Yeasayer's Chris Keating Gets Ashy

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Chris Keating, the frontman of Yeasayer, goes to Ireland to bury his grandparents' ashes. But his father coerces him into memorializing his grandparents in a more mischievous manner.


Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT the "Partners in Crime" episode. Stories where real people buddy up to do something they could never do alone. And our next piece is from Chris Keating. Chris is the lead singer of the psychedelic electronic rock band, Yeasayer. But Chris is not just a rock star, he's also a grandson.

CHRIS KEATING: A few years ago my last remaining grandparent - my grandmother on my father's side - died. She'd been having a really long, kind of struggle with Alzheimer's for about a decade, so it's really, really sad but you're almost glad when you get the call. My grandparents were Irish. My grandparents had a wonderful sense of humor. Just, like, loving to laugh, especially going through what they went through. Their house was hit with a bomb during World War II in 1943 and they were able to survive when everyone else in their apartment building died, basically. So I think their outlook on life was, you have a sense of humor, you kind of have to. So my grandfather had been dead for a while. My dad had kept his ashes and then when my grandmother died, she was cremated. And he combined their ashes together and our whole plan was to bury them in Ireland.

We decide we're all going to go and I ended up meeting up with them in Dublin. And we go about an hour north to a town called Drogheda, outside of which there is this cemetery called Monasterboice where my grandmother's mother and her grandfather, I believe, are buried. And there's just many questionable legalities, mind you, with this story. The first being that, you know, you can't just travel internationally with ashes and decide that you're going to bury them in a cemetery for which you don't have a plot. My dad was like, well, we're just going to dig a hole and we're going to bury their ashes. And I was like, oh, this seems kind of - and he's like, don't worry, I brought the shovel. I'm going to - no one's going to see. OK. So it really wasn't all that scandalous ultimately, but then he was like, well, only bury half of the ashes, I got a plan for the other half. I was like, I don't - what do you - what do you mean? What's the plan? You know, we've already illegally buried the remains of our grandparents. My dad likes coming up with sort of outlandish plans and he can be an eccentric character.

He's like OK, so you're familiar with Stonehenge. There's a site outside of Dublin, which is older than Stonehenge by about 200 to 300 years. It's a site called Newgrange. And so this is an ancient burial site of Druid people dating back many thousands of years. And this one in particular is famous because on the winter solstice, the sun shines through a point on the top of a hill and projects onto a pathway and illuminates an altar at the end of a corridor very much like an "Indiana Jones" movie. You go in there and you go on a guided tour. My dad decided that both my sister and I - before we went in, he's like OK, take a handful in a plastic bag of your grandparents and put them in your pocket. And then we're going to go in and do the tour. He said he's going to distract the guard and I half to climb over the barricades and put their ashes in a 5,000 or 6,000-year-old urn inside of this historical monument.

And I was like no, that doesn't sound a good idea. I don't want to do it, but ultimately he convinced us and he made it seem like something really important. His argument was this is something interesting to do for your grandparents. I don't know. So basically we went on this tour. On this narrow corridor that gets darker and darker, it's very small - it opens up into almost like a cathedral. And then - so he decided he's going to distract the guard and I reached in the pocket and I grabbed a small handful I was able to climb over this barrier and sprinkle a tiny bit into the urn. And I was like, OK, so I did it. Mission accomplished. And then my dad - I don't know what he was thinking at the time - we were on our way out, he took like his entire bag full of these ashes and just threw them across the barricade, scattering ashes all over this urn. In your mind, you think of ashes having a specific color but when you actually hold ashes, you know, someone's remains, there's pieces of bone and they're really white. They don't blend in with rock formations or mud very well. It stands out, it's chalky. So he scatters this stuff and I look - I'm like, oh, my God, it's so obvious, they were right there. And all the while, the tour guide is saying, you know, and they found here at Newgrange the remains of two people of an ancient civilization. And we were just thinking to ourselves, wow, you know, next time they do it, they're going to find two more.

And I don't believe in - no - I'm not a superstitious person, but when we walked out of this hill, it was the most monstrous, bleak torrential downpour for about three minutes and then all of a sudden the sky opened up and it was a beautiful day with that kind of glistening green Irish hillside. Both me and my sister were looking at each other like this is insane. Whatever is going on here is something just absolutely large and cosmic and bazaar. I think that my grandparents probably would have laughed at the whole idea of us going to all this trouble and risk potential imprisonment for defacing a federal monument all in their honor.

WASHINGTON: Thanks so much, Chris Keating. That piece was from Stephanie Foo's awesome musical podcast, Stagedive. Real musicians tell their stories accompanied by music from the very band telling the story. You can check it out at

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