Friday, July 24, 2009

Witnessing a Transition

To celebrate the end of term, some friends and I went to a live show at a bar. As a recent entry attested to, I'm not really a big fan on going to such things, but... it was $10 and a special occasion, so yeah, why not? It was a really interesting experience. The bar was a nice, cozy place, reasonably well-designed for small venues, and the music was pretty good (unfortunately, my favorite song was the second in the main act, so it peaked pretty early for me).

But the really interesting part was the singer. In between numbers, she explained the songs, and, since they came pretty heavily out of her own experiences, she spent a fair amount of time explaining herself too. There were songs about losing faith in love, songs about a friend who had committed suicide, songs about (and by) her family. She'd come just recently from an extended tour in China, and it was pretty clear that the stay had affected her--her music contained oriental influences, and some songs were actually sung in Mandarin (beautiful language, delicious orange, deadly Iron Man villain). Actually, to say it had affected her is probably putting it mildly; a more accurate description would probably be that it transformed her. She had, for a time, in her own mind, at least, belonged there.

Her stories and music both said that she had gone through a very radical, and not entirely untraumatic change. That last bit is speculation on my part, but it seemed pretty evident that she had not only changed, but it was pretty uneasy about her past, and it really came out in places. For example, when she was told the audience about the albums she brought to purchase, she gave out a glowing, enthusiastic description of her new work and how , then added, "and the old stuff is selling at 4 CDs for 30 dollars. Buy it, so I don't have to carry it around."

After talking to my friends afterwards, I learned about the full scale of the transformation. The last time they had seen the artist, she was a hardcore lesbian muscian, dressed in jeans, simple top, and a "butch" haircut. (Can you tell how uncertain I am in using the lingo? Small town white boy here, folks.) Now, she had stylized hair and a dress, both of which were--conjecture again--probably adopted for her Chinese audience. A lot of the people in the audience were there because they were fans of her old stuff, and identified with who she was. As you'd imagine, they were somewhat disconcerted with her new style, and somewhat upset at her visible attempt to distance herself from the old one.

And yet, these people weren't the only audience. A Chinese woman kept coming near the stage during the performance and taking pictures. While her change in style wasn't going over well with her old fans, it was recruiting new ones.

I'm slightly exaggerating the situation for effect--everyone in the audience clapped really hard and so forth, so there wasn't a complete disconnect--but the story behind the music really caught my attention. This singer invested herself in her songs, and her audience saw themselves reflected in them as well. So what kind of responsibility does she have to herself and her audience in this case? She evidently felt that she wasn't the person who performed that old music, and that at this stage in her life, she doesn't want to be that person anymore. But where does that leave the fans who felt that person was the one they related to?

It's roughly equivalent to a revamp of a beloved tv show, changed in such a manner that everything you know and loved about it is not just different from the old, but dismisses the old as well. Except it's more personal, more real, because the person is standing right in front of you. (That's right. Tonight, I realized that the advantage of live music is a greater rapport between audience and performer. Tomorrow, I'll realize that door knobs open doors, and the left shoe goes on the left foot.) The entire affair was really fascinating for me, because all I got to see was the "After" picture, and the before was present only in traces.

Just so everyone knows, I was *this* close to doing a semiotic analysis of the rhetorical situation. You can take the student out of grad class...

Later Days.

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