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This Is Not a Test: Not to knock Ms. Elliott, but please make it Sonny Rollins.

Last Listen

If I must go, please don't make it with Missy

By Gabe Meline

I was in the middle of making a mix tape for my wife when I heard the noise. Faint and distant at first, then increasingly unmistakable as it raged closer and closer, loomed a terrifying rumble of white noise and sound-splitting decibels. The air above the house growled and lashed, each split second the roar growing louder.

It was the fourth of July, and we were being bombed. Our arrogance had finally caught up to us, and someone else in the world decided to do something about it. Surely, the noise in the sky, the awful rumble now getting louder than hell, had to be the Big One. There was no doubt in my mind.

Instinctively, I ducked my head under the coffee table and waited for the atomic bomb to finally hit, for the complete annihilation of the world and for the tidy end of my life. Something in me, I suppose, just shut down. I put my hands behind my neck with my face smashed into the living room rug and resigned myself to total nuclear destruction.

Damn, I thought. I need to stop the tape during this Missy Elliott interlude.

The noise in the sky left as quickly as it arrived, and my panic became clearly ridiculous as I emerged from my pathetic halfway-under-the-coffee-table, nuclear-survival position. I had been duped, obviously, by a flock of fighter jets buzzing the nearby fairgrounds.

My heart was racing as I took stock. Never before had I truly thought I was going to die in a nuclear holocaust, and setting aside my embarrassment of mistaking a display of good old American yahooism as, you know, the aforementioned Big One, I had to ask myself: Did I behave like I'd want to in my final seconds of life?

Crouching under the table--that's just indoctrination from being raised in the afterglow of the Cold War. Nothing I could do about that. But how about my final thoughts? Not "I love my wife," not "Please absolve me of all my sins." Just a simple-minded worry about a stupid Missy Elliott interlude.

Which raised the question: If you could choose, what would you like your last thought in life to be? Or, even simpler, the last song you'll hear before you die?

"May you all live to be a hundred, and may the last voice you hear be mine." Frank Sinatra used to bid goodnight to his audiences this way, and it's not a bad prospect, especially if the song is "Angel Eyes," with its appropriate final line, "'Scuse me while I disappear." Unfortunately, the rest of the song is about a life of regret over letting love slip away. Not exactly an uplifting final song.

I have a deep attraction to Richard Strauss' tone poem Death and Transfiguration, and have even sometimes requested that it be played at my funeral, but listening to it in the final minutes poses a problem. What if the shuffling off of this mortal coil occurs before the final fortissimo themes of fulfillment and transfiguration kick in? I mean, the thing's almost a half an hour long, for chrissakes.

But something slow and solemn should do the trick. Sure, I love to boogie, but I don't want to be reminded of all the boogying that I soon won't be doing after I'm dead. Something that soothes yet exposes certain truths of life, and therefore soothes even more by exposing those truths as fine and good.

If I died right now, the last song I'd have heard would be by the Reliables and the last concert I'd have seen would be Tanya Tucker, and I can live with that. What if, after all this worrying, I have a heart attack during Ludacris' verse on "Holidae Inn"? Then let it be.

The reality, of course, is that you don't get to pick. There is nothing as immediate as life and nothing as fleeting as music, which for me comes and goes with frequent regularity. But please, when I go, I don't want to be hearing Missy Elliott.

If I get lucky, someone nearby will at least be playing something by Sonny Rollins.

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From the July 20-26, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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