Get it while you can

19 01 2013

Happy Seventieth Birthday, Janis!

I don’t know if there’s anything after life, but if there is, I do hope you’re singing.

~~~~

[Reposted from January 26. 2012]

I missed her birthday.

Not that she’d know, given that she’s been dead for over forty years, but I used to know and celebrate the day Janis Joplin squalled her way into the world.

I think I’ve written this before, but what the hell: My friend K. and I taught this to a half-busful of Forensic [speech, not mortuary] Society high schoolers on our way back from some tournament or another. It was dark, the bus was old, the trip long. And if our high-volumed rasping pissed off the faculty adviser, all the better.

Janis was like that: the big personality you could hide behind.

I fell for Janis in high school, aping her in drink (Southern Comfort, when I could afford it) if in nothing else: I couldn’t sing like her, had no appetite for heroin, and was never as outrageous as I would have liked to have been.

Janis was too much, in every way. She was too loud, too drunk, too high, and way too sexy for someone who in no way fitted any conventional notions of sexiness.

You could see that, too, in those old photos and reels of her performing. She knows she’s performing when she sticks out her tongue or her chest or when she struts across the stage. She’s covering.

She never thought she was enough, but man, when she snugged that mic up beneath her lip, her voice spilled out and over her and everyone who heard her and then all her too-muchness was just as it should be. No cover, then.

[The video I had posted was taken down, but it showed Janis singing “Get It While You Can” on the Dick Cavett show. If you can track it down, by all means, watch it. Devastating.]

There she is, in all her feathers, a few months before her death.

Of course, that she died was part of the fascination for my teenaged self—she suffered for her art!—but it was the fight in her, even more so, even if back then I could only valorize the suffering-unto-death, not that she suffered in the fight to stay alive.

I was listening to her recently, and came across a line I used to write on notebooks and bathroom stalls: Tomorrow never happens, man, it’s all the same fucking day, man.

Janis Joplin, absurdist. She would have been 69.





I’d like to sing a song of great social and political import

26 01 2012

I missed her birthday.

Not that she’d know, given that she’s been dead for over forty years, but I used to know and celebrate the day Janis Joplin squalled her way into the world.

I think I’ve written this before, but what the hell: My friend K. and I taught this to a half-busful of Forensic [speech, not mortuary] Society high schoolers on our way back from some tournament or another. It was dark, the bus was old, the trip long. And if our high-volumed rasping pissed off the faculty adviser, all the better.

Janis was like that: the big personality you could hide behind.

I fell for Janis in high school, aping her in drink (Southern Comfort, when I could afford it) if in nothing else: I couldn’t sing like her, had no appetite for heroin, and was never as outrageous as I would have liked to have been.

Janis was too much, in every way. She was too loud, too drunk, too high, and way too sexy for someone who in no way fitted any conventional notions of sexiness.

You could see that, too, in those old photos and reels of her performing. She knows she’s performing when she sticks out her tongue or her chest or when she struts across the stage. She’s covering.

She never thought she was enough, but man, when she snugged that mic up beneath her lip, her voice spilled out and over her and everyone who heard her and then all her too-muchness was just as it should be. No cover, then.

There she is, in all her feathers, a few months before her death.

Of course, that she died was part of the fascination for my teenaged self—she suffered for her art!—but it was the fight in her, even more so, even if back then I could only valorize the suffering-unto-death, not that she suffered in the fight to stay alive.

I was listening to her recently, and came across a line I used to write on notebooks and bathroom stalls: Tomorrow never happens, man, it’s all the same fucking day, man.

Janis Joplin, absurdist. She would have been 69.





And the sun would glint/On a time well spent/On a time that ain’t no more

10 05 2009

The tears no longer fall, but they do hover, expectant.

I’m trying to rush through my grief, away from the bewilderment of loss and the abashedness I feel at the grief itself.

It’s not that she was ‘just a cat’, nor do I try to compare her death to that of a human being. It doesn’t matter. The loss of a cat or a dog matters, on its own, just as the cat or the dog or whatever animal mattered, on its own, when he or she lived.

That’s what I tell myself, at least. But there’s still a part of me that says, Pssshh, don’t make too much of this. Don’t make this more than it is.

