January 9, 2023
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
E.B. Bartels' Good Grief examines how we grieve pets from both personal and global perspectives. Poignant, insightful, and filled with wit, this is an unforgettably wise book.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"In this offbeat yet heartfelt debut, essayist Bartels digs into the fraught topic of pet death... Bartels covers [the topic of mourning rituals] with pathos and wit, and lends her narrative a touching personal spin by documenting the demise of her scaled and feathered childhood companions... Animal lovers shouldn’t pass up this illuminating and thoroughly charming work."
Good Grief: On Loving Pets, Here and Hereafter is a narrative nonfiction book about the many varied and wonderful things people do to mourn, grieve, and remember their pets after they die, but more than that, it is a book about how much people love their pets––the whole reason why we feel so upset when our animals die. On the surface, each of the songs on this playlist is about a pet that has passed away, and writing a song can be a beautiful way to pay tribute to an animal you’ve loved and lost, but if you listen closely, under all the grief, you’ll hear that even in the saddest songs there is so much love in every word. Having a pet is the best, which is why it feels like the worst when they die.
“Old Shep” by Elvis Presley (1956)
An absolute classic tribute to a beloved childhood dog, sung by the King himself. This song has provided inspiration for many other songs about good old dogs including: “Old Tige” by Jim Reeves (1961), “Old Blue” by The Byrds (1969), and “Old King” by Neil Young (1992).
“Bugler” by The Byrds (1971)
Speaking of The Byrds, they have multiple dead dog songs. The line that kills me in this one is saying that “Bugler's got a place at the pearly gates.” Don’t all good dogs?
“Mother and Child Reunion” by Paul Simon (1972)
While some people know that the title of this song is inspired by a dish that Simon saw on the menu of a Chinese restaurant, the lyrics were inspired by the experience of Simon’s dog getting run over and killed by a car. I know, dark subject matter for an upbeat reggae-style song.
“Cracker Jack” by Dolly Parton (1974)
This sweet song is a memorial for a dog named Cracker Jack, “the best friend that [Dolly Parton] ever had.” Tell me you won’t get choked up when Parton sings that this beloved pup “only lives in memories now.”
"All Dead, All Dead" by Queen (1977)
This classic Queen song was written by Brian May about the death of his childhood kitten. May was an only child, so growing up he was particularly close to his cat Pixie.
"Used To Love Her (But I Had To Kill Her)" by Guns N’ Roses (1987)
One of Guns N’ Roses’s most controversial songs, people think this track is about an abusive relationship that ends in murder, but Slash has said that the song was actually about Axl having to euthanize his dog.
"Pet Sematary" by The Ramones (1989)
I can’t make a dead pets playlist without including the theme song from the 1989 Stephen King classic Pet Sematary. While this song is campy and light compared to most of the others on this list, I do think its message is important: don’t try to resurrect your dead pets! Just appreciate the time you have together while they are alive, and remember them and keep loving their memories after they are gone.
Okay, this one isn’t technically about a dead pet––Mitchell just thought her cat was dead because he had run away. The cat, Nietzsche, disappeared for 17 days––how long it took Mitchell to write the ballad––and on the night she finished the grief-stricken tune, the cat reappeared. So, this song, at least, has a happy ending.
“Dead Dog Song” by Okkervil River (2002)
The title says it all.
“October Song” by Amy Winehouse (2003)
I love that this song, for a change, is not about a dog or a cat but Winehouse’s pet canary. The bird was named Ava after Ava Gardner, and, as the chorus repeats, she now “flies in paradise.”
"Death of a Martian" by Red Hot Chili Peppers (2006)
This song is a memorial for bassist Flea’s dog, Martian, who died while the band was recording Stadium Arcadium.
“Pablow the Blowfish” by Miley Cyrus (2015)
This is just one song off the 2015 album Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, a collaboration with The Flaming Lips, which is, yes, a whole album about Miley Cyrus’s dead pets. When Cyrus released Dead Petz, she performed on Saturday Night Live and did an acoustic performance of “The Twinkle Song” (a song inspired by the death of her friend’s cat), playing on a grand piano draped with flowers, Christmas lights, and velvet, topped with framed photos of her dead pets. “The Floyd Song (Sunrise)” is another one I love on this album, about her departed husky, Floyd.
"Pet Cemetery" by Tierra Whack (2018)
This quirky short song gets to the point: I miss my dog (heaven) / I kissed my dog (heaven). Don’t we all miss (and kiss) our dogs.
E.B. Bartels is a nonfiction writer, a former Newtonville Books bookseller, and a GrubStreet instructor, with an MFA from Columbia. Her writing has been published in Catapult, The Rumpus,The Millions, and The Toast. She lives in Massachusetts.