Posted on November 23, 2016 at 2:59 am
I woke up on November 9 as though into some dystopian thriller. I stared at the headline in the New York Times and felt woozy, like my drink had been spiked. There was a way that Election Night was supposed to go, and then there was the nightmare that ensued. Like many other New Yorkers, I was virtually catatonic, mute with rage and confusion and deep sadness.
While I pondered my breakfast with total disinterest, I remembered that I had agreed to be Kristin Chenoweth’s guest that night at her Broadway concert, A Love Letter To Broadway. Nothing seemed more cognitively dissonant at that moment than the idea that I’d be onstage performing with one of the great perky humans of all time on the very night when both of us were profoundly disillusioned and even despairing about the state of our country. But I had said yes, and I was obliged to follow through. What I could not figure out, however, was what I was supposed to sing. Kristin hadn’t given me any specifications about what to perform, and every song I could think of felt wrong. I could not muster optimism, nor did I want to compound the damage by singing something sad or angry. As I dumped the uneaten breakfast into the trash, I asked myself what words I wanted to sing – the line that came to me was, “I come to sing a song about hope. I’m not inspired much right now, but even so.” I stood in the shower and, line by line, the rest of the song took shape. When I posted the song here on my website three hours later, I felt like I had said something that I myself needed to hear. When I performed the song that night at Kristin’s show, the audience stood up to applaud after the song, and I realized that they had needed to hear it too. For the first time that day, I had a sense of connection and solidarity.
The rest of the week went by in a fog – it felt as though the entire population of Manhattan had been numbed into silence. Meanwhile, I prepared for my SubCulture concert on November 14, unsure of what tone I should try to project. I was not hopeful, I was not joyful, I was frankly not really in the mood to make music. But I had several prodigiously gifted collaborators showing up, and I had to build a program that could take them and my audience from the bleak muteness of the city streets into a place where beautiful things could happen, a place where it felt – to use a word that is becoming drained of its meaning – safe.
A burst of serendipity had brought me into contact with Dr. Patrice E. Turner, a musician of virtually limitless gifts, a phenomenal singer as well as a thunderous pianist and conductor. I had called Patrice for this concert to sing backup with my friend Jesse Warren-Nager, but I realized on Sunday that Patrice’s gifts as a minister in the gospel church would be of immense value. And so, for the first time in the residency, the show started not with me, but with Patrice walking to the piano and accompanying herself in an galvanizing arrangement of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” that brought to all of us in that room, believers and nonbelievers alike, for the first time since November 8, a feeling of grace.
Three new songs of mine appeared for the first time at SubCulture, the first of which was the aforementioned “Hope.” I stepped well outside my own comfort zone to premiere a punk/rap piece from The Connector. And at the end of the night, Eden Espinosa blazingly premiered a girl-power disco song I had written for a patient at the Ronald McDonald House, a song which had suddenly gained an even greater relevance, called “Invisible.”
In addition to continuing the fantastic musical relationship that Eden and I started last month in Des Moines, I got to introduce a brilliant musician to my audience – Canadian folk singer and fiddler extraordinaire Miranda Mulholland and I had exchanged messages on Twitter, and I finally had the pleasure of seeing her perform in London while I was there directing The Last Five Years last month. I immediately told her that if she were ever going to be in New York, I hoped she would join us for a SubCulture concert; thanks again to serendipity, she was in town on exactly the date of my next show. She performed two of her songs – including the demonic “Bar Rage,” during which the audience was treated to a titanic fiddle duel between Miranda and our own Todd Reynolds – and then joined me in a pensive “It All Fades Away.”
It was my first SubCulture concert in three months, and it exercised muscles I hadn’t used in all that time, but I felt two things with unquestionable conviction when the show ended – Grace, yes, and when it was least expected and most necessary, Joy. I make music, and I am lucky enough to do it with phenomenal collaborators in the greatest city in the world. I carry that grace and joy with me now, and with it, gratitude. Hope is in short supply, but little specks of it blow through the air like stray snowflakes. I catch it on my tongue, and I do my best to sing it back to you. Breathe deep, my friends. Onward we go.
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (piano and vocals: Dr. Patrice E. Turner)
Hallowed Ground (2016)
Nothing’s Bigger Than Kong from King Kong (maybe) (2016)
EDEN: What It Means To Be A Friend from 13 (2008)
EDEN: Cassandra from The Connector (2016)
Wind In My Sails from The Connector (2016) (premiere)
MIRANDA: Bar Rage (Mulholland, 2014)
MIRANDA: How Many Times (Mulholland, 2014)
MIRANDA & JRB: It All Fades Away from The Bridges of Madison County (2013)
Fifty Years Long (2015)
EDEN & JRB: I’d Give It All For You from Songs for a New World (1995)
EDEN: Invisible (2016) (premiere)
All Things In Time (2009)
PIANO & VOCALS: JRB
VOCALS: Eden Espinosa
VOCALS & FIDDLE: Miranda Mulholland
BACKING VOCALS: Jesse Warren-Nager & Patrice E. Turner
VIOLIN: Todd Reynolds
ELECTRIC & ACOUSTIC GUITAR: Gary Sieger
ELECTRIC & ACOUSTIC GUITAR & BANJO: Michael Aarons
ELECTRIC & ACOUSTIC BASS: Randy Landau
DRUMS: Clint de Ganon
The next two concerts: DECEMBER 11 with NORM LEWIS; and JANUARY 11 with Tony Award-winner KELLI O’HARA!