Death is the ultimate reminder of mankind’s limitations. We can get starry-eyed about endless possibilities and throw around bromides like “if you can dream it, you can do it,” but the fact is that there are some things we simply cannot do, and there are facts of existence that we can’t dream or invent or scheme away. The luckiest among us can delay death; we can stave it off thanks to revolutions in agriculture, medicine and technology. But one day or another, we will look up and see the eternal footman standing in our doorway.
It’s a powerless feeling, and it’s one I’ve struggled with for some time. But if Christopher Paul Stelling is worried, he’s managed to find a decent outlet. A singer-songwriter and guitarist whose journey has criss-crossed America, Stelling finds a solution, and even some comfort, in “Driving The Hearse.” Released ahead of his new album, Forgiving It All, “Driving The Hearse” is a friendly memento mori, encouraging us not to cower in fear of death but use it to take some semblance of control over our destinies.
Over the bluesy twinkle of Stelling’s guitar (reminiscent of John Fahey’s dusty elegance), Stelling looks out at the land of the living and sees a place where “cruelty makes the world go ‘round.” Stelling prefers his rich interior life, where “there’s a railroad in my mind and a city in my chest.” If it sounds lonely, well, there’s nothing wrong with that: “you can live forever if you’re driving the hearse.” To drive a hearse, of course, is to be the only living person in the car, acutely aware of your own mortality at all times. But humans are nothing if not adaptable: if you immerse yourself in what it means to live and die, you might find some kind of transcendence, too.
What’s the story behind “Driving the Hearse?”
There really are many…a song like this one I think was fermenting for most of my life. It’s got snippets of experiences, conversations, ideas, and dreams that all just came together almost too quickly one night while I was playing a little guitar rag. The stories culminate to become a song, and then it leaves you to hopefully make its own stories.
How did you go about creating this song’s uniquely haunting atmosphere?
It just kind of happens that way. I think it’s more of a happy little song…life itself is haunting, I’m just looking for the antidote. It’s a song about living forever, after all.
How often do you think about death? Is it a preoccupation?
Well….death is the reason for the seasons. I wouldn’t say it’s a preoccupation, but I’ve learned not to shy away, to give it its due. I think it’s healthy to acknowledge and maybe even be playful with one of our few certainties…and also show reverence. Songs are a great reliquary for such. I also go for a lot of walks.
There’s something strangely soothing to a song like this–do you suppose it’s just because of the music, or is there a message in the lyrics that soothes in a morbid way?
Thank you. I hope it’s not too strange, but I know what you mean. There’s nothing like a simple melody and some gothic imagery if you ask me, something to whisk you away into your imagination…did you ever read Wise Blood? It had that effect on me…soothing, but a little creepy.
What are your plans for the future?
There’s so little to do at the moment compared to when I’ve released albums in the past…but that’s kind of nice. I just got married last weekend, so things are really happy around here. I’ll keep working on music and tour when I can, given the present circumstances….I’ve got some shows in October and am looking forward to heading overseas for dates in the new year.