The Lie That Will Be On Your Tombstone


Reading today that Emilio Estevez says ‘Brat Pack’ will be carved on his tombstone, I’m reminded of Bette Midler’s line that ‘She started at the Continental Baths’ will be stamped on hers. Everyone is cursed to have the origin of their success marked on their grave because people don’t realise that when they’re starting out on their careers the way they begin may stay with them forever.

For years I had ‘The author of Roofworld’ stamped on my metaphorical tomb, then ‘The author of Spanky’. Now it’s ‘the author of the Bryant & May mysteries’. Perhaps if I turn my hand to something more profound, the epitaph will change again. One of the worst mistakes you can make is hurrying a project so that it’s less than it should be. No tombstone ever read ‘They produced something very nearly great’ or ‘They delivered their work right on time.’

In French author Eric Vuillard’s poetic, heart-rending book ‘Sorrow of the Earth’, the sentiment of history is stripped away, removing the label from the person. Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill are doomed to spend their lives reliving a single defining moment, the Battle of Wounded Knee, in a roaming wild west show that recreated the scene for years and years. The worst part is that the whole thing is a sham. There was no battle, just an appalling, horrific massacre in which the Indians were scalped by the cowboys, just as there was no Buffalo Bill, just a con-artist chancing his luck by making up a false history, and in doing so accidentally creating the foundations of show business, as audiences watched history being falsified to their liking.

It’s true that the pair were friends, locked by mutual need into this lifelong farrago. Buffalo Bill’s fake persona followed him into the grave. He was a man lost inside a myth that had required him to purchase Sitting Bull’s furniture in order to manufacture a connection between them.

The motto I live by is; ‘Nobody likes a good all-rounder’, told to me by my English teacher when I was eleven. He was right. Specialise, become known for that specialisation and then change to another passion. Prevent the tag from sticking to you like a burr and you will never become who you aren’t.

22 comments on “The Lie That Will Be On Your Tombstone”

  1. Ian Luck says:

    I want ‘Still Dead’ on mine.

  2. Rachel Green says:

    and I still want ‘mourned by her demons’ on mine.

  3. Peter Dixon says:

    ‘Nobody likes an all-rounder’ can be challenged by ‘Nobody likes a smart-arse’.

    Milligan’s ‘I told you I was ill’ is a classic.

    My pal Keith Armstrong has written a poem called ‘Don’t Come To My Funeral’ which is worth a listen to / look at (google it).

    Mine will probably be for creditors, bailiffs and the tax man – ‘Knock as much as you want, stone lasts longer than skin’.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    There are a number of probablies in Mr Cody’s story and I would note that he lived briefly near Toronto, Ontario (sigh). One of the probablies is in regard to his riding for the Pony Express at age 14 and riding 384 miles in some incredible time. He has (probably) appropriated Pony Bob’s record ride of 380 miles in 40 hours and added a bit to make a new record. They kept track of hours so it’s unlikely he had a longer run than the company’s record. (It only operated for about 18 months). The item I read said that Cody was “probably” in school during the company’s time but in another place it said that he had been employed as a messenger so we’re already on shaky ground. It wouldn’t be impossible for him to have been hired at 14 since they wanted light riders.

  5. Brian Evans says:

    How about “I’ll be back-and next time no Mr Nice guy”

  6. Helen Martin says:

    The suggestion that he was “probably” in school needs clarification (a school register perhaps) as does the claim that he fought in the Civil War, although that should be easy enough. Buffalo hunting would have been after the war as that’s no game for boys. Perhaps I need to read the book you mentioned up there, Chris, otherwise we’re into research big time. No, I’m not offering but my genealogical friend might be lured in.

  7. Jo W says:

    On the subject of tombstones, there was a great cartoon of one in the Punch magazines. (Alas, poor Punch)
    On the stone was carved “Apparently it was my turn!”
    If I wanted a grave marker, I think I would like that one. 😉

  8. Peter Tromans says:

    … and if it wasn’t my turn, I’d be pleased to swap places.

  9. Eliz Amber says:

    Hereabouts, we’ve been guarding his grave for decades lest the rapscallions in Wyoming steal him from us. I don’t remember what his headstone says, however. I think they were more concerned that the body stayed put.

  10. Jan says:

    This story is true honest it happened one afternoon in SQ28 when myself and a couple of lads I worked with decided to tackle the Suns half hour crossword which for us was more like a half day Crossword.

    17 across clue “A mythical creature half man half beast” Scots Dave said “That’ll be Buffalo Bill”

  11. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    I rather like the sentiments expressed by Jake Thackray.

    Your rosebuds are numbered;
    Gather them now for rosebuds’ sake.
    And if your hands aren’t too encumbered
    Gather a bud or two for Jake.

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    To be honest I don’t care what happens to my corpse, funerals are for the living. If they do bury me I’d like something like, ‘Come on in, the soil’s lovely.’ or ‘Sorry I’m not in right now, but if you like to leave a message please use the Ouija board provided.’

    And I have beg to differ about the good all-rounder, in cricket they are usually the most sort after.

    In the arts and such they also have a different name – Renaissance man – I wonder what it is code for.


  13. John Howard says:

    IF I WAS (Bloody cats again)… Anyway, what was I saying; If I was going to have one I rather fancy Booker T and the MG’s pop number – “Time is Tight” as my pithy exit message.
    Certainly going to have it playing if anyone come to the festivities.

  14. Brian Evans says:

    Like Wayne, I don’t believe in funerals, and nor does my partner. We are just going to be”got rid” of. The only decent, if that’s the word, funeral I have been to was a Quaker one, when the friends and relatives talked about anything they wanted to say concerning the deceased-John. Just like one of their meetings in fact. I have spent my entire life as a devout atheist and I don’t want the so called “God” to get his hot little hands on me when I am at my most vulnerable.

