monthly musings from JD

May 2010 - Lena

We lost Lena a few days ago.
Lena Horne.
Her time in this paradise was limited to 92 years.

I didn’t know Lena.
I ‘knew’ her only as one singer knows another. I do what she did, and because I know what goes on in a singer’s head while they are singing, I guess it could be said that I ‘knew’ Lena Horne.
I know the ‘process’.
The ‘process’ goes far, far beyond the ability to actually be able to sing.

Now I’m in no way attempting to equate myself to this legend. As singers, we shared a bond, an understanding, an eternal task.
That’s all (as if that’s not enough).

We were both born in late June, under the sign of the moon.
I know all about that.

In 1981, through a beautiful friend, I saw Lena Horne do her one-woman show on Broadway. Sitting in the center in the second row of the balcony, she was perfectly centered in my field of vision.
From the moment she appeared on stage, Lena killed me.
She immediately grabbed my throat and she tore my heart out and she restored my faith and she healed me and she reminded me of our greatness and our strength and our courage, and she toyed with me and she demanded I fall in love with her, and I did, and she did not let me even catch my breath for 90 minutes or so while she laid waste to the entire audience.
Ms. Horne was ‘transforming’.
We were her helpless, hapless congregation, bearing witness to her evidence.
Bearing witness to the splendid, righteous power of us.
Bearing witness to life.

Lena did this all with such an impossible grace and ease and wit and heartbreak that the concept of ‘time’ did not enter into the experience. Surely she could have sung on forever, just as surely as we could have listened forever.

Her not so subtle use of her white fur coat could not have been lost on this crowd, but because of her style and demeanor, it might have been. When she casually dropped it to the floor and a few folks audibly gasped, one had to wonder if they were gasping because the coat might ‘get dirty’, or whether they felt a miniscule twinge of the millions of hurts that Lena Horne had had to endure for her entire life.
It didn’t matter.
Ms. Horne knew exactly what she was doing.
And she was doing it.

The range of emotions I felt that night rendered me totally exhilarated about being a singer. I so ‘knew’ ‘where’ Lena was coming from because I so ‘know’ where I am coming from. I could so see her take leave of her senses and abandon thought and completely let go, I could see her brush up against rage and profound sorrow and beyond hot sex, I could feel her sliding into a certain ‘insanity’ that’s required to leave everything behind, and I could share with her that glorious, righteous, mysterious, how the hell did I get here place where, if the gods are kind and the omens allow, we singers can find ourselves. When all goes ‘right’, our words and our melodies and our voices take us to places where ‘something else’ takes place. We, the singer and the song and the audience, become, if only momentarily, immortal.
We ‘transform’.
Immortality, once tasted, must be tasted again.

I laughed aloud with excitement.
I wept with joy at the sight of this Grande Dame laying it down like the Master she was.
I cheered her for her astonishing courage.
Like Lena, I lost myself to the absolutely overwhelming power of the singer and the song.
God how I love that lost-ness.

The show came to the end.
Lena came back and did an encore. It might have been ‘Stormy Weather’, but I don’t know.
And then she walked off the stage that she owned, walked away from us and into the shadows and safety of backstage.
The audience went insane.
She could not leave!
She could not leave us alone with our little lives and our fears and our petty differences. In the time we had spent with her, we had been ‘refreshed’ and ‘reminded’ of our ‘one-ness’, and now she was leaving us.
She had made us immortal, and now she was finished and gone.
That’s the way the story goes, eh?

Amid the wild and thunderous standing ovation came cries of ‘Encore’, and ‘Sing Another One’, and ‘MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’
I could not stop myself. I don’t behave this way, but I could not stop myself. Standing on my feet, applauding madly, and howling at the top of my singer’s lungs, I too yelled ‘MORE!’ over and over.
Just one more, dear Lena.
Stop time one more time.
Share you with me.
THANK YOU!
Just one more time.

The audience would not stop.

Lena left it there.
Lena left them wanting more.
That’s what we’re supposed to do.
Do we not always want more?

As the reality began to hit the crowd that the evening was over, and as the ovation slowly came to an end as the lights came up, the middle aged couple who had been sitting in front of me turned to me and, out of nowhere, suddenly began harshly scolding me for being so vocal about my desire to hear Lena sing one more song. Didn’t I know how tired she must have been? What right had I to be so selfish to demand another song? Just who did I think I was? You just don’t understand!
This ‘where did this come from’ onslaught, coming so breathlessly close to the end of this brilliant musical event, would normally have really hurt my feelings, and would have freaked me out in the ‘what the fuck?’ category of life.
But I was so surprised and stunned by their comments that I could only laugh.
How was it possible that after this amazing experience, these folks could be anywhere near this reaction?
Somehow, through my laughter, I managed a ‘pardon me?’
Again I was rudely chastised for being ‘rude’ and for ‘not understanding’.
The great and vast universe is constantly painfully comedic in the way it makes sure that we ‘understand’.
Of the numerous ways I might have responded to their outrage, I was finally able to simply say, ‘Oh, I understand’.
That seemed to somehow satisfy them, and feeling they had correctly punished the obvious idiot sitting behind them and instructed him in the etiquette of the concert experience, they gathered their things and departed in triumph.
‘Oh I understand’, I chuckled to my horrified friend.
The giant smile on my face reduced us both to the laughter that can only be felt when some parties are aware of the various layers of consciousness going on, and some are not.

And I did ‘understand’.
And I do.

We lost Lena a few days ago.
Another legend leaves us.
I didn’t know Ms. Horne, but I knew her.
I understand.

We’ll meet up with you a little further on down the road, beautiful sister-warrior.
Thank you.
You killed us, kid.

Your brother in the journey.


James C. Dawson

May 13, 2010.
New York.

Previous Songman's Notes

January, 2010 - "They Sang"

Late August 2009 - "Look Both Ways, Pops"

August 2009 - The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Late May 2009 - Elsie’s Enormous Panties

May 2009 - The Horse

March 2009 - A Certain Sobriety

February 2009 - Words

January 2009 - Miracle on 48th Street

November 2008 - The Election

September 2008 - The Old Lion

May 2008 - John Stewart

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