I was feeling low so I decided to dance. I played some old songs I have always loved dancing to. I began with Every day of the Week by the Students, a 1958 doo-wop classic featuring the original Bristol Stomp beat; it always gets me going. Next was Papa was a Rolling Stone sung by the Temptations, an innovative twelve-minute track that my sister Linda and I used to spend hours choreographing. Then attitude dancing to the Rolling Stones Under My Thumb, which is great to act out in front of the mirror, just turning the gender around. I followed it with the Stones We Love You, which I played twice, as it’s one of the greatest rock n’ roll songs in our canon with its arrogance and devotional defiance. I ended my personal dance marathon with Motown’s clarion call Heat Wave recorded by Martha and the Vandellas. This song never fails to produce tears, not those of joy or sorrow but of release and relief. There’s just something about the combination of the Gospel backbeat and the urgency of Martha Reeve’s delivery, melded with the great Holland-Dozier-Holland lyric Sometimes I stare in space/ tears all over my face.
Since losing over a year of touring I haven’t had the heart to watch live music. But all that dancing made me hungry to watch videos of live performances. I was struck by the incomparable fervor of James Brown singing I Lost Someone and touched by Ella Fitzgerald’s plaintive version of Summertime.
Somehow, I landed on a video of K.D. Lang performing Roy Orbison’s Crying at the Song Writers Hall of Fame Special, in May 1989. She was 27 years old at the time. Though admiring her voice, I had never seen her live. She walked onto the stage in a simple black dress, dark stockings and sensible shoes. A country western Piaf. She stood her ground and sang the opening lines of the emotional classic with confidence and restraint. Reaching the chorus she soared effortlessly, and then to yet another chilling plateau. It was a breathtaking performance, ending with a simple bow and the discreet smile of one who knew in her heart that she did a good job. The tears that were forming were those of intense admiration. The joy of seeing a performer coming up to her mark. Alone in my room I stood and applauded.
Among the songs that popped up on YouTube was a live version of myself singing Neil Young’s Helpless sometime ago in Paris with my stoic son Jackson. Helpless is a song that always draws deep feelings, as it brings my late husband to mind, a Midwesterner who died much too soon. I don’t usually like to watch myself, but I wanted to see my son play guitar. Seeing us perform Helpless together was moving, as it felt like a quiet prayer to his late father. This time I found myself weeping, responding to the innate
humility of Neil Young’s song, its nakedness, and its personal meaning to me. Afterward, I felt washed clean. I had danced. I watched a young master sing Crying. And I had cried myself.
Before I sign off, here is Every Day of the Week, the song that set me dancing. Play it loud, get up and dance and hopefully the only tears you shed will be happy ones.
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