Death Cab For Cutie - What Sarah Said

By Stuart Muir, London
My Grandad, Walter, was a warm and witty Scotsman. He'd grown up as one of 10 siblings in Central Perthshire with very little and went away to join the navy aged 13. 

After several years of sailing all around the world, toughing it out through various gruelling naval duties (he was a stoker) and serving in the Second World War, he met my Grandma back in Scotland, then settled back in Liverpool where he worked on the docks and where my Dad and his two brothers were born.

There are plenty of men of his generation who had seen some tough times or awful things in the war, and as a result ended up emotionally inaccessible, or overly strict, or just plain no-fun, but my Grandad was none of these things. 

He still always made sure that what needed to be done was done, but the display of his love and commitment to his family could never be questioned - stories were always told of the effort he'd always make, even after a long day at the shipyard, to give his time to my Dad and his brothers. And I have many memories of his charisma, humour and caring nature from our Scottish holidays when I was younger, and the effort he would make to spend time with me and my sisters, teaching us card games around the coal fire while telling us tall tales of the monkey they had on the ship that allegedly made tea for the crew.

In 2002, in his 80s, Walter was nearing the end of a full life. My Grandma had died several years earlier, always leaving a void in his life, and he'd been back living in the small village where they'd met in Scotland where he 
was well-known among the locals. But his health had started to diminish, and he ended up in Stirling hospital battling serious heart problems. I had finished university the year before and was living in my first flat in 
Crewe; one weekend my parents and younger sister were over for a visit from Merseyside when we got the call that my Grandad had taken a turn and didn't have long to go.

I won't forget when we gave my Dad a moment to close the door and go into the living room of my flat to speak to him on the phone. No-one was listening in, but the atmosphere was charged while my Mum, sister and I 
could hear him thanking him for everything he'd done for him. There were no guarantees whatsoever that this wouldn't be the last time they would ever speak. My Dad had been making regular visits up there, but Crewe to 
Stirling is at least a 6-hour drive and time was not on his side. After getting off the phone, my Dad decided he was going to just drive up there to try make it in time to spend his father's last few hours with him.

I became a pretty big Death Cab for Cutie fan a bit later, and it's nice to make the tenuous connection between a band that sells out huge arenas with a lead singer who formally dated Zooey Deschanel and a working-class 
Scotsman who made his own soup every day and probably would have laughed at their name. Another noteworthy connection for me, but a non-parallel in this context, comes from another Death Cab song, Styrofoam Plates, that tells of the awkwardness at the funeral of a friend's father, who the song derides for never having been there for his family. DCFC's 2005 release Plans has a number of highlights, but the penultimate track, What Sarah Said, contains for me personally one of those moments when a song captures perfectly a situation or a feeling, good or bad, and makes it even more real, with huge efficacy. There is imagery of a hospital, and a loved one about to be taken. It sets the scene, circles and builds with a disconcerting urgency, and then pauses before hitting you with its beautifully haunting conclusion:

Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room, just nervous paces bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone lifts their head

But I was thinking of what Sarah said

That love is watching someone die

My Dad made it up to Stirling hospital in time. His brothers had years ago emigrated to the US, so he was the only family member left who would be able to be there with him for his last hours. It must have meant a huge 
amount for my Grandad to have his son there. I can't imagine what it would have been like for my Dad, driving up the M6 on his own, not knowing if he'd make it or not, the relief of getting there in time, followed by the sorrow of then losing him. But I'm so grateful that he did. The song itself comes from a realisation of a friend of DCFC lead singer Ben Gibbard's who dreads the thought of the day either her or her partner will die and leave the other. But the sentiment fits any number of scenarios, and certainly the time my Dad drove 250 miles to be with his Dad one more time, then watch him die.

I'm not always the most open person emotionally, but this song has me in pieces pretty much every time it comes on (usually due to some mp3-shuffle-blindside). It'll always point directly to that moment for me, but perhaps also a little to what is yet to come, on its final line. It simply asks "so who's going to watch you die?".

Stuart plays the accordion and trumpet in Elvers (

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