The Last Hurrah was a good solid novel written in 1958 by Edwin O’Connor. And…this is not an article about that book. It is, instead, an essay, which has either a twinkle or a tear in the eye regarding the other meaning of that phrase.
What is The Last Hurrah? It is that last significant deed you do, that last love of your life, that last opportunity for you to GO.FOR.IT before they throw the ultimate party for you, the one in which nobody has anything bad to say about you. You know what I’m talking about. No need to spell it out.
Those who know me and/or read me regularly know that I have another kind of suggestion in mind for that last party…seriously so. This isn’t a spoof. Try to withhold judgment, at least till you get to the end. Then fire away with both barrels. This is America and you can still think and say what you want…I think.
A number of years ago I wrote a novel entitled, Playing On the Black Keys. It was semi-biographical with emphasis on the semi. In it, a gnarly, egotistical editor of a small town newspaper becomes convinced that he’s well into the very last chapter of his life. He has a handful of months and arrogant egotist that he is, he comes up with a new and improved way to put that period at the end of his own sentence.
As an editor and having experienced many funerals, the protagonist (Sam Harper) complains to his drinking buddy that the whole system is wrong. “You die and they send flowers, eat lobster tails, get drunk…and nobody can say anything bad about you. What a damn shame that you’re not there to enjoy the one party on the planet you actually might like to go to.” Therein lies the germ of the rest of the book. Sam Harper, the protagonist, plans a party in lieu of his funeral, one in which he invites both friends and enemies so that he may tell everyone what he thinks of them. He hires a mariachi band, spends hours picking out the music that will be played and proclaims that there will be surf-and-turf and ribs and booze flowing in abundance. No one will go home hungry and everyone will have their chance to clear the air and say what they really think. Better to do it now because later on….what’s the point? You’re dead and it’s too damned late.
In the book, the party, of course, goes awry, though in a humorous and bittersweet way. In real life, I would gladly, eagerly, cheerfully prefer to have a last “blow-out” with both friends and enemies. Like a wedding where the groom’s guests sit on one side, the bride’s the other, at this party, the ushers would whisper, “Friend or enemy of the soon-to-be deceased?” “Uhmm… I’m an enemy, actually.” “That’s fine. Enemies sit on the right.”
The music I’d pick (this is me, now, not you, mostly because I’m writing this article and possibly throwing this party) would be gratuitously designed to make people out-and-out weep and blubber…or at the very least, grow wistful. I’d kick-off with Louis Armstrong singing, “We Have All the Time in the World.” I’d play, “Ave Maria,” just because it blows-away even agnostics and atheists. I’d play, “I Swear,” sung by John Michael Montgomery just to get Pamela to blubber a bit and pierce the balloon that will be her sadness… “Moon River,” and then something by The Band just to cheer things up. I’d close with, “Here Comes the Sun,” for reasons too complex to explain. Keep in mind, the focus of the party, in this case…me…is at this time very much alive, drinking, dancing and seeing how many lobster tails I can consume.
I would (will?) have some cute, nasty speech to give to the enemy-side of the aisle and tell them that they just might get a bill for all those lobsters if they get too nasty. And then I’d try to sum up the high points of things I’d learned. At the end, we’d all hug, shake hands, laugh and….everyone would know that in the coming days, weeks, months when I did “graduate” that once again, Henry managed to beat the system with some kind of whacko idea. The understanding would be that this is in lieu of one of those depressing funerals where I’m already dead. If you ever do receive an invitation to such a thing, I hope you’ll come… whichever side of the aisle you choose to sit on. We have a reputation for throwing memorable parties…
As an aside, Playing On the Black Keys, is what paid for Cameron’s college, what allowed me to play footsie with the possibility of Paul Newman or Nick Nolte playing Sam Harper…it introduced me to some fantastic friends and it apparently pleased and at the same time blew-away a whole slew of people. My greatest pleasure was…and is writing a scene where you’re blubbering at all the sadness of it all and then blowing your coffee in the next line. The corollary to that is equally fun: Laugh…laugh…laugh……..followed by….oh shit, ya got me. That seems to be how life plays out.
And as Tom and Ray Magliozzi used to say, “In the shameless commerce division,” you can order the book from me, in which case, I will write a short note to you. (Please specify whether you’re friend or enemy. It’s difficult to keep track.) Or you can order it from fine Amazon websites in your area.