Words by Ed King / Pics by Ella Carman
You know it’s been a worthwhile night when you wake up with a broken tooth, fresh scars and a new album.
It defiantly started well, that I remember, with The Glee Club being comfortably full for ‘An Evening with Kristin Hersh’ – rows of theatre style seating, facing a solitary chair. The wine hits hard and I take my usual place at the back, spewing scribbles into a frayed notebook by the emergency lighting. I’m having problems with honesty at the moment and my visceral attachments to The Glee are almost too much to hide. At one point, before the end of the second song, I have to stand in a corner and wince.
Kristin Hersh saunters on stage to a soundtrack of her own music. The room gives a polite applause; a middle aged audience with folded arms, staring at something they revered in less formal days.
Without introduction Kristin Hersh starts playing a song I don’t know, jumping from frenetic finger picking to strong chords whilst recalling her friend’s advice “just don’t play any new songs, people hate new songs…” I don’t think we do, tonight at least, and with the release of Hersh’s third CD/book/essay combo coming out today – Wyatt at the Coyote Palace – I don’t think anyone in this room has much of a choice.
“On fire or underwater, your people are always there waiting for you to care”, Kristin Hersh reads with a cracked timbre and darkened authority, an excerpt from what I think is her new anthology. She sounds like Burroughs or someone who’s tired and facing a long story to get out of trouble; between the words and the music we are invited into the pages of a diary, never to be fully told why.
The set rolls from one confident pause to another, interspersed with songs and readings from Kirstin Hersh’s extensive back catalogue. It’s better that I thought it would be, or remember from Glastonbury back in the mid 90’s, and my friend is moving from shoulder shuffle to fully fledged dance. She’s not familiar with Kristin Hersh, 50FOOTWAVE or Throwing Muses, but has latched onto the “husky vocals” and that sit commandingly centre stage.
“…where the hookers hang out, models they call themselves”. Kristin Hersh explains soup. My friend talks about celery. The set marches on, goading itself from one place to another, from prose to lyric, as Hersh seems to make every extra sound she needs from six strings and raw vocal chords.
I start to feel a little awkward at the theatre seating. Not embarrassed, I gave up apologising for other people a long time ago, but aware that tonight might be better experienced in a huddle. An angry bald man a few rows in front agrees and walks over to us to say “SHUT UP FOR CHRIST’S SAKE” so he can go quietly back to his seat.
I’m usually the one telling someone else this. But tonight I’m that guy, I hate being that guy, but I guess that guy can’t always be that guy. Some days it has to be someone else. And as the other side of me is looking for furniture to throw I settle for ambivalence. I call the man back, explaining “there is no reasonable need for you to be so aggressive,” and keep one eye on the empty wine bottle by my foot. “…strange sounds in the dessert. Hippies never know when to go home.”
When the first, apprehensive lines of ‘Your Ghost’ roll of stage, I want to shout. My friend lets out a “whoop” but I don’t think she knows why. I think I do. I sing as she dances; the rows of crossed arms seemingly entrenched in only tacit appreciation. As ‘Your Dirty Answer’ allows me further opportunity to show off, I put my notebook away and make mental plot points for tonight’s review, knowing I’ll need to save some money for The Glee Club merchandise stall and most likely more wine. But most likely somewhere else.
Also, as a performer Kristin Hersh is so honest on stage I want to stop writing. Or, to never stop. I want to be clever, that’s my ego, and I want people to like me. To hear me. But my words and actions can be manipulative; I don’t feel as governed by the unflinching need for honesty as I used to. I don’t like where I am.
And I was worried about coming to The Glee Club tonight. I was worried about delving through such a personally pertinent portfolio, with too many reasons in this room to make me feel old and full of wasted time.
Maybe that’s why I bought a bottle instead of two glasses. Maybe that’s why I’m wearing this scarf. Maybe that’s why I’m standing up. Maybe that’s why I’m singing. And as I try to show how well I can deliver other people’s words, I remember the reasons why I wanted to be here and why not to feel so broken. I remember self worth and private memories.
I turn to my wide eyed, loud voiced, friend – smiling at the music she’s discovered – and repeat, “it’s not my fault, it’s not my fault you don’t love me…” She smiles and keeps dancing. I keep singing; we’re at play and it’s fun. But truthfully I’m talking to someone else.
For more on Kristin Hersh, visit www.kristinhersh.com
For more from The Glee Club, visit www.glee.co.uk