The End: Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy on Endings and Death
"There is no hell this devil-bloke could devise which could match what is performed on a daily basis in the meat industry."
Mar 10, 2017 Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary Photography by Raphael Neal
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To end out the week, we ask The Divine Comedy frontman/main creative force Neil Hannon some questions about endings and death. The Northern Irish singer/songwriter is known for his highly literate and often amusing orchestral pop songs ("The Booklovers" from 1994's Promenade consists of Hannon reading off a list of his favorite authors). It was with 1996's Casanova that he truly entered the public consciousness in the U.K., with three of its singles charting in the height of Britpop. He appeared on the cover of Under the Radar's second print issue, way back in 2002, in honor of 2001's Regeneration, which saw Hannon go in a darker indie rock direction with the help of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. Over the years Hannon has been regarded by some as one of the greatest lyricists of his generation, able to both write heartbreaking character studies ("A Lady of a Certain Age") and be the master of witty and clever lines ("If..."). He has also released two albums of songs about the British game cricket with Thomas Walsh as The Duckworth Lewis Method and composed music for stage musicals and operas. In 2016 Hannon released his latest Divine Comedy album, Foreverland, which includes songs about Napoleon and Catherine the Great, as well as the love song "Funny Peculiar," a sweet little duet with his romantic partner, singer/songwriter Cathy Davey. Read on as Hannon discusses how he'd like to die, what song he'd like played at his funeral, his concepts of heaven and hell, and his favorite endings to books, TV shows, and movies.
How would you like to die and what age would you like to be?
I would like to die in the act of throwing a tennis ball for my dog (whichever dog that may be at the time). I will be 85.
What song would you like to be playing at your deathbed?
Is it okay if it's not a song? I would prefer non-lyricised music if that's cool. Words would seem surplus to requirements on one's deathbed. Having said that, I won't be on my bed will I?! I'll be chucking a ball round the garden. We'd better make sure that there are speakers outside the house throughout my 85th year. But what will they play, you ask? The profound and beautiful second movement of Ravel's "Piano Concerto in G," I reply.
What song would you like to be performed at your funeral and who would you like to sing it?
Oh, I can't decide between Fauré's "Requiem" and that of the less well-known, Maurice Duruflé. They are both insanely beautiful. Right, that's it. I want both! And I'd like them performed by the choir of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin (so the ceremony may as well be there too).
What's your favorite ending to a movie?
I feel like I ought to say A Room With a View, as it's my favorite film, but I've never been particularly fond of the last scene. I feel disloyal. Anyhoo, I think I shall choose the end of Cinema Paradiso which, between the old man watching the screen kisses expunged from the films of his youth and the fantastic Morricone score, has me in absolute bits every time.
What's your favorite last line in a book?
"But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing." It's from The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne. Sniff...
What's your favorite series finale episode of a TV show?
Final episodes of great TV series are generally, in my experience, a disappointment. Especially over your side of the pond, where they tend to receive a thoroughly over-sentimentalized treatment. So the prize must go to Seinfeld for completely bucking that trend. It finished instead with all the characters looking like even worse specimens of humanity than usual and throwing them in jail. Genius!
What's your favorite last song on an album?
"Decades." The final song on Closer by Joy Division.
What's your favorite last album by a band who then broke up?
The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths.
What's your favorite way a band broke up?
I think ABBA broke up at precisely the correct moment, which is almost never the case. Not precisely at the height of their success, but after seeing which way the wind was blowing in the early '80s. And after having completed The Visitors, possibly their finest work.
Whose passing has most affected you?
Miggy Barradas who drummed with us from '96 to '02 died of a heart problem earlier this year. He was older than me, but still way too young to depart this crazy world.
If you were on death row, what would you like your last meal to be?
Two fried eggs over-easy (from our chickens) and two slices of fried sourdough bread. Mmmmm...
What's your concept of the afterlife?
The same as the before-life: everything and nothing.
What would be your own personal version of heaven if it exists?
Heaven, if it existed (which I'm afraid it doesn't), would be to live on in reasonable health with my girlfriend and animals in our beautiful home for another 50 years or so. I'd still want it to end at some point though, preferably in the act of throwing a tennis ball for my dog. Eternity doesn't interest me.
What would be the worst punishment the devil could devise for you in hell, if he exists?
There is no hell this devil-bloke could devise which could match what is performed on a daily basis in the meat industry. Hell would be to be forced to watch it.
If reincarnation exists, who or what would you like to be reincarnated as?
Scott Walker (of course!).
What role or achievement would you most like to be remembered for?
My epitaph should be: he wrote some reasonably well-observed lyrics and set them to some pretty interesting music. Though my proudest moment was probably winning an episode of Celebrity Mastermind on the BBC!
What would you like your last words to be?
"Good girl, now FETCH!! Ugghhh..."
[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue (January/February/March 2017). This is its debut online.]
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