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Performing as Catharsis
February 16, 2009 6:22 pm

I was watching Janis Joplin in "Festival Express" recently. She was cathartic. I don't think she knew how to hold anything back. Performing for her seemed like an all-or-nothing thing. I was thinking how other blues singers "know" that they're putting on a show. They're not faking it, but they know it's a show, they save a bit of themselves, in the best sense. They deliver the message without hurting themselves irreparably. I get the feeling Janis was really going through hell up there, even if the release and catharsis felt good to her.

Performance used to be catharsis for me, too. If I didn't go through something real, if it didn't somehow hurt, then it hadn't felt or been real. I needed to break through, or break, something. Performing was about salvation, breaking myself so that I could be real. I had no other way of being true to me.

Nowadays, performance for me is about being present, being real. I no longer have to go through primal therapy onstage. I don't have to sweat to be a good performer, tear my vocal chords raw or make my fingers bleed. And I'm not knocking what I used to do, those days had a special something to them. What would rock and roll be without sweat? And I don't mean to say I hold back now. I simply take care of myself. I give from a quieter place. I feel like now I "give" more, whereas before the performance was about me gaining release, and appreciation. Now it's about giving of myself to an audience.

I went to a harpsichord recital a couple weeks ago, Davitt Moroney at UC Berkeley. He has chops to burn, one of the most respected harpsichordists in the world. But there was no flash on display, no pyrotechnics, nothing virtuosic. He attended to the music, he made it clear, and he had tremendous patience, giving each note all the time it needed to sing out. The attention to what the music needed was stunning. I suppose that's more of where I'm at these days. My "Janis" days are behind me. Now I aspire to the kind of musicality of a Davitt Moroney. Rock and roll, baroque music, it's all music, eh? I would love to witness some sweaty, cathartic Baroque music - that would be pretty damn cool.

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