When The Search For New Music Stops: A Dying Man’s Playlist

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All my life, I’ve sought out new music and looked forward with great anticipation to new albums coming out by my favorite artists. But due to recent events, my attitude towards music has changed. I have Stage 4 Cancer, and treatment is no longer effective. Doctors say I have a few months to live. When you’re a terminal cancer patient in hospice care, you’re less interested in new music. Or at least I am.

My favorite music artists are Neal Morse and The Beatles. In that order. Neal Morse has a new album out, which was ably reviewed on this site not long ago. Neal is an exception to my “no new music” policy. I doubt any new Beatles albums are coming out in the next few months. I’ve bought exactly two new albums since The Neal Morse Band‘s The Similitude Of A Dream came out in January of 2017. Those albums are The Great Unknown by Eric Gillette, (another exception to the “no new music” policy) and Synthesis by Evanescence. I bought The Great Unknown because I love Eric Gillette‘s music, and I bought Synthesis for my wife, because she’s an Evanescence fan. Both are brilliant albums. I highly recommend them. But that’s not what this article is about.

Mark with The Neal Morse Band during Morsefest 2017

For the past two years or more, since my terminal diagnosis, I listened to Neal Morse, Eric Gillette, and The Beatles almost exclusively. But recently, I became sated with these artists. I began to realize that there are many albums I own in my vast music library that I wanted to listen to one more time before I die. So I made a list of those albums, and have been listening to them one by one, in alphabetical order by artist. This isn’t everyone’s playlist, only mine. If you were in my shoes, your list would look completely different, and that’s as it should be.

I won’t talk about every album in the playlist. The internet would run out of space. I’ll list all of the albums, but only talk about a few important ones to me. Some are rock albums, some are prog, some are pop, and some are metal. There’s even a funk classic. This is not my list of all time favorite albums. There is no Neal Morse or Beatles on this list. It’s simply a list of albums I wanted to listen to all the way through one more time. Many of these albums have great meaning for me. Others mark important times in my life. Others are just fun to listen to, and have stood the test of time.

The first album on this dying man’s playlist is Weather Systems by Anathema. This album was my introduction to the band, and I love it for that reason. But it was included for one song; Internal Landscapes. It’s a song about a near-death experience, with a recording of a man talking about his close encounter with death. This song speaks to me for obvious reasons. Here is an excerpt of what he says:

“And I felt myself going. I was in a great deal of pain, it was a very frightening experience, but I began to slip…
I felt myself going, and I remember trying to hold on… It got to the point where I just couldn’t. Everything became very quiet.

It was then that I experienced what we call a near-death experience. It was a total immersion in light, brightness, warmth, peace, security… I did not have an out-of-body experience, I did not see my body or anyone about me, I just immediately went into this beautiful bright light. It’s difficult to describe, matter of fact it’s impossible to describe. Verbally it cannot be expressed, it’s something which becomes you and you become it…

I could say that I was peace, I was love, I was the brightness… It was part of me…”

How resonant for someone in my condition. I loved this song the first time I heard it, long before I was diagnosed. Now, It’s a song with great importance for me. By contrast, Dream Police by Cheap Trick is an album that’s just fun. I’ve always been a fan, and in my opinion, Dream Police is their best album. It still holds up after all these years. Aside from the proggy title track, Way Of The World, Gonna Raise Hell, and I’ll Be With You Tonight are standouts for me.

I was a professional musician for thirty years, and I learned music on the trumpet. So while in high school in the 1970’s, horn bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears were big for me. Chicago II is a very proggy album. Progressive rock fans have a hard time believing this, but I challenge you to listen to this ambitious double album and tell me it isn’t prog. The Make Me Smile suite in particular is a masterpiece of different songs combined into a cohesive whole, not unlike Neal Morse‘s work. If you like jazzy prog, this is an album you’ll enjoy.

Mark and his female dog Sookie

I fell in love with Foo Fighters watching their HBO series Sonic Highways. What a brilliant idea by a true musical genius, Dave Grohl. Have the band travel to different U.S. cities, tell the musical history of those places, and write and record a new song in a historic studio or venue in each place. For example, they go to New Orleans and write and record a song at Preservation Hall. There isn’t a low point on this album for me. Every song is inspired. If you’re not a Foo Fighters fan, or especially if you are, you must watch this series and buy the album. I couldn’t stop listening to it for about a month after I bought it. It still rings true for me.

I’ve been a Gary Numan follower since his New Wave period and mine. He is the only artist on my playlist to have both his first album, Replicas, and his most recent, Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) included. After his early success with The Tubeway Army and his hit Cars, he went on to found the Goth movement. He is widely considered the father of Goth. It says a lot about an artist when your two favorite albums of his were made more than thirty years apart.

American Idiot by Green Day is another album I consider prog because it’s a concept album with a storyline and characters, and with songs that blend into one another. It’s Rock As Art, which is my definition of progressive rock. It’s a work of genius, in my opinion, and the definitive protest album of the last fifteen years at least. It couldn’t be more relevant today. Its follow-up, 21st Century Breakdown, is almost as good, and continues the story of Jesus Of Suburbia, Whatshername, and St. Jimmy. I consider American Idiot to be one of the greatest rock albums ever made.

