I got within shouting distance of k.d. lang last night, and it’s a testament to the person and the performer that I am still beaming and thinking in equal measure. Overflowing measure, at that.
The music sounded and felt full-out; she and her new band, the SissBoomBang, performed almost all the songs from their new album, although it feels more accurate to say they constructed and inhabited the songs. The stage set-up before the show accurately predicted its shape: the musicians’ kits were pushed out upstage and side stage, with plenty of room center stage/downstage for k.d. to roam, and roam she did: she was all over the stage, throwing herself at us from the get-go.
I was fascinated. Delighted. Entranced. A little inspired, too … more about that in a minute.
Let me set the scene some more … the auditorium — at least three-quarters of us gay women, maybe more — felt like a reunion, full of family you hadn’t met yet but actually wanted to, a very happy vibe. The warm-up band, the Belle Brigade, was playing their last date on this leg of k.d.’s tour, and gave it their all, barely keeping their energy on stage. After a brief intermission, the SisBoomBang took their places, dressed in various interpretations of black, and then k.d. strode into view, in black jeans and jacket with a strip of red knotted at her throat. Her short boyish haircut swept up in a prow of hair over her grinning face. Grinning, because — dressed like a vision of female masculinity, singing a song that sounds like a butch’s anthem — she was vamping and twirling like a coy drag queen.
I need you badly
Hold me in your arms
Love me madly
Life without you only brought me heartache
I’ve had all the lonely I can take
Now I know letting go was my mistake
I’ll say it again and again and again
I’ll be your Daddy
Ask for anything
I’ll do it gladly …
The women went wild on “Daddy,” thrilling to hear our code in public, and the mixed messages kept coming. Her voice swelling to the song’s finish, k.d. struck pose after pose full of feminine pretense, and we couldn’t help but laugh with her, at this woman who looked like a man doing a good-natured riff on femininity.
Bend, gender, bend. It was rich. Witty. A real queer theorist could go to town on the degrees of camp … and yet the grin on k.d.’s face made it all fun, I think for all of us.
So we began inside out. But we were just getting started. Along the way, she sang right at us, a love song just for women-loving hearts and hands and lips, a song that made our world as whole and right-side-up as any other …
Take me back to the water’s edge
Lay me down on that riverbed
Take me down to the water’s edge
Hold me under for the longest human breath
I’d love to see a movie montage of the scenes conjured in the minds of the women around me at those words … and even now I keep thinking how wonderful it was for all of us to have the experience of seeing and hearing a woman we know is gay, who the world knows is gay, and who is singing a love song for us and women like us. Because we are all just fine, just as we are, and our love isn’t like anything else and we wouldn’t want it to be, because it’s more than we ever dreamed of and all we ever wanted.
But it is all too rare for us to see ourselves depicted as healthy and happy denizens of the world. That makes our own happiness and health too hard to believe in, harder to achieve than it needs to be.
I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I could have seen k.d. when I was 12, 15, 20, 25 … seeing where she had pushed the boundaries to might have made my real life possible enough to imagine. And it’s not just about her bitchin’ outfit or her pompadour — it’s her grin. It’s the joy she incarnates and hands to us on a platter, with this outstretched hand, with that outthrust hip, with her outflung voice, inviting — no, beseeching us — to see, and to be, who and what we really are.
Sing it loud
so everyone knows
who you are …
Sing it loud,
so you can remember
who you are.
k.d. incarnate. Made in the gender-bending, inside-outing all-of-that-and-so-much-more image of God. Full humanity on full display. I am inspired …
I want to remember who I am … and I want to find my way to put my full humanity on full display, whether I am with my lover or my children or my community, in the pulpit or in a bar or on the dance floor or running down the road.
who you are.