5 Artists Who Faced Death With a Song

If you knew you had only months to live, what would you do? Purchase all the books by Cracked writers, or just my novel because you want to make sure to get the good one before you crap out? Maybe you'd use the time to get your affairs in order and say goodbye to loved ones.

Or maybe you'd do a pound of cocaine and tell your boss to drop dead. I don't know. I've never met you.
These are rhetorical questions. Shut up.

But if you were a talented singer-songwriter, you might release a goodbye song. Something to encompass all your final thoughts and feelings before you left. (And then you'd probably buy all the Cracked books, because come on, that's some good stuff!) There are lots of songs about death and lots of tribute songs, but it's different when the singer sings the song while staring at death as it approaches. When the artist has time to reconcile his fate and leave fans and loved ones something tangible they can keep.

#5. "Keep Me in Your Heart" by Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon was a singer-songwriter who had his biggest success in the '70s. You might know his song "Werewolves of London," which Kid Rock pathetically mashed with "Sweet Home Alabama" to make the truly craptastic "All Summer Long." Or you might know "Excitable Boy"; "Lawyers, Guns, and Money"; or "Sentimental Hygiene." Or you might not know any of those, and you might tell me so in the comments, because one sure way to sound cool is by telling the world all the things you don't know. Anyway, he left his mark, as you can tell by David Letterman's touching eulogy.

The Approaching Death

In 2002, Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is a nasty disease associated with exposure to asbestos. He decided he would use his remaining time to say goodbye. For his final album, Zevon penned this song for his wife. It's simple, understated, and without a trace of the irony that he was known for. It's just a plaintive wish for his wife to remember him and take comfort in his memory. Haunting and heartbreaking in its simplicity.

Saddest Lyrics

Hold me in your thoughts, take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you

A simple song that conveys both the desire to be remembered and that sadness in knowing the pain your love will feel.

#4. "The Show Must Go On" by Queen

Not everyone loves Queen. Also not everyone loves joy or incredibly powerful orgasms. Who can explain such creatures? But even if those who are not fans of this band's combination of hard rock, pop, and kitsch can't deny the vocal powerhouse that was Freddie Mercury. Blessed with tremendous vocal and stylistic range, Mercury could sing any kind of song, from straight driving rock like "Tie Your Mother Down" to pop ballads like "Someone to Love" to genre-defying songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody."

The Approaching Death

By 1991, Mercury, already diagnosed as HIV-positive, was in the final stages of AIDS. Queen knew Innuendo would likely be their last album with Mercury. He was reportedly barely able to walk, and guitarist Brian May was afraid Mercury wouldn't be able to meet some of the song's vocal demands. With the help of only some vodka for his pain, Mercury turned in one of the most memorable vocals of his career in just one take.

Saddest Lyrics

I'll face it with a grin
I'm never giving in
On with the show
I'll top the bill, I'll overkill
I have to find the will to carry on
On with the
On with the show
The show must go on

A brave "fuck you" to death from a dying man who never sounded more alive.

#3. "Hurt" by Johnny Cash

OK, yes, this entry is a bit of a cheat because it's a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song, rather than something that Johnny Cash wrote while confronting his death. But Cash's subtle lyrical change and accompanying video make clear that this is the work of a dying man summing up his life in its waning hours.

The Approaching Death

In 1997 Cash was diagnosed with autonomic neuropathy associated with his diabetes. American IV: The Man Comes Around was his final album. Shortly after, severe pneumonia damaged his lungs. His frailty in the video for "Hurt" is unhidden. Almost shockingly exposed. Director Mark Romanek shot the video in the long-closed and neglected House of Cash museum in Nashville that had fallen into a state of disrepair that mirrored Cash's health. Cash's wife, June (who would die months after the video herself and just months before Cash), is seen looking at her ill husband with tears in her eyes. It's a video that stares at decay and does not blink, and I can't imagine how brave someone would have to be to put themselves under that scrutiny.

Saddest Lyrics

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt

I know this is a bit controversial. Many people, including me, were pissed that Cash changed the "crown of shit" lyrics to "crown of thorns." At first, I was like, "Oh, man, does everything have to be Jesus all the time, Johnny?" But the more I thought about it, the more brilliant the choice felt, especially when read in conjunction with the next lyric, "upon my liar's chair." He's lying about being holy. He's lying about being a messiah. He's lying about being a country-music star. Because, in the end, we die. Our bodies fail. Our loved ones leave us, and all the trappings in the world and pretense of greatness will not save us. In the face of death, Cash is honest and humble.

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