Music producer Jason Leach never planned to make money from sprinkling cremated remains into the vinyl used to make records. He just thought it would be cool if someone did that to his own ashes when he died.
He launched his tongue-in-cheek website And Vinyly (rhymes with “finally”) as a way to amuse himself. But he didn’t think about turning it into a business until people began to contact him, asking if he could press records using their or their loved one’s cremated remains, known as cremains.
“It kind of forced me to start offering it as a service,” he says.
Suddenly, Leach was among several other small businesses and funeral parlors offering customers unconventional options for what to do with their bodies once they’re done with them. Some of these businesses, like Leach’s, cater to those who desire an intimate relic of the deceased. For others, the primary goal is an ecologically responsible burial.
The Last Suit You’ll Ever Wear
Cremation by itself is much better for the environment than embalming, but you can go even further by using cremains to grow a tree or promote marine reefs. The company Coeio has taken ecoburial to a new level by introducing a burial suit that’s lined with spores that decompose the body and grow into mushrooms-from death, life.
Artist and Coeio CEO Jae Rhim Lee believes that the U.S. has a “death-denying culture,” and that might be why some people have called her mushroom burial suit disgusting. But there are plenty of people who think Lee’s suit is an incredible response to a massive problem.
“Mainstream funeral practices, as you may know, begin with preserving the body in a toxic chemical that causes cancer,” says Lee. That chemical, formaldehyde, is “a known carcinogen, and the intention of that is to inhibit decomposition and inhibit the return of body to the Earth.”
Lee’s mushroom burial suit is an alternative to both mainstream burial and cremation, which she says releases toxic chemicals from our bodies into the atmosphere, including mercury from dental fillings.
For Lee, the suit isn’t just about shrinking your carbon footprint, but also giving back to the Earth. “If you think that you’re not a part of the Earth,” she says, “there’s a disconnect in how you think about the environment.”
The company advises the bereaved not to eat the resulting mushrooms.
Sludge: Not Just a Type of Music
Another alternative to traditional burial or cremation is alkaline hydrolysis, which is only legal in some states. It’s a process that decomposes a body in three hours, and essentially turns everything but the bones into sludge.
“It’s an attempt to have something similar to cremation that’s greener,” says Caleb Wilde, author of the blog Confessions of a Funeral Director. “It’s not giving off the same carbon footprint as cremation, but it’s just as fast. And it’s cheaper, ’cause it doesn’t involve all the gas that it takes to do a cremation.”
The sludge is disposed of outdoors, and the bone dust can be given to families to keep (just like cremains). That means that people who choose alkaline hydrolysis can still turn some of the remains into a special relic. And boy, do they have options.
When a loved one dies, it often helps those in mourning to think of that person as still being with them. Those who crave a more physicalreminder might chose to get a cremation tattoo, which only requires a little bit of ash. The cremains are mixed with ink, and the resulting tattoo is puffier than regular ones.
You can also send cremains up with fireworks, compress them into diamonds, or store them in bullets with the help of Holy Smoke. And, of course, you can have people like Leach make an album with them. Just like with cremation tattoos, these albums only need a small amount of ash.
Leach says that the memorial records he presses are usually made out of clear vinyl, so you can see the sprinkling of the dead person’s cremains in the record. Some of the albums contain music that the deceased person liked, but many play recordings of that person singing or speaking.
“We always promote and encourage that there’s as much of the deceased person’s voice on there, because that seems to us to be the most profound thing that you could leave your descendants,” he says.
You might not know how emotionally moved Leach is by his work by the looks of his And Vinyly website, which features a maniacal grim reaper and a “raveyard.” Leach acknowledges that his “jokey” website might turn some people away, and says that he’s designing a more “conservative” one.
“I’ve had a lot of interest even from religious communities, who say, ‘Look, we love your idea, we’d love to tell our congregation about it, but could you do another site that perhaps isn’t so jokey?'” he says. Leach plans to call his more conservative site “Vinyl Resting Place.”
Will he still keep up the old site, raveyard and all?
“Yes, definitely, because it might well be that that is still the most popular,” he says. “It is quite surprising, to say the least, how much interest it’s generated.”