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Never Mind the Pity

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Killian decides to call the record Somewhere Else, because the songs, as eclectic as they seem, are all in some way or another about escape, about transcending the present. On a brisk spring afternoon, Killian and his father, Phil, head to the train station in Phoenicia to shoot photos for the album’s liner notes. It’s not an active station, just a quirky little museum of a lost era: antique cabooses sitting in overgrown grass, the paint chipped and faded on the depot’s wood siding. Killian is wearing an oversize vintage wool suit, a skinny tie loosened around his neck. A collector of hats, he today opts for an old fedora, giving him a look that is part hipster, part hobo. Phil takes many pictures, and later they select one of Killian sitting at the station as the potential cover. Phil enhances with a sepia wash, giving it a look that, like the music, is both modern and old-fashioned. In the bottom left of the image is one of the antique tin robots that Killian collects: a visitor, in a sense, from somewhere else.

Josh Sherman, the head of Savoy’s New York office, loves how Phil’s picture adds to the record’s cohesive vision—about legacy, and timelessness and loss, but undercut with Killian’s sly sense of humor. The deal is done. To make sure Killian gets to hold the actual product, Friedlich burns a copy of the mastered disc in his office, and, using a paper-cutter, glue stick, and the jewel case from another album, assembles a prototype of the final product and has it delivered to Killian on his 16th birthday. When Killian sees it, he is pleased, but wants to make sure there are no mistakes. He spends the next few hours in his room, listening to the album over and over, eventually emerging with a boyish smile on his face. Later that day, he signs the papers completing his first record deal.

Something no parent can imagine even as it is happening, having to plan your child’s memorial service while your child is still living. But this is what the hospice workers recommend as summer approaches, an important step, they say, part of the process. And so, with the help of the Internet, the Mansfields ask friends and strangers to send origami cranes to the house to be used in the service. The goal is to get a total of a thousand, a reference to a Japanese legend promising that anyone who folds a thousand cranes will be granted the wish of longevity. Within days, the cranes begin arriving: first from local acquaintances, then from as far as New Zealand, from prisoners, from famous origami masters. The word has gotten out, one of these mysteries of the digital age. Soon there are more than 13,000 cranes all over the house.

A hospital bed is moved into Killian’s basement room. Though he’s supposed to stay down there, he makes his way upstairs whenever he can, and one afternoon he discovers all the origami cranes scattered around the house. “What are these for?” he asks.

By early August, it’s clear that Killian is in his final days. He can’t get out of bed. At night, his friends call him and talk to him on the phone, even though at this point Killian can no longer respond. Local musicians, many who played on the album, stop by the house during the day to play music in his room. On the night of August 20, his parents are by his side, his father holding his hand, his mother playing “Tonight You Belong to Me” on Killian’s uke. Midway through the song, his father feels that Killian has stopped breathing.

“He’s gone,” he says.

In the end, after much persuading, Killian allowed “Kiss” and “If I Can Dream” to appear on the album. For all the high-profile figures who lent their time to the project, professionals who have spent much of their adult lives in recording studios, those two tracks stand out over the rest, showcasing not Killian’s potential as a musician whose life was cut short, but what he actually could do as a precocious artist. Listening to “Kiss,” you can hear Killian’s swagger, his confidence at transforming someone else’s song into his own, three minutes and three seconds of pure moxie. On “If I Can Dream,” on the other hand, you hear just Killian’s voice over a swelling piano, morphing into something of a howl by the end, raw but in control, an edge of anger creeping in, far from defeated. The song, the album’s last, is a declaration. Here I am, Killian Mansfield, forever in top form: funky, unpredictable, innocent, a boy who lived the life of a man.


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