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7/23/06
My father once said to me that I should not be embarrassed by someone else’s behavior.

Dear Kim:

Today I am thinking about embarrassment. What causes it?

The other night I went to see Patricia Barber perform at Jazz at the Bistro. She is a well respected composer, singer and pianist who records with the Bluenote label. Also, not so by the way, she is an out lesbian.

Knowing you as I do, I can imagine you saying, what does that have to do with anything? I don't go around announcing that I am an out heterosexual artist?

(Kim: I'm not in the mode anymore. Someone told me about being VF (vagina friendly) . . . I like that expression.)

We are just going to have to agree to disagree on this point.

I would never ask someone about their sexual or affectional preference, I truly think that is a personal and private matter. But when someone is open, it is helpful. Helpful because I remember struggling as a teenager since I didn't resemble any of the few lesbians I read about or saw. If I saw any at all.

It made me a little crazy. Without anyone to model positive behavior, I didn't know if I could be happy or productive if I explored a path that was calling me.

It's like that for a lot of adolescents. The suicide indication rate for LGBT teenagers is four times what it is for their heterosexual counterparts.

So it's great to see successful, talented and artistic lesbians out there. Especially for geeky art kids, like the one I was and well, still am.

So My Friend Who I Will Not Name and I went to see her. We caught the late show, the 10:15. We both had previous plans that prevented us from making the earlier show but we were psyched to be doing the late show. Like we were rogues or maybe not so Midwestern or maybe just younger. We practically skipped down the street.

From the moment we sat down, I was uncomfortable with how my friend behaved. When Patricia Barber came out, My Friend Who I Will Not Name called out, “Good evening." Patricia Barber startled, looked around the stage and seemed spooked.

My friend was clearly trying to be cool but it wasn't that kind of crowd and she didn't read the vibe correctly. And I felt she had broken a cardinal rule: the stage is a sacred space and performers are potentially gods and goddesses of the spirit. It is for them to establish what the deal is.

During the various riffs and solos, My Friend Who I Will Not Name called out, whooped and hollered.

At the end of the show, I wanted to meet Patricia Barber. I wanted to express my appreciation. She had done things with Gershwin's "S’wonderful" that I hadn't imagined. I am still thinking about the deeply intimate way she cracked open the lyrics and spoke sang them.

She was sitting at a table at the bistro with two male friends and a woman who I presume is her partner. I apologized for interrupting her dinner and conversation and said I had always wanted to hear her. That while I am from Chicago where she is based, I am a theater director in St. Louis and this was my first time.

She was reserved and cordial and said it was nice that I work in the theatre. I then introduced my friend who said I have three names for you.

What?!

What happened to, hello? Nice show.

Patricia Barber stiffened and I imagined her thinking, who is this woman and why, after I have traveled out of town and just played two shows, why is she playing games with me? And what does this have to do with me?

My friend said, "Asa Harris.” (Who is another Chicago based jazz singer)

Patricia Barber said, “I don’t know them.”

My friend seemed surprised which probably made Patricia Barber defensive or maybe pissed. And suddenly we were into a battle of the wits.

“Let’s hear the next one,” she challenged.

I stood there feeling like I was in a scenario from which I saw no easy escape.

My friend mentioned the next person. Someone she said writes about music for the Chicago Reader.

Patricia Barber said, “Nope.”

My friend said the third name. A woman who used to run the biggest lesbian bar years ago in Chicago.

Patricia Barber said, “No.” And then in an act of kindness said, “But I don’t get out much.”

She doesn’t get out much except to tour nationally and internationally.

I fumbled and said, “It was so nice to meet you. It was a wonderful concert.”

On the way to the car, I side stepped around asking My Friend Who I Will Not Name why she had asked those questions. I knew it was her way of trying to connect to Patricia Barber or maybe to show Patricia Barber that she was an important person, too, by virtue of knowing these people. That made me sad. My friend is a little crazy sometimes so I didn’t tell her that I thought it was inappropriate behavior or that I had felt uncomfortable. I figured she was probably struggling somewhere inside with what had just happened.

(Kim: I identify with your My Friend . . . because I do the same thing sometimes as she did. Some people are socially adept, others are clutzes. I think I improve with age, but still don't have the knack that comes so naturally to others.

Does your friend realize how she came off? Does she want help? I can tell you that she tries just as hard as others to say/do the right thing. She, like myself, just doesn't have the knack.)

So I just said, she didn’t seem to know them. And my friend said, “Yes, how weird is that." So and so is a very big name in Chicago and so and so writes for the reader and so and so is a big lesbian.

This weird and insecure and embarrassing encounter threatened to spoil the evening, like an impending rain cloud. My friend ‘s voice was suddenly high pitched and tight on the way home so I could tell she was upset.

She talked about how she was glad she had gone but that she didn’t really like her music, and why didn’t she just sing the songs.

I didn’t believe she didn’t like her music. I thought she didn’t like the encounter and the fact that Patricia Barber probably didn’t like her. That I could handle. What I couldn’t handle was the distortion of Patricia Barber’s artistry on the basis of some inner fragmentation by My Friend Who I Will Not Name. That just didn’t seem fair.

I said that I thought she was an exquisite artist, that she had sung the songs. She had sung them in a way that was wholly original and that I had found that thrilling. She said that was cool but I felt the chasm, between us widen with unspoken truths and unspoken standards for behavior.

(Kim: Sounds like you friend is a formalist and the singer was not.)

My father once said to me that I should not be embarrassed by someone else’s behavior. That was their’s and I had my own.

But in fact, I saw Patricia Barber partner shrink from the space we were in and that space included me.

Who is it who said one is judged by the company they keep?

Later,

Joan

Sunday, March 12, 2006

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