Chronicle of a death foretold: Esbjörn Svensson’s premonitory reflections on death and the meaning of life

Pianist Esbjörn Svensson died suddenly, at the peak of his career, in a diving accident on June 14, 2008, 44 years of age. Here he makes a striking account of a previous close encounter with death and his personal reflections (audiofile in Swedish, Summer 2003).

It was as if I could see straight inside her. And she had made up her mind. I knew it. It was an unmistakable feeling. I then understood that I had to speak to her. If she is going to jump, I will have to stop her. And somehow, distract her attention. Slowly, I begin to move towards her. She stays very strategically placed, exactly at the exit of the tunel as the train approaches the platform. And a bit too close to the edge. I come closer to her. Very, very carefully. Slowly. I understand that it is incredibly sensitive. I do not think very much. I feel I would just like to distract her. I come closer, maybe 10 meters away from her. I hear that the train approaches. And I hear that she hears. She makes herself ready. I come even closer. Very slowly… Now I am just 3 meters from her. Then comes the train… and the woman jumps, straight in front of it. The train buzzes. People scream. Everything stops. And I stood 3 meters from her… But I turn around and run away… It’s too much. I don’t see what happens. There, in front of my eyes, a person has taken her life, straight out into something else. Something which we don’t know anything about. And I can’t just look anymore. I run. The police is coming. People all around is in desperation. But I walk away…”

“Why do we exist? What are we doing here? And what makes some of us live with the spark of life inside us, while others lose it totally, and jump out? Jump over the border, away from life. Away from reality and, hopefully, pain. To something else totally unknown. These are for me big, incomprehensible questions. And in that moment the woman jumped, it became clear for me that there is no answer. There is no logic controlling our lives. There are no package solutions. Each and everyone of us must find the answer on our own. It doesn’t matter if one does so with the help of music, love, Jesus or drugs. There must be something that pushes us forward. And that makes us want to continue breathing…

About death and the meaning of life: “What guarantee do we have that the future will come? That we will be able to experience it? We generally live in our Western society separated from death. We don’t think about it. Talk seldom about it. Suppress it preferably. But suddenly, it hits us. Close
or at a distance. But almost always with astonishing power. Everything stays put. And we suddenly experience our fragility, our loneliness, our total powerlessness in front of death. It pushes us to a corner. Force us to resignate to it. Death has all the power. And we float in a complete uncertainty about the future. We know nothing. We have no guarantees. Life can finish anytime.”

“What shall we do with this terrible knowledge? How shall we act in this meaningless battle against an opponent over whom we can never win? Many take refuge in religion. Where one can find some form of guarantee in the belief of that what religion offers. If we believe in religion, whichever that may be, we get at least a belief of what is to come after death. We can also pretend that we are immortal, and do in principle whatever we want, for money, and for the life that we expect to live, then when we can afford everything that we need to live a good life. But irrespectively of belief, money or social status, we can never be sure. Suddenly, it just stands there, beside us. A quick look over the shoulder, and we instinctively know who it is.”

“What we go through, what happens to us, that’s our life. My experience is that death can teach us to see what is important… That life is now.”

5 thoughts on “Chronicle of a death foretold: Esbjörn Svensson’s premonitory reflections on death and the meaning of life”

  1. Very interesting words and thoughts from one of the most importants jazz artists of the XXI century. His words has more insterest knowing that he isn’t between us more. Great words from a great jazz musicians!! Long live for EST and their music!!!

    Thanks to share with us Carlos!

  2. I vacillate between grieving the loss of this great man (what other treasures might we have had?, I ask myself), and celebrating the beautiful gifts he left us with. This is a fascinating audiofile. Do you know if there is more Esbjorn Svensson audio material like this available anywhere?

    1. Esbjörn Svensson recorded some 40 or so minutes in this programme, talking about different things. The Swedish Radio will send you a CD with that file if you order it from them HERE.

  3. Thank you Carlos. You’ve created a wonderful site here and I’ll be back often.
    Gwyn Jones (Toronto).

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