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    Tuesday, December 1, 2020

    #ThemeSongTuesday: Rest In Peace


    It's been a week since The Undertaker had his Final Farewell at Survivor Series and there's a part of me that still can't believe that he's actually chosen to ride off into the sunset, for real for real. Well, at least until Vince decides he needs to "break glass in case of emergency" and bring back The Deadman. But until such a time comes, The Undertaker is—for all intents and purposes—retired.

    I could pay tribute to him by writing an incredibly detailed essay on how his theme songs have evolved over the three decades he spent in WWE, but a Redditor—who has since deleted their account—already did that concisely four years ago.

    So instead of doing that, I'll focus on "Rest In Peace," the theme that The Undertaker has largely used since his WrestleMania XX return in 2004 up until his retirement. It's the theme that fans from the Ruthless Aggression, Reality, and COVID eras are mostly familiar with, and the one that has definitely become synonymous with The Deadman.

    I came into the wrestling fandom during the buildup for WrestleMania XX, but even as a child who was on the periphery of being an Attitude Era viewer, I knew who The Undertaker was. I knew that this was a bad motherfucker you didn't want to fuck with.

    By the time I'd watched him regularly on SmackDown—and right before matches with him that were booked by Teddy Long became a meme—he was already 14 years into his WWE run. He'd already become Combo Undertaker to me—a neat amalgamation of all the different gimmicks he'd had up to that point. He'd already built up that mystique and legend where every appearance meant something. And that's why whenever that gong would sound throughout an arena during an episode of SmackDown, Teenage Stan would get all excited because it meant The Deadman was ready to start taking souls and digging holes.

    And that's really where it starts: the gong. Even on its own, without the bells and whistles of The Undertaker's intro, it already tells you that The Phenom is coming. It signals doom for whomever has crossed him. And it signals a sense of anticipation for viewers eagerly awaiting what happens next.

    You then hear the sound of thunder and rain, while a haunting choir accompanies a chilling organ that swells into the main riff of the track. Those accompany several beats of the gong and in those eighteen seconds, you can imagine being a 2000s heel like John "Bradshaw" Layfield or Mark Henry or Edge and how hearing that symphony strikes fear into your heart, forcing you to shit in your tights.

    Then the main riff comes in and the camera pans up through the fog as you get your first look at The Undertaker.

    It's a familiar tune. It's slow, but sinister. The organs tell a story of a regal figure enveloped by the powers of death—a king of darkness, if you will. Wait, wrong promotion. Anyway. You have this... Lord... of Darkness who walks to the ring ready to take a soul—your soul. It's your funeral, after all. That's why it's fitting that this all-too-recognizable riff was inspired by Chopin's "Funeral March."

    As early as 1990 when The Undertaker was set to debut, legendary wrestling theme composer Jim Johnston already had Chopin's "Funeral March" in mind. You can hear it in Taker's very first entrance theme from his rookie year in WWE. 

    Fun fact: the original demo for Taker's theme music—now entitled "Undertaker"—was the piano demo of his iconic theme, which was released as part of the album WWE: The Music - The Beginning (Volumes 1-5) in 2012.

    You don't have the gong or the choir or any of the other audio elements on this one. It's just Jim Johnston masterfully wielding the ebony and ivory to scare you straight with those first low notes, while lulling you to a frightening sense of resignation, knowing what fate awaits you. 

    Listening to this slowed-down piano demo, it sounds like an actual song that would be played at a real funeral. I've heard this song quite a few times since it had been released and there have been times when I'd straight up had a good cry over how beautiful this song is. Hell, I'm going to make a mental note now for this song to be played at my actual funeral when the time comes. Loved ones, please take note.

    Going back to the music, "Undertaker" actually sounds downright gloomy and even scary. But it doesn't necessarily get you hyped to see a wrestler nor a big fight at an arena filled with people. It's just... dark.

    In contrast, "Rest In Peace," despite being a slow anthem, goes at that tempo by design. As rapper and producer NINNO shared during his guesting on The Wrestling-Wrestling Podcast last October, the match has already begun as soon as the entrance music begins. He points out The Undertaker in particular as a master of psychology because he makes you wait. Whether you're an audience member, his teammate, or his opponent, he makes you wait.

    Another fun fact: The Undertaker himself revealed on the Pardon My Take podcast that he purposefully lengthened his entrances if he knew he was about to have a horrible match or if he was working with an opponent with a more limited skillset. His logic was that the fans were going to be let down when the actual match happens so he figured he would just milk the entrance for the audience's sake.

    The Undertaker's entrance has become a spectacle in and of itself, sometimes being even more interesting than the actual match he's part of because it perfectly captures what makes this macabre character so powerful and so dangerous. The slow tempo of the song, combined with the frightening organs, the dark lighting, the fog, and Taker's calculated pace all draw attention... to him

    You should be looking at this towering presence who's about to punish a condemned soul. You should be cowering in fear both in kayfabe because of the darkness that surrounds The Undertaker as a character and in real life because of how much respect the man behind the gimmick has earned in the entire industry over decades of commitment to the business. And you should be frozen where you are because you—or the unlucky soul all alone in that ring—are about to rest... in... peace.

    The Undertaker's theme song, "Rest In Peace" is one that uniquely tells the story of not just a character, but a man's 30-year arc. It fits in elements of his previous theme songs—save for the ones from his American Bad Ass gimmick—while setting the tone for everything this character stands for. The theme—and by extension, his entrance itself—has its own psychology that paints a picture of what's about to happen before it even begins.

    It may not rile you up for a big fight. Nor will it want to make you lift weights and get them gains. But god damn it, if there's another entrance theme that is able to do so much for a wrestler, for an opponent, and for a crowd, I dare you to show me that song because for all intents and purposes, "Rest In Peace" is one of a kind—much like The Undertaker.

    Thank you for everything, Deadman. Congratulations for riding off into the sunset on your own terms.

    Header image from WWE 

    *****

    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and the host of On Deck, as well as one of the hosts of The Wrestling-Wrestling Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, AEW, and the occasional New Japan match. 
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    Item Reviewed: #ThemeSongTuesday: Rest In Peace Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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