by Emily Leatha Everson Gleichenhaus
I’m a sucker for a good quote. In the past few days, something on the radio and something on TV made me stop and take notes.
PBS recently aired a show called “John Denver Remembered: A Song’s Best Friend.” I paused on the channel because John Denver albums were a staple on my parent’s turntable and because he was singing the song “Perhaps Love.” I didn’t know he wrote and performed that song and my friend Ron Squeri sings a beautiful version of it.
I happened upon this late in the program, so I can’t reference the speaker (who was clearly someone close to John Denver) but he recalled the last time he saw John Denver perform. This man had noted a change in Denver’s performance and said to him, “You sang so expressively tonight and the audience really responded to that. What were you doing?” and John said something like “You know, I owe it to Mr. Domingo. When we recorded ‘Perhaps Love,’ he pulled my attention to the way he colored his notes with the meaning of the word. When he sang “clouds” it sounded like clouds. When he sang “steel” it sounded like steel. So I started going though my songs and whenever there was a word where I could color the tone, I found it. Just an interesting exercise and it works…crowds love it.”
I thought it was a sweet and wise thing to say, and an example of how even a seasoned performer should remain open to new ideas and new ways of working.
On NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday (March 14, 2009) Scott Simon interviewed the British comedian Russell Brand, who had all kinds of fabulous things to say. Here are a couple of roughly transcribed excerpts:
SS: Could you tell us about the breakthrough…Bugsy Malone?
RB: Oh! That was significant. I enjoyed that enormously. It was the first bit of performance I ever did. And, yeah, it seared its way into me. I really, really enjoyed that. I was playing “Fat Sam,” I was tubby when I was a kid. I’ve got a kind of rather mawkish Judy Garland style crazy affection for the stage as a result.
SS: What did you feel?
RB: Yeah. Salvation. I thought there was a chance. You know, I thought, oh right, life doesn’t have to be just the maudlin trudge through misery and sort of a reflexive rejection. That it can be a right laugh! Being able to make people laugh, even idiomatically, imbues you with power: “Make people laugh.” “Sense of humor,” sounds mystical. You SENSE where the humor is, is a “shamanic” pursuit.
ME: …I was struck by at some point in the book, you say success on the stage and in comedy and even material success when your career began to take off wasn’t enough to compensate for the…I think you used the phrase “interior sadness,” [which is why he turned to drugs].
RB:…I was once told by a swami that all forms of worship and devotion are the inappropriate substitute for the devotion we ought [to] feel for God and whether it is the love for a woman or a football team or a particular brand of candy, ultimately what we are craving is to be at ONE.
…I recognize now the fear and anxiety before performances is just adrenalin and a natural incentive to be good.
Salvation, sensing where the humor is, embracing one’s inner shaman, recognizing that performance butterflies are evidence of wanting to do a good job (a noble desire!)…those are delicious ideas! These ideas remind me why artistic pursuits make life worth the trouble!