Death Waltz Day

Six years ago today, my uncle, John Stump died.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered that he had been the author of a number of pieces of sheet music, including “FAERIE’S AIRE and DEATH WALTZ,” which had a kind of legendary status online and a cult following among fans of musical absurdity.  Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about John here on Lost in the Cloud in order to provide some actual information about him, being that he was somewhat of a mystery to the world (my younger brother created a Wikipedia page, which was up for a while, but the powers that be at that reputedly free and open encyclopedia closed down the entry for not having enough verifiable outside sources!).  In the less than 2 years since I wrote that post, it has had 164,631 views.  That number may not seem tremendously high for some websites, but Elijah and I are regularly astounded at the weekly average of 5,000 people who are interested in finding out more about John.

So, being that today is the anniversary of John’s death, I would like to celebrate my eccentric genius uncle by officially declaring January 20 to be Death Waltz Day and posting some random information and images from John’s life, beginning with his death certificate.

Some might think it in poor taste to post a copy of this document, but I disagree.  For one, there have been some people who’ve claimed that John is an invented person and that this all is a hoax, so a legal document demonstrating the fact of his existence by acknowledging the END of his existence seems appropriately absurd, given John’s sense of humor (this is a man who once sent me, in lieu of a Christmas letter, a sympathy card using a fake name–for both the recipient and sender).  Secondly, I’ve had a number of requests for information about John and his death from small magazines or blogs, so I thought I’d just put this out there as part of the public data about John.  Finally, I’m commemorating his DEATH on DEATH WALTZ DAY, so a DEATH certificate seems apropos.  There’s no need for us to be so tetchy about the end of life, my friends!  (Ironically, one of the only musical compositions of John’s known to have been performed was called “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” so John was clearly comfortable with the topic!)

I’m also including a scan of the program cover and inside content from John’s memorial service, which was held at The Vedanta Society of Southern California, where my other uncle lives and works.

Having the coda from “Hey Jude” as your funeral recessional is about the coolest thing imaginable.  I wish I had been there to experience this first hand–I honestly cannot even remember the trivial matter that kept me from attending his service.

Reflecting the other end of John’s life, I wanted to post the actual hospital bill for his birth (total cost = $64.8o!) & a photo of a precious young John, probably around two or three years old.

(Where can you get a $2 circumcision these days?)

I thought I’d also share some rather funny promotional material that John used to sell his works, which he referred to as “musical novelties” and “gag sheet music,” along with John’s business card from his days as a music engraver.

My father has been digging up some other treasures of John’s, including a short story that he wrote in 1978 called “Harold Blott and the Christmas Pumpkin” which I will post at some point, and I’m asking my dad to look for this absolutely droll booklet that John made for him for his birthday that was an illustrated story in the manner of Edward Gorey.  I will try to post these in time for John’s birthday in March…

Finally, I thought I would use the occasion of Death Waltz Day to clear up some confusion about a video on YouTube that claims to be the “Death Waltz.”  What seems to have happened is that someone took the music of another composer and simply put the title of John’s work on it, as if it were a representation of what the Death Waltz would sound like put to music.  One of the comments from my original post on John, by a reader called Will K., revealed what the actual song in the video was:

The correct name of this song is “U.N. Owen was Her”, remix by Cool&Create, piano version. The original author is Japanese composer Junya Ota, who goes by the alias of ZUN. He is known for his Touhou series computer games, from where the music comes from, which are extremely popular in Japan. More specifically, this bgm is from the game Touhou6: Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil. He is a very exceptional case because he is famous for single-handedly designing and programming his games AND composing all of the soundtracks, including this one.

Hope that helps clear that all up!  However, in honor of Death Waltz Day, I would like to issue a challenge to any music programmers out there to actually input John’s composition “Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz” into some musical software program and send us the results of what it would sound like.  It will probably sound like absolute cacophony and chaos, given that the composition was designed more for it’s visual and humorous flair and not for musical coherence, but we’ll never know unless we hear it for ourselves!

Thanks to all those who have shown an interest in John’s works over the years and hopefully this post will provide some additional enjoyment for his fans around the world!  I end this commemoration of Uncle John with some lyrics of George Harrison, which were printed on the back of John’s memorial service program:

All things must pass/none of life’s strings can last/
so I must be on my way/and face another day…

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23 responses to “Death Waltz Day”

  1. Matt says :

    Your uncle was a really interesting man. I’m curious… What is the Vendata society? I assume it’s still around since the service was in 06.

    • Greg says :

      Hey Matt,
      Here’s a link: http://www.vedanta.org/
      I’ve always referred to the society where my other uncle lives and works as a monastery, because that’s what my parents would always call it, but I’m not entirely sure. There are swamis involved, of that much I am sure!
      Thanks for the question!
      Greg

  2. Matt says :

    Ooops… Just saw that spell checker changed the spelling… Meant Vedanta society.

  3. Matthew Maslanka says :

    Hi Greg,

    It’s been fantastic to read about your uncle and his work — thank you so much for providing the scans and information. I’m a music engraver myself and am interested in undertaking to re-engrave some of this work, starting with the Fairie’s Aire. This would mostly be a test of my own skills and a fun thing to be able to show off.

    Are there copyright issues I should be aware of? I would of course provide credit back to Mr. Stump and a link back here.

    Thank you again for your efforts!