On the pop side, Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson is a seminal album for me. I was in high school when this album was new, and I wanted to become a songwriter. But I thought you had to play an instrument well, like piano or guitar, to be one. Harry Nilsson‘s simple piano playing on this album made me realize it’s not about proficiency on an instrument. It’s about writing a good hook and a compelling melody. This album taught me how to be a songwriter, and that I could become one. I did become a professional songwriter for three decades. I’m sure that would have happened with or without this album, but it happened the way it did because of Nilsson Schmilsson. Songs like Jump Into The Fire, Coconut and Without You are still well loved today, and the rest of the album is just as good.

My favorite Led Zeppelin album, Houses Of The Holy, is a towering achievement by one of the greatest bands of all time. I honestly don’t understand why this album is not regarded as highly as Led Zeppelin IV. I think it’s just as good, if not better. I especially love The Song Remains The Same and The Ocean.

There are two Pink Floyd albums on my list; Wish You Were Here and A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. I’ve heard Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall enough times in my life. I don’t need to hear them again, nor the rest of their catalog, which I’ve listened to ad nauseum. Pink Floyd is one of my favorite bands. But Wish You Were Here and A Momentary Lapse Of Reason are special to me for personal reasons.

Mark performing at the Prog-Fest festival a few years ago

I’m part of a progressive rock fan group in Denver called The Colorado Art Rock Society. We put on an event each year called Prog Fest, where ad hoc bands perform prog songs we’ve always wanted to play. Prog fans tend to be musicians, in case you haven’t noticed. My first performance at Prog Fest in 2006 was Shine On You Crazy Diamond. We did it as a tribute to Syd Barrett, who passed away that year. It was a magic moment that stays with me now. You can see the video on my YouTube channel. That moment made Wish You Were Here my favorite Pink Floyd album. What’s most amazing about Wish You Were Here for me is the fact that it was their follow-up to Dark Side Of The Moon. To put out an album that good after such a monumental achievement as Dark Side is truly astonishing.

Like Anathema’s Whether Systems, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason is included for one song; On The Turning Away. When you’re dying of cancer, your circle of friends tends to shrink. People shy away because they don’t know what to say, or just can’t hang with the fact that you’re dying. The words of On The Turning Away have always been emotional for me, but never more so than now. These words now mirror my world.

“…On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand
Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away…”

I am a victim of the turning away, and these words have great power for me.

The last album I must talk about is The Whirlwind by Transatlantic. This was my all time favorite album for years, before it was displaced by The Similitude Of A Dream by The Neal Morse Band. Even so, its inclusion in this playlist is because of one song; Rose Colored Glasses. It’s a song Neal Morse wrote after his father passed away. I performed this song at another Prog Fest in 2016. It was part of my “bucket list set,” and Rose Colored Glasses was the closing song. This song has great meaning for me, and it’s my hope that Neal himself will sing it at my memorial service. I’ve listened to this album way too many times, but I had to include it here because of that song.

I could go on forever, and I almost did. I never did get to the metal albums on this list; Faith Hope Love by King’s X, Once by Nightwish, No More Tears by Ozzy Osbourne, and The Sinister Urge by Rob Zombie. But I must conclude this article. This dying man’s playlist will go on for weeks, but this article can’t.

In case you’re wandering, as I write this, I’ve just finished listening to Dog & Butterfly by Heart, and Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick is next. It’s been an amazing experience listening to each of these albums, knowing I’m hearing them for the last time. I don’t have time to get through the whole list if I repeat anything. And repeating any of these would be missing the point. In addition, I listen to these albums in the car. I will soon lose my driving privileges, so I must keep to the playlist and try not to keep adding albums to it, which I’ve already done a few times. Not to mention the fact that when I get my mitts on the new Neal Morse album, that will monopolize my listening for a while as I get ready for his solo show here on March 17th. So no repeats. It’s one more time for each of these albums which are so precious to me.

The kicker is, I’m glad to know I’m listening to these albums for the last time. Most of us die without knowing such things. One of the gifts of cancer is time. Time to put your affairs in order, say your goodbyes, and listen to some of your favorite albums one more time. It’s a privilege I don’t take for granted. That’s why I put together this dying man’s playlist.

Anathema – Weather Systems
Billy Joel – Storm Front
Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run
Cheap Trick – Dream Police
Chicago II
David Bowie – Diamond Dogs
Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
Fountains Of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers
Gary Numan – Replicas
Gary Numan – Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)
Green Day – American Idiot
Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
Heart – Dog & Butterfly
Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick
King’s X – Faith Hope Love
Led Zeppelin – Houses Of The Holy
Nightwish – Once
Ozzy Osbourne – No More Tears
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
Pink Floyd – A Momentary Lapse Of Reason
Porcupine Tree – Deadwing
Rob Zombie – The Sinister Urge
Robin Trower – Bridge Of Sighs
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story
Sly & The Family Stone – Stand!
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Transatlantic – The Whirlwind
The Waitresses – Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?


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