, the band has released three albums and headlined major concert venues around the world, such as Radio City Music Hall, the Greek Theater, and the Alexandra Palace in London.