5 Artists Who Faced Death With a Song

When death stares you in the face, then stare right back and ROCK.
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.

5 Artists Who Faced Death With a Song

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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

5 Artists Who Faced Death With a Song

"Stuck Inside a Cloud" by George Harrison

Y'know, I recently wrote an article where I got comments from people bragging about not knowing "Silly Love Songs" by Paul McCartney. Look, maybe music's not your thing, but if you think it's cool to act like it's weird that someone would be a aware of one of the biggest hit songs by the man who's written more hit songs than almost anyone, then I can't really help you. And I also can't help you if you don't know that George Harrison was the lead guitarist of The Beatles and had a half-dozen huge hits in his own right. But I can certainly forgive you if you've never heard of this song, because it was released posthumously on Harrison's not very well known Brainwashed album.

The Approaching Death

As he was a lifelong smoker, it's not surprising that Harrison succumbed to cancer. In 1997 he was diagnosed with throat cancer, and though they thought it was successfully treated, the cancer's believed to have spread to Harrison's lung and, ultimately, his brain. He died in November of 2001. The album, produced by his son, Dhani, and good friend Jeff Lynne from polished demos he recorded in the years before his death, featured "Stuck Inside a Cloud."

Saddest Lyrics

Never been so crazy
But I've never felt so sure
I wish I had the answer to give
Don't even have the cure

Harrison, as a convert to Hinduism, often took a balanced view towards death, never seeing it as particularly final, but part of a process. Indeed, the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita is quoted on his final album: "There never was a time when you or I did not exist. Nor will there be any future when we shall cease to be." But "Stuck Inside a Cloud" is not philosophical. It is personal. It is real and unapologetic in its honesty.

"I'm Not Gonna Miss You" by Glen Campbell

I'll be honest: although he is a country-music legend, I never really knew much about Glen Campbell. I knew he sang "Rhinestone Cowboy." I knew he had a hokey music-time fun show back before I was born. But to me, Campbell was just some old-timey, square, Jesus-loving bore. Now, I know this is the Internet and the Internet is a place where people brag about the shit they don't know and then discount it, but I recently learned a lot about Campbell, and the emotion I have is shame. I am ashamed of myself for being oblivious to such an important artist and talented man.

Even though I had heard Campbell was a studio musician in the mid-'60s, I never appreciated the depth of his achievements. He played on Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night," as well as Monkees recordings, and even replaced Brian Wilson for six months during a Beach Boys tour, playing bass and singing Wilson's falsetto parts. And what I really didn't know, was that Campbell could shred. Look at the completely gratuitous and awesome solo in the middle of "MacArthur Park," or watch him trade licks with Jerry Reed on "Guitar Man." It's not surprising he was a hero to the likes of guitar legend Steve Lukather. Or think about how cool it is that, in 1969, this Arkansas boy used his popularity to beam a black man covering a Jew's hippie song into all the homes he reached throughout the nation -- Campbell and Stevie Wonder doing Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."

The Approaching Death

Although there had been signs for years, in 2011 Campbell was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He went on a final tour, aided by teleprompters and three of his children, who were part of his band. Even with that aid, mistakes would happen as shown in this painful story where Campbell starts to replay the song he just finished. Though the disease would progress to points where Campbell wouldn't even remember he had it, he also had moments of clarity. And in one of those moments, he co-wrote a song to his wife of 30 years.

Saddest Lyrics

You're the last person I will love
You're the last face I will recall
And best of all
I'm not gonna miss you
You're never gonna see it in my eyes
It's not gonna hurt me when you cry
I'm never gonna know what you go through
All the things I say or do
All the hurt and all the pain
One thing selfishly remains
I'm not gonna miss you

Although no one would wish Alzheimer's on anyone, it is often said of the disease that it's hardest on the loved ones of the victim, because the victim is often oblivious to the condition. Here, Campbell acknowledges it as heartbreakingly as possible, while he still can, and it is one of the most painful and beautiful things I've ever seen.



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And check out 5 Unexpected True Stories Behind Famous Gender-Bending Songs and 5 Insane First Drafts of Famous Song Lyrics.

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