    All best,

    Matthew

    • Greg says :

      Matthew,
      Thanks for the note. John did copyright his work, but the kind of homage you would be doing wouldn’t seem to violate the spirit of that, I guess, unless you started selling it.
      Good luck on the challenge of re-engraving Faeries Aire!
      Greg

  4. The Other Matt says :

    Just curious, is there any more sheet music to be had or is that all?

    • Greg says :

      These are all the comical compositions…I’m trying to hunt down a few actual compositions that John did.
      Well, I’m planning on doing this soon.

  5. Stuart says :

    Thanks for this. Nice to have some real background on him. He must have been quite a character

    I just discovered a small printout of his (in)famous Faeries’s Aire & Death Waltz.Does a large or high-res. format of this exist? I would love to have a big enough copy to put on my wall (both sides, of course.)

  6. Jeremy says :

    Greg, I am currently in a Humanities class at my college and would like to use some of your uncle’s work as pieces of visual art in a paper I’m writing. Would you be ok with me printing out the pictures of the pages you included in the other blog post?

  7. AaronG says :

    Just fyi, SCP-1423 (http://scp-wiki.wikidot.com/scp-1423) of the SCP Foundation concerns a record of “Faerie’s Air and Death Waltz with Prelude and the Last Hope”. It’s fiction, but I thought you would like to know.

  8. Kathy Shipman says :

    Is there anywhere that one can obtain a copy of Faerie’s Air……? I thought I had found a place to purchase it, but they never returned with the order form.
    I believe the site was faeriesaire.com?

  9. Aaron X. Nelson says :

    this is fail, this is the sheet music for a piece known as “String Quartet No. 556(b). for Strings in a minor” but this one actually is by john stump so kudos on getting that right.

  10. Tom Hall says :

    20 January 2014
    Death Waltz Day 1st Octave (8th Anniversary Commemorative)
    Greg and all: I somehow missed this post in 2012 believe it or not – and have just discovered Greg’s posting. Just last week I was occasioned to think of this being the 1st Octave (8th Anniversary) of John’s passing, And was moved to make an Octave Commemorative printing of John’s musics in my possession – [ including the memorial service program seemed appropriate ] – and hopefully with some addition – e.g. I LOVE the story of John writing music notation as the song was played (at Long Beach City College).

  11. User2012 says :

    Did the actual MIDI of the real death waltz actually get made? If so, I’d be interested in it so I can spread it around and hopfully help kill off the confusion

  12. Niels Bjerre Jorgensen says :

    Hi Greg, I just found an old slip on which John Stump wrote his addres for me around 1970 or so. I was hitchiking in Norway, 16 years old, and John and his girlfriend Wendy (i think it was) took me up in a rented VW bubble and shared their lunch with me. I remenber we visited an old stave church together, and I tried to translate the old norse text inside for them.
    They were very nice, and I sometimes later thought of going to Long Beach to visit them, but never came that far. Finding the slip made me look him up on the internet for curiosity, and I see he has passed away, unfortunately. So nice that you have written about him! Thanks. (do you know anything about Wendy?)

  13. Jim Johnston says :

    Greg – Your uncle led an amazingly creative life. Do you know if he ever painted? My wife and I recently purchased a painting with a signature that simply begins and ends with “stump” at a consignment shop in Denver, CO. On the back of the painting is a note indicating that a John Stump is the artist.

    I can find no reference to any local artists in Colorado by the name John Stump (and the only other painter in modern history with the same name lived in early 19th century so had to rule him out). My search led me to this page.

    The piece is a brightly colored landscape created with a stippled and scraped oil technique. Happy to share images of the piece as well as the signature if you think there is anything to compare. Thanks.

    • Niels Bjerre Jorgensen says :

      Hi Jim – I stumbled upon this page like you, because I found a small piece of paper with John Stump’s name on. I met him and a girlfriend in Norway in the summer of 1971, where I was hitchhiking. We visited a stave church in Ringebu together. Are there mountains in your painting? (’cause then it just may be a norwegian scenery). Anyway, I would like to se a photo of it?(skrivtil@nielsbjerre.dk)
      Niels Bjerre, Denmark

  14. Cameron Z. says :

    Do you know of any HQ copies of your late Uncle’s compositions? If so, and is not much trouble to you, could you e-mail me a copy? I thoroughly enjoy trying to play what I can find of the three, but it would mean so much more if I had a copy from you! Thank you for reading!

    • Greg says :

      Right now, it’s kind of in some legal quagmire with my other uncle, so I have no idea about where to get copies.
      So sorry.

  15. Robyn Nygaard says :

    Hello Greg,

    I am a Music Student at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, and i am currently in a Materials of Contemporary Theory class. As part of my final project, I am attempting to analyze the more interesting scores that your Uncle created, specifically “Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz” but also “String quartet No. 556(b) for Strings: In A Minor (Motoring Accident)” and “Prelude and the Last Hope in C and C# Minor”.

    Your blog in particular has been helpful to my research. I wonder, if i may ask, if your uncle left any clue to his thoughts behind his compositions? There are so many nuances and references in his scores that I am feeling bogged down by the density of annotations – perhaps i should just stick to other things, but John’s pieces in particular intrigue me.

    If there is anything that you may be willing to let me know, i would be eternally grateful.

    • Greg says :

      Gosh, so sorry for the delayed reply!! I actually didn’t find out about these scores until after he died, so I don’t have any more idea than someone reading them for the first time (even less, given that I don’t know about musical notation terms, etc.). I wish I could be more of a help!!
      Thanks for asking Robyn

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