His friend Matt Delinger sent word to the rest of us that when the end came Michael was listening to Cannonball Adderly’s version of “Autumn Leaves.” And then, Matt wrote, “the playlist shuffled meaningfully to Chet Baker’s ‘Someone to Watch Over Me.’“
Postscript: Michael Crawford
The New Yorker July 25, 2016
The power of art manifests in moments of emotional clarity. Years ago, a simple comic strip touched me deeply. Ever since, I had imagined going out to “God Only Knows” or maybe “Vega-Tables.” I am well aware that we don’t get to choose our moment of departure, just as I know we all maintain that lifetime soundtrack. And I have changed my mind. I want to hear Chet Baker, too.
A few years ago, I was riding in a car with a reasonably knowledgeable music listener when we switched to a Chet Baker CD. After a few minutes, the passenger asked, “Who’s this singing? I know that voice. Who is she?” “Chet Baker.” “I know that, but who’s the singer?” “That’s Chet Baker.” “Can you turn it down a little because you are clearly not understanding my question? Not the trumpet, but the singer- who is she?” And so it went. I may have had to pull over and review the small print on the disc. Such is the amazing voice that blessed Baker, something clearly outside expectations.
Just like Hamlet and Dreams, Baker’s greatest songs put me in a somber mood, prepared for reflection on loss. The miracle accomplished by all three is their ability to couple an unexpected peace with the sobriety.In the former two, some of that is accomplished through the sheer exhaustion engendered by the length and emotions of their respective roller-coaster rides.
To be fair, everything about Baker defies easy understanding. Associated with smooth Pacific jazz, away from the East Coast dens of iniquity and fortunate enough to become a pop music king after adding his own vocals to some tracks, Baker’s life deteriorated in drugs, exile, and a horrible beating. We always struggle to associate incredible beauty with the mud and bones of lived life, but make no mistake that Chet Baker produced some of the most beautiful music of all time.
I used to think that the scene near the beginning of The Big Chill was something odd and wonderful, but best recalled because of the humor of the inappropriate. Of course, that was not it at all. Not all of us are given the luxury of planning our funerals, but I’m a lot more forgiving for any unusual wish- that ultimate gesture toward art and life and what dreams may come.
Perhaps what makes the Beach Boys and Chet Baker so apropos at that final moment is the disconnect between the body and the spirit. When all is said and done, we choose to be remembered for the beauty that we added to the world and not the worst of our days.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 248 more to go.
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