This is one of those oh-my-god-i-never-thought-i'd-get-to-hear-this-again moments. This re-finding, rediscovery of buried treasure. The video goes back to 1989, and I had it on an old VHS tape, which of course eventually became unplayable.
k. d. lang kind of goes around in my life in one of those huge orbits, like hair styles, types of Purdy's chocolates, weight fluctuations, breeds of dogs, belief in God. Keeps changing and evolving and rounding the dark side of the moon, but somehow never quite goes away, because it can't. Try to throw it away, and it will boomerang and hit you in the face.
I figured something out as I watched and listened to this incredible performance just now: it's Muriel, the protagonist of my novel The Glass Character, and her hopeless longing for the silent screen superstar Harold Lloyd. "I thought that I was over you" is the heart-cry, the howl of the unrequited. Just when she is sure the rend in her heart has healed, well, he just shows up again, not unfriendly - as a matter of fact, he always seems glad to see her again - but he can't, won't love her. Never has loved her, and even if he did, couldn't possibly love her as much as she loves him.
This song is about the unattainable. I've always had a feeling lang's artistry springs from early abandonment: her father left the family when she was a young girl. Compare this to Streisand, whose father died when she was only a toddler. It leaves some trace on a voice, if the instrument is already exceptional. A something extra, ruby-dust and blood, and it makes for that subtle escalating, the reaching, each time she sings "crying. . . crying. . . crying. . ." , the hopeless anguish mounting and mounting until her voice soars and fills the hall and makes the audience burst into applause when she isn't even halfway through the song.
I wrote about this in The Glass Character, the same feeling, and I just realized it now. Goddamn it, I must tell you the process: I am only partway through the editing, and I don't know who wrote this! I don't even like parts of it, hate other parts, and put check marks beside others. I don't know why this is, and I don't even remember writing it, but Muriel cries too much. I'm having to ruthlessly reduce her tears, because I for one am sick of hearing her sniffle and bawl.
Have I ever lived through anything like this? I won't talk about it now, for it did not happen the way you might think. Well, actually it did. When you read the novel (and you WILL read it, won't you?), you might discover the dynamics of how it happened for me. It lasted five years, and for most of that time it felt like someone was steadily grinding out cigarettes on my heart.
No sex took place. Sex does take place in my novel, but not with Harold. So it's disconcerting to Muriel, who really doesn't get a lot of satisfaction that way. Just pining, endless pining.
I used to say, about the greatest singers, if *I* could sing like that, I'd never have to see a psychiatrist again. Maybe a simplistic view, because God knows most of the popular singers of the day are melting down at a frightening rate. k. d. still sings, but I don't like her voice as much. She has always had certain mannerisms, and I call them "swoop, yodel and groan". She bends notes too much, or far more than she used to, and begins nearly every phrase with a groany little sound. Her "attack" is off and should be cleaner, saving the groans as an accent. The yodel, more of a half-yodel or deliberate use of the break in her voice, sometimes shows up a bit too often or is too pronounced. I think she'd do just fine standing on an Alpine mountain with a goat. But never mind. We still have her recordings of when she was in her fiery prime. My favorites are still this song and Pullin' Back the Reins, a hairstanding wail of controlled grief and - yes, again - loss.
I did see/hear lang in concert, quite a few years ago now when she was still singing exceptionally well. She is overwhelming. It reminded me, strangely, of going to a Renee Fleming concert and hearing the most extraordinary operatic soprano voice I can even imagine. When the audience was filing out, most of us still surreptitiously blowing our noses, I overheard a woman say, "If it had been any more, it would have been too much." That's how I felt about k. d. lang.
I know everyone talks about her sexual orientation and her look and her butchness (and this video is probably the only time you will ever see her in a dress). I'm not keen on her look, to be honest, but I don't care about it. She has gained weight and become stolid and, according to my husband who saw her sing at the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics, "she looks like Wayne Newton." Yes, the baggy suits and Elvislike stance are beginning to seem alarmingly Vegas, and one hopes she doesn't pull a Celine Dion and glitz herself into oblivion.
Never mind. The song, the song! Artists express, not just what we all feel and can't say, but what is not supposed to be happening to us. That's an awful lot. The culture is a narrow box. Sex is everywhere, seemingly, but how embarrassing is it when you come right down to it? How awkward? How often does "the act" (always, always referring to penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse and nothing else) match up to the dream? How about never?
Which leaves me crying.