In the Night Kitchen Forever: Maurice Sendak's Life Was Tied To Music and Art

Categories: Obituaries

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With the passing of storyteller Maurice Sendak today, many of a certain age found ourselves thrown back into specific childhood memories of his books. After re-watching In the Night Kitchen, the animated short based on his controversial book of the same name, I started piecing together a very specific memory of reading the book, and then being terrified of falling out of my bed and into some nightmare kitchen. I was literally afraid to look under my bed for a year, but that might have been more because my parents let me watch Poltergeist.

Looking back on it 20 years later, I can see the sweetness of it, the narrative construct Sendak used in all his books as a way to help children cope with isolation and being an outsider and having a wild imagination that maybe not everyone understood. This kid was getting to have the best night ever: HE GETS TO BE WHERE CAKE IS MADE.

Sendak was a fan of music, opera and classical especially: He created the costumes for the Czech opera "Brundibar" in 2003. Music always figured into his parent-less, rogue child universe somehow. Despite the vibrant tone of In the Night Kitchen, especially its upbeat ragtime jazz soundtrack, it underscored the central theme of Sendak's story: Kids are afraid of being deserted, getting lost. Well, that doesn't necessarily change as you get older and become an adult, and he knew that.

The soundtrack Carole King did for the TV special Really Rosie was another favorite, mainly because it reminded me a lot of one of The Point, scored by Harry Nilsson. The '70s and '80s were a really magical time for those kinds of specials.

I never thought about the connection between Sendak and Adam Yauch, who passed on Friday, but this piece points it out: They were both pranksters, in a way, and both indulged a bit of creative chaos in their art. We could use more people who want to shake the sheets these days. His influence seeped into 21st century cultural commerce, like Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs' 2009 doc, Tell Them Anything You Want, which featured songs from Daniel Johnston, himself a rough-hewn Sendak character.

But this quote, from an interview with Sendak last year, hit me square: "I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence."



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