Dead Man’s Will

Last night I was of a melancholy mood, and found myself listening to a long time favorite, Dead Man’s Will, by Calexico with Iron & Wine. It’s the last and best track from their collaboration EP, about a man promising his gifts away to his loved ones after he has passed. This inspired my own morbid thoughts of death and love, and I wondered, as the song poses, will the people who I love and haven’t told know that I do, when I can no longer tell them myself?

May my love /
Reach you all /
Please say it’s not too late /
Now that I’m dead and gone

Some of them have been told but don’t know, some of them know but haven’t been told, and some of them just have no idea what a gift they are or were in my life.

But wrapped up in the thought was the same awestruck feeling I sometimes indulge when listening to music so deeply satisfying and yet so unassuming — music that is perfect without trying to be. Dead’s Man Will and so many others are perfection in song.

The way that I came to love this particular song is that a certain local hero and radio DJ named John Aielli plays it frequently on his show. Just a short while ago, I got into my car in order to drive home for lunch, and I turned the radio to his show. I was instantly arrested by the sounds of vintage jazz, and I didn’t start the engine, and I didn’t return that phone call, and I didn’t release my fingers from the dial. I listened and savored the sounds of something new and beautiful to me, and waited patiently to hear the back announce of what this great thing was.

When John returned to the mic to talk about it, he said, “So many things in life are so terrible, and yet there are things like that that are so wonderful … just divine. That was Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.” Sentimental words about sustaining power of music, but very real nonetheless.

This is why John Aielli is so popular here in Austin, naysayers aside. He has a passion for music that he communicates with such a plain, unpretentious sincerity that it is infectious. It’s also because music is lonely without the experience of sharing it. At the end of the song, when both listeners find themselves humming in unison, it marks a kind of mutual intimacy that needs no words. The radio DJ and the listening audience can have this kind of relationship; and having been a DJ myself, I understand how rewarding it is to play a selection that sparks that kind of connection, whether you know for sure that you have reached someone or not.

Today I have reaffirmed my personal promise to announce my appreciation to all who have earned it, now, while I’m still alive and here. So to John Aielli, I wish to say that you are a treasure and a joy. I will continue to fuel my life with the musical gems discovered while listening to your show.


1 comment so far

  1. john aielli on

    thanks for the words of thanks. glad we share some music together. by the way, it’s duke ellington and billy strayhorn. johnny hodges was alto soloist.

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