“Nobody ever sees all of death, so what I was doing — attempting to see all of it — was quite unusual. I don’t think anyone is supposed to see all of it.”
Author, broadcaster, and journalist Hayley Campbell returns to the show to celebrate her fantastic new book, ALL THE LIVING AND THE DEAD: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life’s Work (St. Martin’s Press). We talk about Hayley’s lifelong fascination with death (& the pros/cons of growing up while her dad Eddie Campbell was illustrating a comic about the Jack the Ripper murders), how it led her into writing this book, and how that process changed her relation to life and death. We get into the importance of bringing attention to the people who handle the dead, why we should learn to separate death from grief (& why the first dead body one sees shouldn’t be that of a loved one), the reticence of some of her subjects to speak to her, the relationship between art & death and whether Warhol would have been different if he’d been willing to see his father’s body, the difference between being desensitized and being detached about death, how she weaved her own story into the book without falling into me-me-me-ism or the dreaded Millennial Memoir, the Tom Spurgeon anecdote she really wanted to include in the book, how she realized she was in too deep and how she got permission to step back, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go read All The Living And The Dead!
“Now that I’ve seen tiny babies who got 2 minutes, and the bodies of old people who got 105, I think the old cliche of ‘life’s too short’ is true, because you don’t know how long you’ve got. The most lingering thing to come out of this book for me is that I cannot be arsed having arguments on the internet.”
“I think death has always fascinated me, to a point where I didn’t even realize that it was unusual.”
“I really like seeing things that civilians or ordinary people aren’t allowed to see. Like going to a museum and asking a curator, ‘What are you interested in and what doesn’t fit in the collection that the public isn’t allowed to see?’ They always have something amazing in a cupboard.”
“I do think the people who do these jobs are hidden in a way that I don’t think is helpful to us.”
About our Guest
Hayley Campbell is an author, broadcaster, and journalist. Her work has appeared in WIRED, The Guardian, New Statesman, Empire, GQ, and more. Her books include All The Living And The Dead and The Art of Neil Gaiman. She lives in London with her cat, Ned.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Hayley by Ellen Rogers. It’s on my instagram.