That’s what I do: I make too much of things, then tamp it all down, way down.

Perhaps this explains my reverence for balance: I have never learned, truly, how to balance, other than by going too far one way, then too far the other, then wondering just what the hell I’m supposed to do with the detritus of such a whipsaw.

Ignore it, forget it, walk away. Mention it to no one, until, perhaps, some point in the future when time has successfully exhausted the emotion.

A revision, perhaps: That’s what I used to do, what I still sometimes do. I’m trying to learn, at the fulcrum of my life, how to find a balance for the second half of my life which was absent in the first half.

So I am trying to come to terms with what it means to grieve a pet. It is both a small matter and a large one: Chelsea was a cat, and she was with me for almost all of my adult life.

And she let me know it: Chelsea was loud. She brayed at me when she was hungry, made pigeon sounds when startled, chattered away as I walked down hallways or got dressed, yipped when surveilling squirrels, hissed when FatCat batted her tail, yowled at thunder, groaned as she settled into my lap, and purred like a geiger counter gone nuclear.

(I had named her Chelsea because, while I was a big Janis Joplin fan, I didn’t want to be so gauche as to actually name her either Janis or Joplin. Instead, I name her for one of my favorite shots of Janis, decked out in her feathers in front of the Chelsea Hotel. Had I known she would end up sounding like her. . . .)

Part of the reason I got FatCat was due to Chelsea’s incessant noise: she was driving my then-roommate P. and me crazy with her constant talk. Of course, that backfired on me when she taught FatCat to talk, and I ended up with two cats yelling at me.

FatCat still talks, but she’s not the pundit Chelsea was—a kitty who comments on every move every member of the household makes.

So, this week, I miss the sound of her. If grieving is recognizing absence, then perhaps the resolution of such grief is in remembering the presence. Perhaps this is the only balance to be found in loss.

I am trying to let the balance come, but all that answers the summons are the tears.

But maybe balance cannot be summoned, that I can only let it come, that I can only recognize it when it does come. And even then, it might still come with tears.





Sing! Sing! Sing!

11 01 2009

I got sucked  into the speakers yesterday.

I don’t remember the song (something about heartbreak) and was surprised when Jonathan Schwartz credited Betty Buckley as the singer (it didn’t sound like her). But I was caught by all that she gave to the song—that’s what caught me. Yes, she has a lovely voice, but it was the. . . I don’t know, that sense that she scraped away herself and in so doing scraped away the skin of that sad and pretty melody to lay bare nerve and bone.

How could she do that? Where does that come from? When I was (way) younger I wanted nothing more than to sing, to be a singer. That didn’t happen. I have a competent voice—a ‘chorus’ voice—but my lack comes less from technical faults than the inability to inhabit the song with my voice. Oh, I might feel moved, but that feeling doesn’t come through. It’s posing.

Was Buckley posing? I’ll never know, but man, it doesn’t sound like it. Does Patti Smith sound like she’s posing? I remember when I first listened, really listened to Patti Smith—it wasn’t until grad school. Where the fuck was she when I was in high school?! Of course, I had Janis Joplin back then, but Janis was already dead, and Patti was, is, blazingly alive.

Neither Janis nor Patti has classically trained ‘great’ voices, but man, can they sing! Dive into that song and pull off all their clothes and dare us to dive in with them. This is it, they’re telling us. this is all a song can be. Can you follow? Are you brave enough to care?

In my responses to Ainadamar I noted my marvel at Dawn Upshaw and Kelley O’Connor’s passion. Did I mention it was almost as hard to witness as it was wondrous? I was embarrassed, fearful for them. Oh no, I thought, what are you doing? You’re so naked on that stage; you’ll be caught out, alone and exposed!

What could compel them to take such risks?

Perhaps it is because I ask such questions that I get in my own way. Do they see what they do as risky? Perhaps the danger is in not singing, in not throwing oneself into the music; perhaps it is only the embrace of the music which carries them. Perhaps the question is How could they not?

I don’t have it in me—the singing, I mean. Perhaps had I had the Voice (be it Joplin’s or Upshaw’s), I would have lain all other concerns aside to tend to that gift.

Or not. What do I do now with my modest talents? Tend to them, fitfully. Take them seriously, kind of; treat them warily. I protect them. I do not risk them. I do not risk              anything.