Top Ten Musical Moments from ‘Six Feet Under’

HBO
HBO

If you’re a Six Feet Under fan, than you know the series used great music.  If you’re not, perhaps seeing what music it features will convert you into a fan of this Alan Ball show (although, for the sake of context, I will be describing some events that happen in the series, so possible spoilers ahead!) I fell in love with this show around my college years, and I always seem to go back to it. Although it’s a show about death, it says so much about life. I’ve already written several articles praising the show, but now I think it’s time to praise the music that was used. So, here are the top ten musical moments fromSix Feet Under.

Number Ten: “Calling All Angels” by Jane Siberry & KD Lang. In season five, episode six, titled “The Rainbow of Her Reasons,” this song is sung by Ruth, Sara, Brenda and the rest of Fiona’s friends, as they gather around Fiona’s body in the embalming room to pay their more personal last respects. The original version plays over the end credits. This is a very powerful scene, as it features only women, and we see the bond Ruth feels towards them (evidenced by her smoking pot for what was probably the first time and her singing out loud in front of people for the first time in the show- the only other time we hear Ruth sing is when she sings Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” when she thinks no one is listening; I considered putting that musical moment on this list.) During this scene, we see flashes of the rest of the characters who are all just barely getting by, and the lyrics reflect this: “Oh, and every day you gaze upon the sunset / with such love and intensity / why, it’s ah, it’s almost as if you crack the code / you’d finally understand what this all means / oh, but if you could, do you think you would / trade it all, all the pain and suffering / oh, but then you would’ve missed the beauty / the light upon this earth and the sweetness of leaving / calling all angels, calling all angels / walk me through this one, don’t leave me alone / calling all angels, calling all angels / we’re trying, we’re hoping, but we’re still not sure why.” Overall, this song reflects the entire theme of the show; the characters who are alive but have been through so much, probably are contemplating why they continue to live their lives when they’re surrounded by death.

Number Nine: “One Time Too Many” by PJ Harvey. In season two, episode one, titled “In The Game,” this song plays as Brenda sorts through and gets rid of old clothes, books and CD’s. This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series, watching Brenda dance around her empty apartment with a sense of female angst and empowerment. And of course, this was when she smoked pot, and the scene and the song ends with her lying down, bored with her situation, blowing smoke out of her mouth. The lyrics are short and simple, yet don’t exactly apply to Brenda, with the exception that the artist (PJ Harvey) is known for producing very raw, sexual songs. As we see later in the season, Brenda becomes a sex addict. The song came off of PJ Harvey’s 1995 album, To Bring You My Love.

Number Eight: “Speed of Sound” by Coldplay. In season five, episode four, titled “Time Flies,” this song plays as a bluebird flies into the house during Nate’s birthday party and Billy and Claire argue. The lyrics of the song include, “birds go flying at the speed of sound / to show you how it all began / birds came flying from the underground / if you could see it then you’d understand.” No one knows what these lyrics mean, but from my perspective, “flying from the underground” could reflect how some believe that birds were once fish or reptiles that lived in the ocean. However, despite this, they eventually evolved to learn how to fly. In relation to the show, however, Nate doesn’t see the stray bird in his house as something spiritual. He ends up beating it to death with a broom, and at the episode’s conclusion, Nate reluctantly says sorry to the dead bird as he puts a bag of trash over it. Although it is considered a myth, supposedly when a bird flies into the home through an open door or window, it means death is coming. Perhaps Nate knew this, or sensed it subconsciously, as the bird flew through his kitchen window on his 40th birthday. Hence, why he projected his fear onto the bird, killing it. In Nate’s eyes, it was either the bird or him who had to go.

Number Seven: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan. In season five, episode ten, titled “All Alone,” this song plays during Nate’s funeral.  We assume that Nate either picked it out or once told a family member he liked the song; it’s never specified. What’s interesting about this song choice is that Nate was “knockin’ on heaven’s door” twice in the show due to his AVM. He perhaps struggled the most, more than any other character, with facing death and his own mortality. There’s only a few moments in the show where we see Nate truly be free; one of them is when he rides on the motorcycle as “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays (I did consider putting that on this list, by the way.) Still, these moments were fleeting, as he constantly was reminded of death through his own personal struggles and through his line of work (working as a funeral director.) This song can be found on Bob Dylan’s 1973 album and soundtrack, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.

Number Six: “Cold Wind” by Arcade Fire. In season five, episode eleven, titled “Static,” this song plays as Claire is driving home on the bus after her car accident and as Brenda is delivering her baby. It also plays during the end credits. In particular, lyrics like, “if they ever find me / tell the papers / cold wind blowing” and “hey, something ain’t right,” give the ending of this episode an ominous feel, as we are unsure if Claire is going to continue heading down a destructive path or if Brenda’s premature baby will make it. The song is a single for Arcade Fire; however it never made it onto any of their studio albums. Interestingly, the music supervisor for the show had the band write a song for the season five promo, but instead it was used in this episode.

