Gild Your Dead, Harlem-style

There is a decent read on MSNBC about the way our society’s ballooning vanity has affected the post-mortem beautification process. Example: “Silicone implants will explode [during cremation]. They’re like little bombs.” What actually gave me pause was the attached video.

“Everyone in Harlem knows I’m the guy that puts a smile on your face. Other places you just look.. dead,” says Isaiah Owens – owner of a Harlem funeral home. The video itself is a series of stills from his practice. He specializes in post-mortem sprucing, but we’re not just talking the usual wax and paint treatment. No, this man genuinely delights in making the deceased look as cheerful as possible. The slides show Owens romancing a cadaver with his magic until she smiles an almost-Giaconda smile.

There are no demure neutrals for the ladies here – hot pink nail polish, generous helpings of subdermal injections and blush are this man’s passion. Isaiah’s reputation is that of making the dead look better than the living. The funeral home’s website refers to his style at “panache” and calls Isaiah a “rare individual”. After listening to the voice over a few times I have to agree – Owens is invested. There is a touching sincerity to his voice as he describes his work, step by step. To him, death is a beautiful release from earthly pain and he’s helping the dead obtain proper presentation for what lies beyond. Also interesting is the broad array of names he gives the bodies: remains, ashes, people. Despite this dichotomy I find myself liking the way he talks about death and admiring his certainty about what it means and what comes next.

When I die, I want a modest ceremony: my brain [or soul, if you like] is to be transplanted into a superior shell and launched into space. For my body I want a shrine of candles and flowers, followed by a few weeks in a crystal coffin somewhere public and a Viking cremation with my ashes let loose over Moscow. For all the young breathers to choke on.

[Thanks, Jerem!]

10 Responses to “Gild Your Dead, Harlem-style”

  1. kc Says:

    “my ashes let loose over Moscow. For all the young breathers to choke on.”


  2. BlueAnchorNatasha Says:

    Being at the tail end of my Death class, it rather bugs me when people dance around the subject of a death. They died, just say it already! I have to agree with you though Zoe, I like the way he talks about it. Realistic yet ‘appropriate’ enough for the general public audience. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Mer Says:

    Heh. Reminds me of what Screamin’ Jay Hawkins said: “I wrote in my will to cremate me . . . fly over the ocean and scatter the dust so I can be little particles in everybody’s eyes – drive everybody crazy the rest of their lives.”

  4. Zoetica Says:

    Screamin’ Jay and I would have had a fine joint funeral, if he’d settle for the Moscow River in the ocean’s place.

  5. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Initially, it struck me as people still trying to avoid the finality of death (I hadn’t watched the vid), but now it does seem that this service might indeed, help those left behind. Although, still, it smacks of a sort of Las Vegas approach to thinking of the end. Brightly flashing distractions.

    p.s. Screamin’ J. once said he didn’t want to be buried, as he’d already spent most of his life in coffins!

  6. R. Says:

    After going to my great-grandmother’s funeral this year and seeing the hideous wig they stuck on her…I would rather be cremated. It’s sort of like Pimp My Corpse.

  7. Zoetica Says:

    20″ spinners for the casket, anyone?

  8. Jerem Morrow Says:

    @ R. and Zo


  9. MissSpite Says:

    … That’s the most amazing funeral plan I’ve ever heard.

  10. Anja Flower Says:

    Yeah… I kind of like the idea of having a headstone all my own, but if I do that, it’s a Jewish-style pine box for me, no open casket, fully biodegradable. And I’m designing my own goddamn motherfucking headstone, thanks.