Death Before Dying

The first song on the first album by the Deathray Davies is a pounding, gloriously off-kilter pop tune called "They stuck me in a box in the ground part 1." As introductions go, the song is terrifically instructive, not only hinting at front man John Dufilho's fetish for '60s melody and quirky, verbose titles ("I Regret the Day I Tried to Steal Daniel's Ego," "I Am Still the King of Confusion") but also marking the first installment in that all-too-rare occurrence--the pop music series. Track 13 on that album is "They stuck me in a box in the ground part 2," followed on the next release by--you guessed it--"They stuck me in a box in the ground part 3," released as one-half of a 7".

The Kick and the Snare, the band's head-swimmingly terrific fifth album, contains songs 6 and 7 in the series, which imagines various death scenarios for its protagonist, from being buried alive to falling from the sky to sinking to a watery grave. It's a morbid little narrative, although much like the band's danger-chic name, each of the songs has a kind of goofy lightness. "I think I've even got makeup on," marvels the corpse of part 2. "I'm doomed to be the only one in history to go down this way," says the hero of part 6 as he dies at the hands of a squid.

Dufilho refers to these songs as "The Box Series" (he also notes they go backward, from burial to funeral to slab to death). And though they might indicate a certain preoccupation with death and dying, Dufilho claims they're really about something else. "The series is about facing fears," he says. "It's about the fear of being misunderstood. It's about not knowing where to start--and nobody knows where to start, whether you're 10 or 66."

We asked Dufilho to take us through each of the installments and explain what's going on, in his own words.

Part 1 (from Drink With the Grown-Ups and Listen to Jazz)

When they realize it's a mistake/They'll hurry back I'm sure

"I've been buried but still think that I'm alive and that it's all a big mistake. It's an analogy for feeling misunderstood by everyone."

Part 2 (from Drink With the Grown-Ups and Listen to Jazz)

Monday started out all wrong/Woke up with a suit and tie on

"It's an open-casket funeral (which hopefully I'll never have). Lots of people are there, many of them strangers. I'm in denial about what's happening and want to explain to everyone that it's a mistake, but I can't."

Part 3 (from 7")

Now I'm like everyone/'Cause I don't know where to start

"This takes place in a hospital at midnight. I've passed away but don't realize it. I can't remember anything about myself, like my name or my age."

Part 4 (from Day of the Ray)

A puzzled look from the man in the plane/As I jump into open sky

"I've jumped out of a plane with no parachute. At the funeral everyone is saying it's OK ('He's upstairs now in those shiny new wing tips') when all I seem to want are my old Nikes back."

Part 5 (from Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory)

And you wonder why I still make up songs about my death...

"With this one I tried to explain the whole thing. 'Under your microscope, it's all I've ever known/Mapped out this life defined by circuitry that's blown.'" In other words, God is watching me. I'm wired a little strange, but I make up stories about dying to figure out what life is all about."

Part 6 (from The Kick and the Snare)

All I've got is a parking lot full of stories never told...

"This is the tale of a giant squid who pulls me down to the bottom of the sea. I ignore warning signs, thinking it's like some kind of dare or challenge, and then regret it because I still have so much more living to do."

Part 7 (from The Kick and the Snare)

I didn't understand/Until now

"A continuation of part 6. I've drowned but (once again) am in denial about it. I try to make sense of it by singing."

That's not the end of the series, of course. Dufilho's already worked out parts 8 and 9, the latter of which features a man being circled by vultures. It's all a bit eerie but also in good fun. "I'm not a morbid person," he says. "I'm just interested in things that are larger than you and me, interested in the fact that we're all going to die. You have to make light of the heaviness of it. What else could you do?"

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Sarah Hepola