This, my friends, is an Artist.
Last night at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Rickie Lee teetered on the edge of reason, moaning ecstatically her oneiric verses, hopscotching through Illusion, through Maya, like an acid waif through cornflowers, head-faking a slip over the edge into jibbering irrationality but never falling. Always recovering, a perfect high-wire act.
Looking dreamily out into the audience: "So many stories... So many stories in this room. And I know 'em all. It's hard work!" She giggles, gamine, knowing she's reminded us of who else thinks mere living is "hard work."
Jesus Christ with an SM-58, that woman can sing the living shit out of a song! She's not particularly concerned with hitting notes on the head (although perfectly capable of it) but instead she's a sovereign interpreter, sliding into notes, risking blowing everything but supremely confident that nothing is irretrievable, squeezing every drop of meaning out of the lyric. Each line fraught. Pregnant. Loaded.
Music for adults.
There's nothing that has ever beenExactly. Yes.
That isn't loved
By someone who waits
Near the end of the gig, Rickie began to introduce a song called Tell Somebody (Repeal The Patriot Act Now). In a perfect world, were yin and yang are in perfect balance, you'd be able at a moment's notice to drop out of hippie-waif mode and into incisive-pundit mode and hurl perfectly reasoned polemic at your tormentors -- only to slip back into your customary dreaminess when you're done.
But that's not Rickie Lee Jones. Her argument from the stage, such as it was, appealed to emotion rather than logic, intuition not facts. A woman's argument. A yin argument. An argument from Yoni.
This is not at all a knock against her. I wish fervently to find in my own mind the ability to summon a "woman's argument." If more of us had "woman's argument" inside us, the world would be a safer and saner place.
Rickie Lee stood on stage and argued as an artist. That is, the reason she is so utterly spellbindingly good as a singer is that she spends all her time in Artspace, where empathy and intuition and love and irrationality are the currency, a place where linearity and causality are banished. She sees the world through those eyes. Only those eyes.
And that was the world that spoke through her mouth when she spoke of the Patriot Act.
She irritated someone in the audience with her circularity, this Washington audience, this unreliably sympathetic Washington audience.
"Sing a song!"
It's like a boot to the chest. It's like a jackboot in the face. It's like watching a leather riding boot grinding down on a butterfly. What has just entered the room and crushed its cigar out on your heart is what it's like to live in George Bush's America. It feels like an axe on your neck.
"Sing a song!"
You know what the guy's thinking, right? (Of course it's a guy.) You know what battle this mouthbreather thinks he's fighting don't you? It's this one.
It's where all interaction between humans is reduced to an economic transaction. Where every man is either a pimp or a john, and every woman a whore. Where art is utterly meaningless, because the Customer Must Be Satisfied. I paid thirty-five fuckin' bucks to watch Rickie Lee Jones sing, and I don't want to hear a bunch of crap about love and peace and the fuckin' Patriot Act! Hey, jukebox! Hey, fuckin' Song Machine! I put my nickel in, now fuckin' SING!
I too try to live in Empathy-Land with Rickie Lee, and maybe that's my problem, but I fail utterly to understand Frother assholes who profess to love music. Are they so completely dense that they don't understand that the words in the songs they claim to love and understand are identical to the words they try to forbid Rickie Lee Jones from saying between the songs?
Rickie Lee, all 5'2" of her, all dreamy-hippie-waif-gamine of her, was boiling furious.
"I stood up here for an hour and a half singing for you, and now that I want to say something, that's what I get? Get the fuck out of here!"
No one moved. No one dared.
"I'm glad you decided to stick around, but don't you ever fuckin' tell me to shut up!"
We didn't get an encore.