Ezra Furman, August Hall, 2022.05.21
She took the stage in a patterned white blouse, a skirt with broad stripes at bottom, the same pearls she’s worn everywhere for years. The drums settled on a blunt dirge, kick, snare, kick, snare, while she slung on her Tele and tried to get a signal out of it, a process that ended up needing a new cord swapped in. Every time something seemed about to happen and then didn’t, the crowd cheered.
I thought she might introduce new material, but the first song was “Can I Sleep In Your Brain,” and I knew all the songs after that too, all the best beloved tracks from the last three records. Cathexis and displacement work together and it’s strange now to think that I could go see Savages or Sleater-Kinney without understanding how hard I was trying to put myself up there; at the same time, it doesn’t seem to diminish the investment to have it in the open. She’s eight years younger than me and all the songs about being young and queer are such as to trigger torrents of Jamesian regret for the life unlived: very old stories, the spring before I started this blog, some kind of graduation dance gala at a fancy venue in San Francisco where I crumpled into paper under a horror which I couldn’t then name and would now call revulsion at a choreography in which I was playing a young man. “You are Henry James!” Lauren rebuked me that night. “You won’t engage the vicissitudes of life. You should go out there, you should dance with your beautiful girlfriend.” I knew I should do it; where was the barrier?
It was obviously Not Normal in youth, and Not Very Normal even later, to identify with James that much. I didn’t understand that I was relying on him for an account of just how complex and extended a space a closet can be.
Bowie in “Ashes to Ashes,” “I’ve never done good things / I've never done bad things / I never did anything,” always felt like another rebuke, which might have been a surprise to people who knew me and did think of me as having done things, if not as many things as Bowie did. Compare Margaret Talbot, explaining the kids to readers of the New Yorker: “[Mitski’s] fan base is more particular…. Young Asian women and young queer people make up a lot of it. Her L.G.B.T. admirers seem to respond to the way her songs evoke, with theatrical grandeur, the covert emotions of someone outside the mainstream. At her shows, I’ve noticed that an unusually large proportion of the audience is there alone.”
“In this venue I feel safe,” said EF at the close of the show, “I feel that life is possible. Outside is the night, which is dangerous, I can’t protect you there, but you should know that the night by rights belongs to us”—and into a scorched rendition of Patti Smith, which is how I learned that my current brand of eyeliner doesn’t run. Walking to the exit under the house lights I felt fleetingly like aristocracy, that the evening had been transacted especially for me, the exact inverse of the everyday shame and fear which gets more tractable with time but doesn’t (I think can’t) go away.
In one of the Latin American trans ethnographies I’ve been reading they ask an interviewee something about political action, and she answers, Andar por la calle luciendo como luzco es un acto político. Idiomatically you’d translate luciendo como luzco as “looking the way I look,” but lucir is literally to shine, and there’s a sense in there of showing off, resplendent.
Next week I have to fly back to Mountain Time for the funeral of a grandfather who never said an unkind word to me but watched Fox News up until the end, at the same Catholic church where several years ago the priest took the opportunity, over my grandmother’s coffin, to contrast her pious family life with a depraved culture of men marrying men and women marrying women. My presence in the pew wasn’t a political act that day. Now it will have to be, and I’ll have to carry Patti Smith and everyone else out there on my own.