Joyce Gemperlein takes a look at a unique way to remember your loved ones with a song. Originally published November 2010 on Obit-Mag.com.
One of the latest ways to pay homage to your dearly departed is to have their ashes pressed into a vinyl record.
It’s a groovy kind of love.
Like the Beatles, this idea for the ultimate death record comes to us from the United Kingdom. It has a certain cache for baby boomers with a soft spot for the old-fashioned way of listening to Frank Sinatra, the Grateful Dead and Carole King while pondering their own deaths, coffins, cremation and eulogies.
Jason Leach lies just outside the technical definition of baby boomer – he’s only 40 – but about five years ago he began musing about the great beyond, his mother’s work in a funeral parlor and the news that gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson had his ashes put into a fireworks display.
Already very familiar with the music industry – in the 1990s he co-founded the techno group and record label Subhead and a handful of other labels – Leach formed “And Vinyly,” a company that will press no more than a fingernail-size portion of cremains into a recording of a family member’s voice, his favorite melodies or even a reading of her will.
“You don’t want to put too much in there. Even that little will affect the sound a bit, give it a slight pop and crackle,” Leach says. “But when you know who is making it crackle, it’s kind of endearing.”
In addition to the memorial records, Leach offers RIV (Rest in Vinyl) artwork done by a portrait artist who will mix cremains into his paint. Musicians from The House of Fix or Daftwerk, two of Leach’s labels, will write songs about the deceased for the 24-minute record.
He hasn’t actually produced one of the records yet, but says he is working with a half-dozen people to do so and is fielding “hundreds” of inquiries from around the world. A basic package of 30 vinyl records flecked with grandma, grandpa or yourself costs about $4,800.
Leach says he had the idea about five years ago, but is sorry it hadn’t come to him sooner.
“I wish I had met my grandparents. I would love to have a recording that they had made of themselves speaking, whatever they’d want to say. I’d like to be able to hear their voices,” adds Leach, who envisions pets as an additional source of biological or vocal material.
One of the clients he is working with, he says, “is an elderly chap who has hours of his mum singing and talking. He knows she would have loved the idea because one of the last things she said was ‘If you can find anything useful you can do with me, please do it.’”
Luckily, the “elderly chap,” who declined to be interviewed, lives in England and is able to participate in the production of the record and delivery of the ashes. Leach is negotiating with a company in the United States to perform the tasks there because he does not want to “send ashes around in the post.” He advises inquirers that, if they want to prepare a record ahead of their own death, they must name a “chosen representative” who will bring him a bit of them.
He says he already has representatives in Australia and central Europe. He is close to finding a partner in the United States, he says.
Eric Astor who 15 years ago founded Furnace MFG Media Duplication in Fairfax, Va., sees Leach’s idea as less of an innovation than an adaptation.
“People have been putting stuff into records for a long time. Back in the day, people used to put guitar picks and all kinds of fun things in vinyl records. It made things collectible, but it doesn’t help the sound quality at all,” says Astor, whose company produces high-performance vinyl records for, among others, major label artists.
Still, he says that Leach’s timing is right because there are more vinylphiles around now than there were five or even 20 years ago.
Some people declared records to be dead when the CD was invented and the music world was subsumed by iTunes and other downloadable digital music.
But Astor says records never really went away.
“Vinyl is as big now as it has been in 20 years,” says Leach.
In addition to baby boomer audiophiles, “there’s a whole set of kids who are discovering vinyl for the first time. They were brought up listening to inferior digital copies of records and like the sound quality of vinyl. It is a better sonic experience.”
His company is the official sponsor of Record Store Day, which occurs every April at brick-and-mortar stores. On that day, exclusive titles that can only be found at record stores are released, many on vinyl.
Astor says he is “not a nostalgia kind of guy” and can’t get excited about being put into a record after his death to spin around for eternity.
Not so for Leach. He tells stories of cremains being sprinkled over a site and blowing back into the faces of mourners. The only mess in vinyl record making might be in a person’s head as he or she decides what tunes or words should be on it.
“Deciding [the content] will take time. It is not something you decide in an instant,” he says. “The process requires a lot of profound thinking.”
Joyce Gemperlein, a freelance writer based in Connecticut, contributes frequently to Obit.
Top Image: Flickr Creative Commons/meganwest
Second Image: Flickr Creative Commons/M.Markus