The End: Emily Haines on Endings and Death

"I'd like to make it to 90 and be super skinny with long grey hear and a dirty mouth that shocks and offends people who want me to finally be docile and obedient."

Dec 15, 2017 Issue #62 - Julien Baker
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To end out the week, we ask Emily Haines some questions about endings and death. Although born in New Delhi, India, she grew up in Ontario, Canada. Haines is perhaps best known as the lead vocalist for Metric, who formed in Toronto in 1998 and have released six albums, the most recent being 2015's Pagans in Vegas. She's also been a member of Broken Social Scene, most memorably singing "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl" on 2002's You Forgot It in People, but also contributing to every album since, including this year's Hug of Thunder. 2017 has also seen the release of Choir of the Mind, her long awaited second solo album, again credited to Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton and the follow-up to 2006's beloved solo debut, Knives Don't Have Your Back.

Unlike the more upbeat synth rock sounds of Metric, Haines' solo work is more delicate but no less striking, usually centered around her piano playing and beautifully layered vocals. As the new album's title suggests, Haines has plenty on her mind. For example, its first single, "Fatal Gift" (a reworked Metric B-side) is about, as Haines puts it, how "utopian material promises are hollow," as she sings "all the things you own, they own you." But Choir of the Mind is not without a sense of humor, "Irish Exit" centers on a guy "that always brings the drugs when nobody wants drugs." Read on as Haines discusses the passing of her father, how she'd like to die, what song she'd like played at her funeral, her concepts of heaven and hell, and her favorite endings to TV shows and movies.

How would you like to die and what age would you like to be? 

I think I would like to know when my death is imminent so that I would have a little time to get things organized: burn my diaries, kiss people I always wanted to kiss, and hopefully have a nice stash of cash to leave to someone no one would have expected. I'd like to be old. My mother is 82 and she's having the time of her life. I'd like to make it to 90 and be super skinny with long grey hear and a dirty mouth that shocks and offends people who want me to finally be docile and obedient.

What song would you like to be playing at your deathbed?

"Street Hassle" by Lou Reed. He was listening to my music at the end of his life and I would like to be listening to his when I slip away. I think we owe it to our friends and loved ones to give them something to go on when we're gone, some idea of what we would have wanted to happen in our last moments. My father didn't ever talk about what he wanted and, compounded by a lack of any formal religion in our household, we were left scrambling. When you lose someone you love it's the most incongruous thing in the fog of grief to find yourself plunged into decisions about cheese plates for the reception and styles of hideous burial or cremation props. I know Lou and Laurie prepared as much possible for his passing and arranged everything together in advance in accordance with their beliefs. That's the move that eliminates a lot of layers of confusion and allows you to fully absorb the depth of what is happening when the body surrenders and the spirit leaves this earth.

What song would you like to be performed at your funeral and who would you like to sing it?

"Help I'm a Rock" by Frank Zappa. But just the recording of the song playing really loud over massive speakers, no live singer. A sense of humor about the absurdity of human emotion and our attachment to a life we know is fleeting is essential. Death makes everyone feel powerless. All the rituals we've constructed around it in an attempt to create order out of chaos make perfect sense, but to anyone in show business it's hard not to recognize the theatrics of funerals. At my funeral I want to give people an opportunity to laugh, even if they are just a few dark little cynical guffaws.

What's your favorite ending to a movie?

Cate Blanchett talking to herself on a park bench at the end of Blue Jasmine

What's your favorite last line in a book?

"The Lord of Life resumed his mighty rounds In the scant field of the ambiguous globe" Savitri by Sri Aurobindo.

What's your favorite series finale last ever episode of a TV show?

Well, it wasn't the last ever but the seafood allergy season finale of Broad City directed by Amy Poehler was a total ace. 

What's your favorite last song on an album?

Currently, one of my own. The last track on my album Choir of the Mind is called "RIP." A perfect fit for this line of questioning.

What's your favorite last album by a band who then broke up? 

The Eternal by Sonic Youth.

What's your favorite way a band broke up?

Putting out a press release saying you're breaking up but then never breaking up.

Whose passing has most affected you?

My father, the poet Paul Haines. All the essential electronics and appliances in the house stopped working the moment he passed-the dishwasher, the turntable, the stereo amp. Makes you think about life force and energy and electricity. We lost him the day Metric completed recording our first album in Los Angeles. He had supported us in every way he could in getting us to this place but never got to see what we accomplished thanks, in no small part, to him. I got the phone call surrounded by strangers in a corporate franchise. I collapsed on the floor but nobody helped me. I was profoundly disoriented and in shock. I remember standing up and tapping the first person I saw on the shoulder and saying, "I can't remember my address." Miraculously, he was Canadian, and he helped me string a sentence together and get home to West Hollywood. 

If you were on death row, what would you like your last meal to be?

Buttered rye toast, rose black tea, honey and milk.

What's your concept of the afterlife?

White light and nothing more.

What would be your own personal version of heaven if it exists?

Having retroactive access to all the paths not taken.

What would be the worst punishment the devil could devise for you in hell, if he exists?

Leaving me in an airless, windowless, brightly lit room full of chatty strangers asking for directions because they are only passing through on their way to somewhere else.

If reincarnation exists, who or what would you like to be reincarnated as?

A redwood tree, but only if I get to stay a redwood tree for hundreds of years. And then, when I am cut down, I am to be made into a canoe or a guitar.

What role or achievement would you most like to be remembered for?

My songs.

What would you like your last words to be?

I withhold my consent to be praised.

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Fall 2017 Issue (October/November 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

 

 

 

www.emilyhaines.com

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Jonathon Karelse
December 16th 2017
4:45am

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