    However, if I were to have a funeral I would be cremated, and to make sure I could go leaving them laughing, I would be carted off with Josef Locke banging out the wonderfully strident “Blaze Away”-We’ll build a bonfire of our troubles, and we’ll watch them blaze away….”

  15. Helen Martin says:

    “Funerals are for the living.” Yes they are and they provide a way for friends and family to say goodbye in whatever way is comfortable for them to do together. One thing I have learned is that you really need to get that old guy/gal on the corner talking. (and according to the radio this morning good for them, too.) I have heard so many tales second hand about friends I thought I knew and wished I had had a chance to hear them first hand. I was the one to pass on a tale concerning a female friend to her grand daughter.
    It’s a chance to celebrate a time in the community, a last chance to point out what has happened. I can live without Rock of Ages and a large number of other drony, depressing things but the new habit of calling them – and them being – celebrations of life is a positive thing. Or at least it can be.

  16. Helen Martin says:

    And not wanting anything says that you believe that you are of no importance to and have had no affect on anyone else. That is highly unlikely.

  17. Vivienne says:

    Just hope my ashes get into the River Thames.

  18. Ian Luck says:

    I love the phrase used by the late, great Fred Dibnah, when he was guiding a presumably terrified BBC man up a factory chimney that he was working on:
    “You want to hold on tight – or it’ll be half a day out with the Undertaker.”

  19. Mike says:

    A friend of ours who had been in an abusive relationship had Queen’s “I want to be free” played as her coffin was carried out.
    Her ex husband sat there oblivious as most of the rest of us were stifling giggles.

  20. Wayne Mook says:

    Helen it’s not that I’m not important especially to family & friends, it’s not wanting to impose my views on other people and allowing them to remember me as they want to. Some of the worst funerals I’ve been to is when the deceased has stated what they want which has then been carried out much to the discomfort and emotional pain to the people there. It leaves the feeling that the deceased was thoughtless at best and openly malicious at worst, and I have seen both. No, I trust people to celebrate me as they will, I know I’ll be the centre of thought and conversation, which is the way at a funeral.

    Also if I was to pick music it would be in poor taste and a string of bad jokes, – if I was to be buried I’d go for something like Status Quo Down, Down (deeper & down) and cremation The Doors Light My Fire, and probably bring in the coffin to Here Comes the Bride, with a stop at Jollity Farm, and it would probably get worse, of course the eulogy would have to admit songs were chosen for comedy value not necessarily for meaning or musical liking. Plus I was always brought up not to be a burden, and it’s hard to get away from this, so I think it would be best to leave it upto those that knew and loved me, I’ve given some pointers – a humanist ceremony so it’s inclusive to as many people of different faiths, I’ve argued enough with people when alive I don’t intend to do in death. Being allowed to create the words and memories for a loved one to be read out was a cathartic experience, when I’ve been to funerals when the deceased has set down exactly what they want it invariably feels artificial and puts a distance there, even to the point where some people feel excluded. I’d rather people have a party or a proper celebration and having the body there tends to get in the way of people letting the hair down and letting feelings flow. So get rid of physical me (and as cheaply and environmentally sound as possible.) and go and celebrate the memory of me.

    As I said funerals are for the living and they are more important than the dead.


  21. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, I see I misinterpreted what you meant. I agree that the friends etc. should have the choosing of words and music. I thought you were saying not to have anything. Given your music choices perhaps it is better for others to do the choosing, unless you wanted people to go away giggling, which is not such a bad thing.
    I’ve been a little sensitive since we lost a couple of long time congregational members, one of them originally Northern Irish Presbyterian. the notice in the paper said there would be no service at the request of the deceased. We knew that wasn’t true, but just that the children didn’t want to be part of a church commemoration. We’ve since had a little afternoon gathering at which people were free to tell how they remembered the couple and we gave thanks for the lives they had lived and have said we’ll have a like gathering if people are unable to travel for funerals they would like to attend. Just an opportunity for people to remember those far away who were important to them. As you say, that’s the importance of these events anyway, to acknowledge how people have affected us.

  22. Ian Luck says:

    The father of a great friend of mine died recently and I went to the funeral – and it was nowhere near as bad as I dreaded – everyone dislikes funerals, especially if it is for someone you liked. My friend’s father was one of those folks who seems intimidating at first, but I got on with him very well indeed. He was, a ‘Rough Diamond’, and the eulogy did not skip this fact. Not related, but I had known him 20+ years. As I signed the book of remembrance, it suddenly struck me that I’d never see this small, incredibly characterful Gibraltarian man again, and I had to go outside. My friend was dreading the funeral, but I told him that it was not a bad thing at all, and there were relatives from all over the world there, some of whom he’d not seen for years, and the thought of meeting them cheered him up. A lady I had never met before came up to me, and said that my friend’s mum had asked her to ask me to tell my friend that it was all right to cry. I said that I would, bit knew it would not be necessary to do so – he would, when the time was right. I know his wife wouldn’t let him bottle it up – she told me that it was normal, a safety valve, if you like, to have a damn good cry, when my parents died – the only time that I cried when not at home was at my friend’s house – his son, who is autistic, and who was six at the time, walked over to me, tapped me on the arm, and said: (and it’s difficult to type this, even now)
    “I’m sorry what happened to your mummy.”, and he held my hand, and went back to what he’d been doing. I had to flee into the garden, devastated.
    Death is such a bastard.

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