Ambrose Bierce travelled with Pancho Villa’s army as an observer, as far as the Mexican city of Chihuaha. His last known letter is dated December 26, 1913. In it he writes, “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.” He was never heard from again. Bierce’s disappearance, at the age of 71, remains a mystery.
Christina “Licorice” McKechnie (pictured below) was a singer and songwriter of The Incredible String Band, a Scottish psychedelic folk-rock band which played an integral part in late 1960s British counterculture, but failed to find enduring commercial success. The ISB were Scottish Beatles—a really strange, occasionally awkwardly, alternative Beatles. From 1968-1971, the era of the band’s greatest success, the band’s line-up was two heterosexual couples together. After McKechnie split with Robin Williamson, one of The ISB’s two co-founders, in 1972, she left the band. She moved to California in 1974. She plays in bands, such as Woody Woodmansey's U-Boat, around California until 1977. She was last seen hiking across the Arizona desert in 1987. She has not been heard from since.
...We Are In Death Etc.
Morrissey, who made that line—“in the midst of life we are in death etc….”—famous first turned me onto The Incredible String Band. It was in the context of Morrissey insulting Radiohead (in an interview I cannot find and therefore cannot cite, sorry). His put-down was that Radiohead wasn’t doing anything that The ISB hadn’t already done, way better, twenty-five years before, when Thom Yorke was still in his Fake Plastic Jolly Jumper. I’ve been listening to my The ISB records a lot lately and what I continue to conclude is that the insult makes no sense: actually, even the comparison makes no sense. Radiohead is by any reasonable measure much the better band—more innovative, more consistent, more serious. Anyway, I thought Morrissey was singing “In the midst of Life/ We Are in Debt” for a long time and that comforted me enormously at the time because I was really quite poor. The actual phrase “In the Midst of Life…” is not from The Bible. It is from the The Order for the Burial of the Dead from The Book of Common Prayer. It is called an anthem. It is to be said, or sung, while the body is being prepared for burial.
“In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?”
Morrissey didn’t steal that line from Ambrose or anything. The Book of Common Prayer was first authorized for use by The Anglican Church in 1549. But the anthem is medieval. It had been around way before that. Agatha Christie also borrows the line in And Then There Were None (1939). It’s one of the best-selling novels of all time—over 100 million copies sold. That, despite the original name of the book: Ten Little N(injas). Chin up, Morrissey—the general public has an illustrious history of ignoring blatant racism when it suits them, so nice work in resurrecting all those old ghosts, my friend, thanks for bringing that little bit of Britain back. I will stick with my The ISB, thanks all the same.
I don't think it's fair to issue instructions for one's own funeral. Who cares, really? But "Air" by The ISB ( from its massively influential 1968 album Wee Tam and The Big Huge) would do just fine. I imagine it has been used in tens or hundreds of thousands of actual funerals. And counting. In the midst of life and so forth, obvs.