A reunion is usually a celebration, a coming together of those who share a common past. But what if those who did not survive their past instead held their own reunion to reminisce about their abbreviated lives? In the tradition of Our Town and Spoon River Anthology, these cinematic tales of life and death were inspired by actual accounts of my deceased high school classmates, each song an imagining of the person behind the obituary.
I've not been able to really pin down why these simple announcements, unwittingly discovered while clicking around on the Reunion Committee's website, packed such a punch for me. These deaths are pretty ordinary by most standards... fatal diseases, motor vehicle accidents, drug and alcohol abuse, suicides, casualties of war, acts of violence. And we all know that young people die, some senselessly, some for cause, just like anyone of any age.
I think we believe (well, at least we like the way it looks on paper) that we are all allotted seven or eight decades of days to get life done, and then we bow out, usually having accomplished something on some scale of some importance to someone. When anyone under... oh, let's say, 55 or 60... dies for just about any reason, we feel that the person was cheated out of his/her allotment of one full lifetime (even though we all know longevity is a crap shoot at best), and we feel badly about that because it just doesn't seem fair.
Now, if a newborn dies, we feel so very sad for the mother, and we're outraged at the cruelty of Nature, but it happens all the time all over the world, irrespective of class, creed, or pocket book, and it's just one of those things that is. And if an older child dies, say a 5- or 10-year-old, it's a terrible thing for the child, of course, and such a waste of innocent vitality, but we really feel the worst for the parents, who must now endure this crushing loss for the rest of their lives.
But when the person dies at 15 or 20, well... it's not just sad, it's tragic. There's something about that particular timeframe... a life on the cusp of adulthood, developing into a real person after years of nurturing and shaping and toughening and investing, now finally preparing to move out into the grown-up world as a participant rather than just a spectator... but then missing that crucial first step, plummeting headlong into the abyss, never to have a second chance. Add to that the unspeakable heartbreak of all those around them who, no matter how hard they tried, were not quick enough, strong enough, could not hold on long enough, to save the one who fell.
I stared for hours at the senior photos of my dead classmates, and reread their obituaries countless times. And then a strange thing happened... words and music began to surface, a verse here, a bridge there, a drum, a drone, then more and more, layer upon layer of voices, instruments, rhythms, and textures. When it was finally finished, the result was a work which, rather than telling each classmate's story, instead drew the listener into the essence of each life, a life of happiness, sadness, regret, mystery - lives not unlike our own, with days of dancing and days of sorrow.
I knew the visual aspect of the project had to reflect the musical and lyrical content, and not be just graphically interesting, but visually arresting. I immediately thought of Tamerlane, an artist whose work is not only beautiful, but challenging and thought-provoking. Her use of color and texture, as well as her methods of manipulating various materials, make her work unlike that of any other. I knew which pieces I wanted to use for the front and back covers and the inner panel, and she graciously granted me permission to use them all (and it's a good thing, because I had no plan B if she had refused!).
So the project is finally finished, and I am free, able to distance myself a bit from what required so much of me. I can rest in what has come of all that hard work. I can now press the play button and eavesdrop for an hour on this convocation of restless spirits as they tell their tales, pulling me into the depth of their lament over what now will never be. And when the rain lets up and the crow brushes past, then, as quickly as they convened, those spirits disperse like vapors and are gone...
High School Reunion Book of the Dead is a sonic memorial to those who left this world all too soon, and it's our take-home souvenir of a reunion unlike any other.