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?
I'm not in the mode anymore. Someone told me about being VF (vagina
. . . I like that expression.)
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.
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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.)
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
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
really like her music, and why didn’t she just sing the
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
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.
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
Who is it who said one is judged by the company
Sunday, March 12, 2006