Because of the nature of the project, critical evaluation is difficult. Each selection has been made for the most singular, personal reasons imaginable, reasons that even the selectors can't explain, in spite of the revealing liner notes from each. These are people whose job it is to find the right song to play at the right time, but choosing not the last song, but the very, very last song, well, normal criteria of tune selection just don't apply. While the DJs can offer up their thoughts and describe their emotive attachments to each song, each choice is impossible to justify, because that place where the soul preserves its most intimate objects can't be defended in words. Music is able to enter into this innermost part of each of us because it can strike without warning, it can compel you to follow it without reason, it can simply puncture your life one day and remain by your side until you pass from this world.
The final song will come, as music so often does, at the moment when there is nothing else that can be said, when nothing else can mitigate a gap or abyss that threatens to overwhelm us. Music does this not by filling up or erasing this gap, but by dwelling in it and casting light upon it. As the songs chosen here show, there are a variety of ways to do this: Tracks range from the cathartic and the reverent to the testamentary and the playful. Many go the intimate, contemplative route, like DJ T., who picks Erik Satie's "Gymnopédie," a piano composition known for its arresting delicacy and expressionistic nuance: T. writes that, for him, the song unfolds "the simultaneous expression of the hope and sadness, the beauty as well as the tragedy of life."
Kevin Saunderson chooses Cerrone's italo-disco stormer "Supernature," not because its sci-fi themes and barreling rhythms are particularly appropriate for ceremonial circumstances, but because it represents for him a crucial conversion moment—it was the first song he heard when he went into Paradise Garage for the first time. Then Laurent Garnier plays "Sit Down, Stand Up" by Radiohead, apparently more out of a desire to soundtrack his own voyage into the realm of the dead rather than consolingly unite those who will have gathered to mark departure from the realm of the living. The song's a raw, existential spine-tingler, not least for the lyric, "walk into the jaws of hell." But that's always been one of Radiohead's strong suits, to give radically new form to sentiments universally felt, so that they appear to strike consciousness wholly anew, with the utmost immediacy. It's a bold choice, to say the least, and would certainly be an eyebrow-raiser in a room full of friends and loved ones.
If there is a strong reason to play one last jam when you go, maybe it's only to signal the sort of feeling shared in the Beach Boy's moving "Till I Die": "I'm a cork on the ocean, floating over the raging sea....how deep is the ocean? / I'm a leaf on a windy day...how long will the wind blow?" Music won't save you, won't pull you from the ocean or shelter you from the wind, but it can trace the scene of you floating there, it can show the way you tremble in the wind. Or you can say that music won't bring anybody back to life, and it can't mediate between life and death, because nothing can. But it can mark the impossibility of mediating between them. And in that inexplicable way that anyone with ears knows, this is a source of strength. Or, maybe if you're looking for a reason to play a final song, there might be a hint there in the curious presence of a number in the compilation's title: Final Song #1, which seems to say that the final song is actually the first in a series, and that somehow the end can find a way to a beginning.