Saturday, May 2, 2009


It's the birthday of Bing Crosby, born in 1903 in Spokane, Washington.

Bing was the first hip white man in America. This persona wasn't something invented by the P.R. department at Paramount Studios. Crosby earned his reputation among the jazz players and the side men he played with. He knew as well as the instrumentalists that the essence of Swing was slowing down to let the accompaniment run past. Taking it easy but always getting there on time. Long before Miles Davis invented the pose, Bing was cool.

He was always the dark horse in the Road Pictures he made with Bob Hope. The unflappable one who got the girl. His jokes were effortless, the songs performed as if they were an afterthought, but perfectly. One of the secrets of his relaxed demeanor? Marijuana, a then-legal relaxant Louis Armstrong introduced him to in 1928––when alcohol was verboten. This and other Crosby anecdotes appear on pages 81, 138, 145 and 254 in A Book of Ages.

On May 29, 1942, Bing recorded "White Christmas" in a studio in Hollywood, California. The session lasted 18 minutes, probably because Crosby wanted to get out to the track. The weather outside was seventy degrees under sunny skies. (I consulted the archives of the Los Angeles Weather Bureau to find this out.) He was 39. If he'd wanted to he could have retired on the earnings from this one song, but he didn't. He was relaxed, but not lazy. He died just after finishing a round of golf at age 74. He shot an 85.

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