Stanley Crouch - Straight No Chaser?
A requiem for my friend and mentor
My friend and mentor, Stanley Crouch left us on September 16, but the Crouch I knew, left well before then. In recent years, the inextinguishable critic, essayist, poet and author had some health struggles that rendered him as less than his full self, which was still more than most. But, once you got used to a full serving of Crouch’s firewater anything less left you a bit parched.
A full serving of Crouch either heard or read, was often given to you in a glass half-empty. Whereas some would see this as an expression of his perpetual pragmatic pessimism, I chose to see it as an authentic pour of the finest prose that he had to offer at the time.
I was fortunate to have gotten to know him pretty well during my tenure at Jazz at Lincoln Center in the early 2000’s. I got to know him even better afterwards.
I would like to share a personal memory I have of Crouch that shows a side of his personality that is somewhat different than a lot of what has been shared on the internet over the past couple of days.
In early 2007, my thirteen year old son, Wynton Kelly Stone Guess and I went to hang with Crouch at his apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City. During our hang, Crouch showed the two of us certain books from his extensive library that he thought we should both check out. My son saw a copy of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man on the bookshelf. He told Crouch that he had recently read the book.
For the next 20 minutes or so, the two of them had an in-depth conversation about the book. Crouch didn’t treat my son like a 13 year-old kid. Instead, he took the opportunity to discuss the book with someone with fresh eyes looking to gain some level of insight that he had either forgotten or didn’t realize in the first place. Watching them in dialogue from across the room as I thumbed through his books was a deeply moving experience for me as a father and a friend.
“When I think of Stanley Crouch,” said Wynton. “I'm immediately reminded of his iconic voice and quick witted humor but also the times I spent visiting him with my father where the conversations would range from my inquiries about a book of his on the Anglo-Zulu wars to a deep analysis of a small excerpt of a literary classic such as Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. My father beautifully recounts this moment which opened my young mind to the varying levels of depth on which a work of art can operate on. That encounter still stays with me to this day.”
A few weeks later, his apartment was destroyed by fire. Two days after the fire, I went by the apartment to see him to see if he needed any help. The place was a mess. Everything in plain sight was either charred or was smoke damaged. As I walked around and drank in his personal tragedy, Crouch grabbed a copy of his latest book at the time, Considering Genius from the bookshelf. The book had soot all over it. He opened it, signed it and then handed it to me. “I meant to give this to you when you were here last time.”
In the midst of one of his own loss, his first thought when he saw me was to give.
That book is one of my prized possessions.
In our many conversations over the years, the one thing I noticed about Crouch was that he deeply valued authenticity and integrity, two things that are unfortunately very rare in society and humanity. One thing that was true about him was the he was a True Believer in the things that he believed in and that belief is what guided him down his path in life - good, bad or indifferent. He may have chosen a different path over time, as we all do. But, while he was on the path that he was on, he didn’t waver. He kept putting one foot in front of the other without any regard for what or who got in his way.
Some would say that Stanley Crouch was the epitome of straight no chaser. He would give you a shot of the world as he saw it in a half-empty glass without anything to soothe the burn.
That’s not necessarily how I saw him.
Don’t get me wrong he could be that.
But, like all of us, he could be something else too.
Anybody who knew him, knew that after an encounter with Crouch, he always offered a soothing cooling chaser that was powerful enough to extinguish any of the flames that he or life may have thrown your way.
It came in the form of three letters that he graciously and generously poured all the way to the rim of a glass that he always offered as a parting shot.
Victory is Assured.
Rest In Peace, My Friend.
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