Number Five: “A Rush of Blood to the Head” by Coldplay. In season three, episode one, titled “Perfect Circles,” this song plays as Nate is in limbo, visualizing all the different possible scenarios his life could turn out to be. In particular, it plays during the vision of him and Lisa, and later plays during this exact same moment that happens later in reality. It also plays over the end credits. The chorus of the song goes, “honey, all the movements you’re starting to make / see me crumble and fall on my face / and I know the mistakes that I’ve made / see it all disappear without trace / and they call as they beckon you on / they say start as you need to go on.” Essentially, these lyrics describe Nate’s chance to start over after his near brush with death. And indeed he does; he becomes a husband to Lisa and a father to Maya. In addition, the last line of the song, “blame it all upon a rush of blood to the head,” relates to Nate’s diagnosis of AVM, in that AVM disrupts the flow of blood from the heart to the brain and can cause bleeding in the brain. If you think about this from a certain perspective, you’ll realize how Nate’s diagnosis also relates to his character and his life choices. This song came off of Coldplay’s 2002 album of the same name (Yes, I realize I put two Coldplay songs on this list, but I feel like both were chosen purposefully for the particular scenes mentioned.)

Number Four: “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie. In season four, episode six, titled “Terror Starts at Home,” this song plays as Claire, Russell, Jimmy, Anita and Edie take an ecstasy-like drug, and they sing along to this song while they’re tripping. In particular, they sing the line, “I need you so much closer,” which of course, is probably the best moment and lyric in the song. This is an important moment in the show for Claire, as it seems like she finally found a group of like-minded people that she clicks with. In regards to the episode’s title, Claire paints this phrase on her wall as she’s tripping, while it also relates to David hiding his feelings about his abduction; essentially, David also hid his feelings from his family about being gay for quite a long time. The song came off of Death Cab for Cutie’s 2003 release of the same name.

Number Three: “Lucky” by Radiohead. In season four, episode three, titled “Parallel Play,” the Fisher’s are having a garage sale, and Claire suggests they burn everything they didn’t sell. The family watches the fire burn, when Claire goes upstairs and puts on her stereo, playing Radiohead’s “Lucky.” Claire takes pictures of her family and the fire; in a later episode, we see her give David a picture from this fire scene, with David looking contemplative while the flames dance in front of him. Also during this scene, Nate comes home, and frustrated over the memory of Lisa, he throws blankets from the bed they shared out of the window and onto the fire. In particular, the lyric, “I feel my luck could change,” relates to Nate in that he’s trying to purge himself of everything he’s been through. In addition, the lyric, “we are standing on the edge” describes the entire Fisher family; they all don’t know what’s going to happen next. Personally, I felt this song was a beautiful, random choice by the staff of Six Feet Under. The song came off of Radiohead’s 1997 release, OK Computer.

Number Two: “All Apologies” by Nirvana. In season five, episode ten, titled “All Alone,” this song plays as Claire is watching Nate being buried, and she thinks back to the time when she walked in on Nate crying and smoking pot as he was mourning the death of Kurt Cobain. Said Nate to Claire of Cobain, “he was just too pure for this world.” He then offers Claire a hit of his weed. The unplugged version plays at the end as Claire lies in bed after Nate’s funeral, Ruth says goodnight to Maya and as the end credits role. Personally, I was always unsure of the ending lyrics to the song, thinking it was “all in all is all we are” or “on and on is all we are.” However, I believe the title of this episode confirms that the lyric is, in fact, “all alone is all we are.” In particular, the line “married / buried” reminds me of Nate, as both of his marriages consisted of fighting and both marriages ended in some form of disaster. He essentially married Lisa because she had his child, and it seems he married Brenda because she was there for him and because it felt familiar to him. The song came off of Nirvana’s 1993 release, In Utero.

Number One: “Breathe Me” by Sia. In season five, episode twelve, titled “Everyone’s Waiting,” this song is the last track ever played on the show. It plays as Claire drives away to New York, despite the fact that she doesn’t have a job or place to live there yet. She wants to stay because so much of her life is attached to her family, yet she knows she must go (and even Nate’s ghost urges her too.) As she pulls out of the driveway and the song begins to play (a song from a mixtape Ted made for her,) we feel for Claire, in that she’s lost but waiting to be found. As this song plays (edited so it would be seven minutes long,) we see flash-forwards of how each prominent character of the show dies; luckily, most of them die from old age. One of my favorite scenes in this montage is when David is sitting at the picnic table as an old man, he sees a vision of Keith when Keith was young, and then he falls over and dies. Another moving scene is when Claire sees Ted at her mother’s funeral, and as they stare at one another, the lyric “be my friend” plays. And perhaps the most poetic part of this scene is when Claire sees Nate running in the rearview mirror; like Brenda says in one of the last episodes, Nate should do want he wants, not what other people want. Unfortunately, he literally and figuratively spent his whole life running- running away from what his heart truly desired. Speaking of the lyrics, I feel like they apply to many of the show’s characters. The song begins, “help, I have done it again / I have been here many times before / hurt myself again today / and the worst part is there’s no one else to blame.” The chorus goes, “be my friend / hold me, wrap me up / unfold me / I am small and needy / warm me up / and breathe me.” Essentially, Ruth, Claire, David, Nate and Brenda all have moments in the show where they’re vulnerable, and “the worst part is” that they’ve hurt themselves. Alan Ball said of this ending scene, “I wanted Claire to be the last one to die because Claire is the artist; Claire is the one who sees story. She sees the bigger picture. And because the series started with somebody in a car ending their life, I wanted to do somebody in a car driving off into their new life, into their new horizon.” In regards to the song, it’s featured on Sia’s 2004 album, Colour the Small One, and essentially it put Sia on the map.

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