Death Salon Interviews Adam Arcuragi

Welcome to the next installment in our series of interviews with the fine folks behind Death Salon. In this case, we’ll be getting to know one of the musical performers gracing the stage of the Death Salon Cabaret at Bootleg Theater on Friday, October 18. Each subject was interviewed by a fellow organizer or event coordinator. Here you will learn more about each participant’s contributions to the Salon, their own fascinating body of work, and more about Death Salon itself.

Adam Arcuragi is an LA-based musician, formerly hailing from Philadelphia & Georgia. Adam’s soulful work, at turns boot-stomping and heartbreaking, has been dubbed Death Gospel. He is beloved by NPR and he recently did a stint supporting Frank Turner on tour. Adam Arcuragi is playing the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 3 (get tickets here). Adam is being interviewed by Death Salon organizer Megan Rosenbloom.

Photo by Sarah Law

Photo by Sarah Law

Explain the concept and origin of Death Gospel.

I feel like death has been taken from us, in modern, western culture. Instead of being seen as the thing that unites us as humans as well as being the thing that makes life sweeter by making life a limited-time offer, it is seen as something to be feared. Death is seen by many as a reason to scramble, in avarice, toward selfish goals. The very fact that we perceive our existence as a linear and terminating series of reactive states makes sentience that much richer and more special.

Just to look at it as mathematical probability: so far as we are able to gather we are the only planet that harbors life. So the probability for life in a very large universe is very small (given the current scientific data as of this interview). As we currently define it, we are the only sentient life on this one planet that has life on it; thereby making sentience an even smaller probability than the tiny probability for life in the universe. So if being an animal on Earth is a rare occurrence in the grand scheme and being a self-aware animal is even more rare, shouldn’t we celebrate that?

Being the only animal that knows its fate should unite us. Rather than squabbling over comforts, surpluses or who has the correct idea, shouldn’t we delight in the fact that we are able to agree, through language, that such abstract concepts exist in our complicated brains?

Death Gospel is that; a literal attempt to put forward a good word and conception of life through the reflection of its fragile state before the mirror that is death. Celebration of the limited window of opportunity, I feel, would take a lot of the needless and wasted energies of humanity (as a super organism) and redirect them into a cohesive and focused packet of productive energy. We are capable of so much and we do such amazing things as a collective group. We can also do terrible things as a collective group. Fear of death taints our collective efforts. Death Gospel is an attempt to introduce a corrective course.

Which of your songs do you think are the best examples of Death Gospel and why?

You’d Think This Was Easy because it is about how the confused state is easier to overcome than we think. Bottom of the River… it is a celebration song.

Lunch In Field Four is another celebration song. Last Long Rain  talks about how our brand of intelligence really only works on a limited scale as opposed to an infinite one. All the Bells is another attempt to squelch the tyranny of fear.

What are some other artists you believe embody the idea of Death Gospel?

The Flaming Lips are among the progenitors of Death Gospel. Most of their mid-to-late body of work deals directly with the ideas that are Death Gospel. Love overcoming all things, humans being special and not celebrating that enough, limited life spans not being a barre to great things but rather an impetus: these are at the core of what Death Gospel aspires to be.

Spiritualized is another group that exemplifies the ideals of Death Gospel. Many of their songs deal with the themes of life’s limited nature, confusion clouding our potential greatness and a dissolution of angst to clear a path for collective human greatness.

Brother Claude Ely wrote a song called ‘There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down’ which, to me, was a revelation that lead to the birth of the name “Death Gospel”. In the song he talks specifically about the triumph of death in life. In his delivery, in the lyrics, even in the guitar tone there is a total refusal to let the idea of dying inhibit his enjoyment of life.

Neko Case is another one; I think of her as the current high priestess of Death Gospel. While not all of her songs are necessarily Death Gospel, she certainly has a connecting thread running through her material that celebrates life, defies any attempts to dull the bright light of humanity and she sings with the fervor of one that is not inhibited by the thought of impending doom. Her album ‘Blacklisted’ has a few songs on it that are Death Gospel: ‘Deep Red Bells’ comes immediately to mind. ‘Lady Pilot’ also has the line “We’ve got a lady pilot/she’s not afraid to die”; I like to think of her as my lady pilot.

How do you think music helps people address mortality and mourning?

The hope is that in refusing to let death be a foreboding shadow we can collectively support one another and work together to do great things. Not just pyramids, bridges and egalitarian matriarchies, the hope is that there are little collective miracles as well. Not letting fear make your decisions for you is another victory we could all experience as a giant group.

So if mortality is not a scary, bad thing then mourning can take on another flavor of added celebration of the person who has passed but also celebration of the time the survivors have left to be alive and sentient.

What are you looking forward to about being involved in Death Salon?

The idea of the Death Salon is intriguing. I am most looking forward to seeing how it plays out. This is something that I had hoped would be put together and I am supremely pleased to be a part of it.

Bonus video: Adam Arcuragi covering “Long Black Veil.”

Adam Arcuragi is one of two musical acts performing at Death Salon Cabaret at Bootleg Theater October 18. Tickets will be available soon for pre-order. In the meantime, you can experience Death Gospel for yourself on July 3, when Adam Arcuragi is playing the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles with Ark Life followed up by Rebecca Marie Miller (get tickets here).

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About Megan Rosenbloom

I'm a librarian at USC's Norris Medical Library. I'm a rare book nerd, particularly interested in the history of medicine. I'm director & co-founder of Death Salon.
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