Last night, I met my most awesome friend, Laura Jane Hamilton, mover and shaker of Arlington, master laugh track and all around cool dude at the Iota Nightclub to watch Cindy Lee Berryhill. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that not too long ago I ripped Beck a new one. Part of the reason I ripped that slack-jawed fucker a new one is because he stole all his tricks from people far more talented than himself. Cindy Lee Berryhill I was informed, was one of the original Anti-Folk members that also included such famous for a second luminaries as John S. Hall, Mike Doughty (this is arguable, I admit it), Hammel on Trial, Paleface and a slew of others. Beck, essentially stole everything he knew from these people as far as I am concerned and I see little reward. I don’t thing Madame Berryhill would agree, from her perspective it was probably a time to be had and she has fond memories. But I hate Beck’s music and find his personality and Elron Hubbard non-sense vomit inducing.
Bashing on Beck isn’t really the point of this post though. Cindy Lee Berryhill, aside from her brushes with the famous, almost famous, not quite so famous and non-famous, is a pretty incredible person. She ended her set with a string of stories and songs about her husband and son. Her husband suffered an undisclosed brain injury in the mid 90’s and as a result has early onset dementia. The couple also has an eight year old son. This was Berryhill’s first tour in 12 years.
Anytime, any woman takes the stage, anywhere in the United States she has to work twice as hard just to deter the audiences attention away from her looks and to her performance. We are conditioned to value women for what they look like, not what they have to offer the world. It’s hard enough for young women to take the space and indulge in these adventures that are so readily available for boys in this country. I could not help but think about this while watching Cindy Lee play her set. A mother away from her son for the first time in his life and away from a man whom she cares for deeply who is but a shell of himself. Touring is tough, and a Tuesday night in a still mostly suburban night club does not afford one with delusions of grandeur or deep pockets. It’s a humbling experience I am sure. But Cindy Lee performed with grace and beauty and it was an honest and amazing night of music.
After her set, I had the pleasure of meeting her. Laura Jane as I said, she’s a mover and shaker. She makes things happen. She is also Cindy Lee’s fan club president (to what capacity she conducts these duties I do not know) so Cindy Lee, gracious as ever gave us some of her time. We talked about music, she told stories of old friends, of people she was a fan of; I learned that Laura Jane had a crush on and met Alex Chilton. It was a pretty wild and amazing night.
Following the second set of music we were introduced to one of Cindy Lee’s tour mates, Paula Luber. On this tour, Paula was accompanying Cindy Lee on bells, percussions and vocals (along with Renatta Bratt who played the cello like no other I heard, it was fucking frighteningly amazing and dream to see someone approach their instrument with such graceful abandon). Paula told us that she just started playing drums about 18-24 months ago. She’s a mother of two children, I think teenagers, who are also musicians. She is also a medical doctor. You know, one of those people who has their shit together, is established and if you saw on paper, probably would appear perfectly boring. But one day she decided to buy herself a drum set and learn how to play drums. Now she is on a two-week tour for the first time ever, regaling us with the monotony that comes with touring, eyes glazed over with joy. None of this came off as a mid-life crisis to me at all. It was seeing someone decided to do something and have it take them somewhere unexpected. Paula abruptly excused herself from our conversation to talk to the drummer of the other act, wanting very much to talk shop.
It is criminal that I, a jaded, white male in my 30’s was privileged to witness this evening and have the conversations that I had. Had I any inkling of this night ahead I would have called every mother and father who has lady children and forced them, probably under threat of harm or violence or harassment, to attend this show and meet these women. This moment proves that you can do anything, anytime, under even the most difficult of circumstances.
For men, boys these moments come so early in life and are so often repeated it becomes unnecessary at a certain point. But young women rarely get to see this. There was nothing glamorous about a mostly empty room on a Tuesday night, but if you tried to take away the high these women were on from their experience you probably would have found your self ont he wrong side of a terrible tongue lashing.