On Performing: There Must Be Two
I had an album release show last night. It was awesome. Many of my friends were there as well as people I respect in the music community although we haven't had the opportunity to hang out much in person. There's something that I've been chasing ever since I started being in bands and it's an element of performance that I think I finally tapped into, and I think it's worth writing about.
I really did not feel like myself on stage last night. I felt at once like "this is not me" and "this is my truest expression of me" at the same time. It was disarming to see these people that I know and also think that they do not know me. Not the person on stage. I was not drunk and no I was not on drugs. But I imagine I felt very close to what it's like to be on cocaine or some kind of hard drug because I was hyper alert...more on that later.
Here's what used to plague me: how to be a kick ass presence on stage and how to lasso that infectious energy that my favorite performers have. How to become possessed. How to be larger than life on a stage. How to harness this kind of command and confidence and intensity to convey all kinds of different things - anger, sadness, empowerment, obsessive love, madness...all of these kinds of emotions that we can't share in real life, but we can in artistic expression.
Now that I can do this (or at least getting better at it), I have something else that plagues me: how do I go back to being normal after the set? I just ripped my heart out, stabbed it a few times, dropped it in the mud and gave it to you, then you put that sad, dirty, painful heart inside of you for a little bit, and you liked it. It's like what do you say after really weird, kinky (but awesome) sex? Especially if we have a relationship in a different context prior to you seeing me perform, things have a tendency to get weird in my head. It even makes me nervous to promote my shows to new friends, which is something I need to get over desperately or I'm not going to make it very far. It's worth noting that new friends and strangers are two very different beasts. New friends are people who you want to continue to interact with as a human being...the risk of embarassment runs very high.
how I feel after a show
I have some thoughts on this. First off, the separation is very important. If I'm going to put on a great show, it can't be me up there. I actually had a hard time using my real name when I wrote the songs for In Your Bones. In Little Red Wolf I am part of a group and we are all tied together on a united front of friendship and we all share the light and support each other that way. In Damsel Trash I am this crazy banshee and everything is a joke. In Creature I'm the bass player and the back up singer. I'm part of the foundation, people don't even have to look at me. So my great ambition for a solo record came with this awesome blank slate, but also this problem of self. I tried to think of an alias that could fit, but a lot of people encouraged me to use my own name, and just nothing else stuck anyway. I think it was the right choice to do that, but now I have this separation problem and it just makes it a little bit harder to talk about 'the performance' or 'the songs' any other way than personally. To further confound this, everything I write about is, um, very personal. So how the hell am I supposed to separate this? When I was Courtney or Janis and I got off stage, people would show their appreciation and I would say "thank you, yes, she's quite the character, isn't she?" and we would talk about this other person that I was portraying. It was perfect. If I want to do that now, my choices are to suggest a personality disorder or a vanity complex: "thank you, yes, Meg is certainly a fun hat to try on!" However, the way I think I have to start seeing it is not far from that.
I realize that I did craft a character through this process. It is a character that you don't really know, even if you know me. I present her to you on stage and in the songs themselves. I'm not illuminating any new concepts here, I'm just trying to suss it out in my own words. Courtney Love as a human is probably very difficult to be friends with. But her stage persona and the character that is immortal forever on those Hole albums is one of my best friends.
Courtney Love: probably a weird friend
Off stage or on stage I can be very different and that frightens me. It makes me nervous and scared to think that I can be two different people. My brain wants to label myself with only one thing so I can inform my actions more clearly. Stage Meg wouldn't give a shit what you think and would be an open book and tell you all of her darkest secrets. Human Meg cares a lot about what you think and wants to listen to you and doesn't trust you enough yet. Stage Meg wants to make out with everybody and grind on a mic stand and shoot lasers out of her eyes. Human Meg wants to watch a musical with you and make silly voices. Stage Meg wants to tell you all the ways she is in love with you and look you dead in the eyes when she articulates it perfectly. Human Meg can't look at you and gets overwhelmed easily by her emotions. How on earth do I reconcile these two people? THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!
Highlander: the point I'm trying to rebut
The idea of a persona outside of yourself is very helpful if you want to be a performer. It's made me so much better. I don't think I really "got it" until I had to because of getting to be Courtney on stage. That's why I say that project changed my life because it did. It was a revelation in performing for me. I'm not an actor per se but I'm around them a lot and I'm fascinated by it so I took an acting class in college. My teacher told me 'theater is life on acid' and it stuck with me. What she means is, you have to be bigger and stronger and every emotion and action should be enhanced and more intense when you're on a stage in order to have a good performance. I finally understand that. In real life, people can't handle that. You don't want to. It would be exhausting. This is the thought that is my saving grace. No one wants me to be Stage Meg when we're sitting down having coffee. It would be impossible to even do that. Not only because Stage Meg would pour it all over herself and break the china over her head, but because it's figuratively impossible. Also because Stage Meg is, by design, amazing. She is supposed to be super human and I've worked hard to try and make her that way. Human Meg is not that awesome; no one is or should be as awesome as their stage persona. It's impossible. Conversely, people don't want to see Human Meg on stage either (as a front person). Because Human Meg is boring! Any nice friends of mine thinking "no you're not!" in my defense, that's not what I'm getting at. What I'm saying is, anyone who isn't bringing it more than their normal selves on a stage isn't really performing. And that's what it's about. So there has to be a kind of separation and that's okay, and that's helpful, and there must be two. #twosoups