Friday, December 18, 2009

Reclaimed Name

Then I'll be the Indian.

Like far too many events in life, this all started with a visit from Elvis.

Costello, not Presley.

He came to me about a month ago in a dream.

"You need to reclaim your name," he said, playing up his English accent and enunciating like he was in the Royal Shakespeare Company. I asked what he meant and if he saw the irony since he got rid of his own name more than 30 years ago.

And he looked at me and said "I'm sorry. That message wasn't for you. Can you pass it on to her, the one with the cow?" And before I could ask him when he was finally going to get around to recording an album of duets with Joe Jackson, he was gone.

I woke up confused (which is not so unusual) and uncertain about how to relay the message (which is much more unusual). Plus, who the hell was the "one with the cow"? And how would I find her? (Link for Gmail subscribers).

Years and years ago, we had tickets to see Jane Siberry (whom I wrote about here). She was doing two shows and both were sold out. The second show, our show, was supposed to start at 10:30. By 9:45, the sidewalk outside was packed. By ten there was a huge line stretching several blocks. But the early show hadn't gotten out yet. So we waited.

And waited.

People finally trickled out around 11:20.

This seemed like a bad sign. Our show would start more than an hour late. And she'd be tired. She'd want to sleep. She'd be travelling the next day. We'd picked the wrong show -- surely she'd cut the second show short.

I'd seen Jane Siberry years earlier when she had a full band and nearly all her songs were based around synth washes. But this was different. Her, a guitarist, and a piano player.

She came on a little before midnight.

And performed for more than two hours. It was amazing. Magical. Mesmerizing.

Her voice soared, swooped, and bounced around that wonderful back room that had seen so many amazing concerts over the years.

And she was funny. She joked and told stories. She sang an unreleased song that started with her boyfriend leaving, matured into a sobbing list of reasons she couldn't live without him, then morphed into a litany of complaints about him that built to a crescendo of vitriol, culminating in him returning home, saying he'd just gone out for smokes. Like many Jane Siberry songs, it was part music and part performance art -- weird, wonderful, and unique. (The song later appeared on a k.d. lang album, but I've never heard a recording of Jane Siberry singing it.)

The show was one of those rare moments when everything flowed, everything clicked, and everyone left energized and rejuvenated by the power of music.

Years later, I found out they'd recorded that show. There were plans to release it as a live album. But the executives who championed her at her record label left and the new guys weren't interested. Years later, she tried to get them to let her release the live album herself, but they claimed they had the rights to it and wouldn't let her. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

I started thinking more and more about that concert recently. How my expectations were so high (and then much lower when it started late) and how amazing it is when a performer exceeds your high expectations with humor and a quirky grace.

And a few days ago, I got an email from Jane Siberry, known for the past several years as Issa. She was reclaiming her name and going back to performing as Jane Siberry.

Cynical folks will say she probably had trouble getting bookings as Issa and changing her name back was a financial consideration.

Some will wonder what's in a name (enunciating clearly like they're in the Royal Shakespeare Company).

But I know the truth. Elvis must have finally found a way to get through to her after all.


Anonymous said...

Shit. I was at that show too. Never knew it was recorded.

Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas said...

I saw Jane about seven years ago in a small club not much bigger than my apartment. I really treasure having had that opportunity.

Anonymous said...

The song you refer that Jane wrote for kd lang is "Haint it Funny" and is available on Jane's CD "A Day in the Life" available as an mp3 on her website It is the demo recording she sent kd lang and is raw and beautiful.

Alex said...

Thanks for the tip. My memory of the song is a bit different from the version on "A Day in the Life," but maybe that's just the fog of memory...