New York City Skyline from Brooklyn
Driving home today, I heard a Neil Young song I hadn’t heard for years. For some reason, I stopped to listen to the lyrics of “After the Gold Rush”. The line “Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed to a new home in the sun” could not be shaked. I woke up at 5:30 this morning like usual. I watch the local news in bed to wake up for a good ten minutes, which was interrupted by a flash news bulletin: Maurice Sendak died. I actually put my head back on my pillow and wept. Not necessarily out of sadness but just for the sake of humanity’s loss. He had always been an enigma to me until recently, when I started seeing and hearing him in interviews. From NPR to The Colbert Report. It started in November when I was driving home from work, listening to Terry Gross on Fresh Air.
What I knew about Maurice Sendak before the interview: that he did the illustrations for A Hole is to Dig. He was blacklisted for a while due to In the Night Kitchen and its “lewd and provocative illustrations”. He wrote and illustrated Really Rosie, which was eventually made into a musical starring Carol King’s music. We used to play it all the time in the bookstore. He was gay, uber-liberal, and a well-known curmudgeon. He did not do many book tours. He stayed true to himself. And finally, when the wild things “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws”, I was never scared, just like he promised. Not even once. Even at four.
In Gross’ interview, I learned a great deal about Sendak. He discussed his long-time partner who passed right after 9/11. He talked about other close friends. And he cried. This larger-than-life man, who I always imagined to look like the lead Wild Thing, cried because he missed the people he loved: his parents, his sister, his partner, his friends. And then he cried for Gross, telling her that the only sadness in his own death would be that he couldn’t speak with her anymore, because she too was his friend. I lost it. Even Gross was touched. Her voice cracked. When have you ever heard that?
It’s interesting how I can relate the rest of the songs to humanity, Sendak, children, loss. Lennon’s lyrics relate to anyone who has ever shaken up the planet–in thought, in art, in music, in love. Like Where the Wild Things Are, the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas defines my childhood as well. Tonight, listening to the vocal version of “Christmas Time is Here”, I heard a new melancholy. It almost sounded like a requiem. Finally, the original version of “Songbird”, not Willie Nelson’s version (although I love it dearly) was to be the end of my novel. The lyrics “And I wish you all the love in the world, but most of all I wish it for myself” seems fair, selfish, complete, honest. I think that’s what Sendak wanted, even though he never said it.
I’m not sad for the physical death of Maurice Sendak–he lived an amazing life, and he was ready to go home. Instead, I am sad that there will be no further creations. Sendak had a dark side like many of his books. They were obscure and unconventional. And for that, in a current world of daily oxymorons–overripe political correctness and constitutional amendments banning gay marriage–I am sad. There will never be another. No more Pierre who said “I don’t care”, which was my brother’s favorite. No more Bumble-Ardy who never wanted to be nine again after his botched party.
When I was in elementary school, still living in San Jose, our public library had a recording of Where the Wild Things Are . You called a special number, and a pre-recorded voice read the entire book to whomever dialed. It was summertime, and I would sneak up to my parents’ room, and sit on my dad’s side of the bed where the white phone rested on his nightstand. I would call and listen once a day. Now, reading the same book to my nephews and niece, I watch their love for the classic 30 years later. What kid can’t relate to being sent to bed early for being bad? What kid hasn’t experienced a rough day?
Sendak in my heart this afternoon was the silver seed flying to a new sun. Finally, he can be reunited with everyone who went before him. And that, is definitely a new sun. Thank goodness these books live on. At least I hope they do. Kids need to be allowed to be kids. Let them feel fear. Let them feel anger. Let them dance around naked. They’re kids.
Turn to Stone–ELO
Watching the Wheels go Round–John Lennon
What Would Willie Do?–Bruce Robinson and Willie Nelson
Christmas Time is Here (Vocal)–Vince Guaraldi Trio
Cracklin’ Rosie–Neil Diamond