Saturday, September 13, 2003

A Rupture In The Order of Reality 

There’s a term I use in writing class. The term is burnt tongue. Burnt tongue is saying it wrong, saying it too loud, saying it too soft, saying it too much. I like to use the example of a jazz player who plays the wrong note over and over and over and finally the note is so wrong it’s right.
Shelley Hirsch has a burnt tongue. She’s so burnt she sounds like a Beatle’s album backwards. She so burnt she isn’t a woman singing, she’s a dream of a woman singing. She’s so burnt she’s beyond skat. She’s so burnt she sounds like a combination of Billie Holiday and Liza Minelli on a hash brownie. She’s so burnt she sounds like me alone in my house making my private sounds out loud to myself. She’s so burnt she sounds like a bad opera by Fassbinder. Shelley Hirsch is so burnt, she’s my monkey mind at three a.m. and I can’t sleep.
Ms. Hirsch’s first piece, States, was the strongest. Perhaps it was the gestalt of her that sent me on a tail spin and after the shock was over, I wasn’t so captivated. It is the most polished of the works she presented. And it seemed that the very particular thing that she does that is so burnt and wrong and peculiar was most concentrated--all the fat trimmed off--and everything went away and I was flying with her. Really to whole new places I didn’t know existed. Like a really great poem with that surprise in it, that surprise inside the ordinary that makes the heart leap.
The second piece, Obstacle Course, was brave. Once at a writing presentation, I called out for sentences from the audience so I could talk about the sentences. Believe me, I’ll prepare myself better the next time I try that. In fact, I’ll have some sentences of my own in my pocket. It’s scary up there winging it. But then of course, that’s what we expect of performance artists.
The narrative part of Obstacle Course didn’t have the transcendence. One’s personal history spoken aloud with virtual accompaniment has been done a lot, and it would take something very unusual to make it outstanding. I think Ms. Hirsch has something very unusual, but not yet with this piece. But hell it was the world premiere. We all learn from world premieres.
Black Magic, the final piece was a nice landing point. The secret here is Ms. Hirsch’s vulnerability.
When an artist has the authority to take me to the stars, it’s so comforting that she’s a Brooklyn girl in a feather coat in the spotlight singing a torch song.

Tom Spanbauer

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