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"Nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of…intense fragility; [its] texture compels me with the color of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing."
                                                From "Somewhere I Have Never Traveled"
                                                                                      By E.E. Cummings

While in New York after the show this page commemorates, I was talking with a fellow artist (a female songwriter) who questioned the value of her contribution to the world since her art seemed to her (at least at that moment) a rather shamelessly self-indulgent pursuit. She lamented her inability to make a difference in the world -- a tangible contribution to something -- comparing herself (very unfavorably) to a doctor friend she admired for his selfless work with underprivileged children in a foreign land.

As an unshakable advocate of genuine art and genuine artists, I pointed out to her that it is entirely possible that her doctor friend is not selfless at all. Instead, I told her, he may well be motivated by an egotistical quest for admiration like that she had just shown, that perhaps he had merely followed the most likely means he could perceive to naturally propagate his selfless image.

And, furthermore, I added, who's to say that the artist makes no difference in the world? Why is it that to use one's gift as a physician is noble, but to use one's gift as an artist is so base? True, I said, submitting to the need to express one's feelings, thoughts, etc, is arguably selfish in its origins, but who's to say that this very need itself isn't part of the gift. For without it, what artist would create at all?

And as for making a difference in society, well, as I've stated on the "Why Mil Loves Lit" page of this website (which could as easily be read "Why Mil Loves Art"), I believe genuine art is "one of the shaping influences of life". It helps us to see ourselves in others, to see beauty in those around us we might otherwise miss, and to understand one's unique place as merely a single dot of color on the big picture of life -- past, present and future. It helps individuals of varied background and experience see that we are indeed somehow one in terms of intellect and feeling, helps us to discover that we can break away -- albeit for perhaps only a moment -- from the far less noble yet more tangible aspects of life. Who wouldn't wish that they might be responsible for that? Who wouldn't want to be an artist?

And yet, as I've also mentioned elsewhere on this site, the reward of the true artist is not always so glorious. In fact, it seldom is. And it is in this realization that all arguments of art as a purely self-indulgent pursuit are destroyed. For (to again quote Michael Shurtleff) "to go into [the arts] is like asking for admission to an insane asylum. Anyone may apply, but only the certifiable are admitted…it is generally known that an [artist's] life is not glamorous, most of the time, and filled with disappointment and rejection and hard work." And beyond that, "why would one go into a profession in which it is nigh onto impossible to earn a living?"

Relatively speaking, few people do. And I suspect that even among those few, the ones who do so primarily in search of some level of glory they hope to achieve quickly switch to an easier course -- such as becoming a physician for underprivileged children in a foreign land. After all, if these (be they alleged or utterly sincere) altruists subsequently fail, their failure is likely to be written off as one of medical science, not the individual doing his best to practice it. But in the case of an artist, it is the artist himself who fails. It is his feelings, his thoughts, his inability to connect with his fellow man that are part and parcel of his rejection.

Which brings me to the quote at the top of this page. "Nothing we are to perceive in this world equals the power of…intense fragility." In other words, the most successful artists -- not necessarily the wealthiest or most famous, but the ones whose work's "texture compels me with the color of its countries" are not self-serving individuals. They are courageous risk-takers who without a net suspend themselves again and again from heights of humanity those of us below can only imagine, in the hope that -- at least for a moment -- we might look up. Far too many far too often don't look up. And some never will. But for those who do, the sight is indeed glorious…though often painful -- as growth always is, as creation always is…"rendering death and forever with each breathing."

Michael McDermott is just that kind of artist, that kind of risk-taker -- one who rises to dizzying heights and invites us to accompany him "somewhere [we] have never traveled". And as one who has repeatedly been transported to these heights by the power of Michael's music, the power of his "intense fragility", let me assure you -- the view is not merely glorious; it's breathtaking.


Michael McDermott  

New York City  5/12/01

A beautiful spring night in the city, a nearly packed house...

                 ...excited fans eagerly awaiting Michael's appearance onstage...

Finally, at approx. 10:40pm, the crowd's patience was rewarded...

as Michael appeared at the piano and broke into "Getting Off The Dime...



"Open up your windows, babe
  And open up your doors,
  And let the light of life
      begin to shine...

  Come on, babe...we're
      gettin' off the dime." 




This was followed by the eloquent "Bourbon Blue"...

       "singing, writing songs by number,living life locked in a slumber...
        the reasons I can guess -- cuz I felt so useless..."

                and the incredibly powerful "Guilty" (by Randy Newman)...

               "Guilty, baby, I'm guilty...and I'll be guilty for the rest of my life...
                         How come I never do what I'm supposed to do?
                           How come nothin' I do ever turns out right" 

Michael then moved took center stage with the guitar for the always popular "Unemployed"...

   "you can call me a slacker;
          you can call me a waste.
    I'm just a pauper
          with a prince's taste..."






Another crowd favorite, "A Wall I
   Must Climb" raised the excitement
   level yet another notch.  Michael
   described this as a song that "gets   
   more real every day"...


    "The hangman's in the shadows
         and he's looking for something to do
     Until we find who won the battles
         of the evil and the true.
      And the judges, they're in recess
         until they receive some sort of sacred sign.
       Belief is a wall I must climb."

This was followed by the soul-searching yet hope-filled "Hand of the Hunter"...


"Spilling like wine, the healing was landing,
 Our only bastion was our understanding.
  With my fist in the air the winds I was
  Free from the spell I was under.
  And the hostages of iniquity
         were put on display for all to see;
   The chosen tongue, the communion
           of three
   Left everyone dazzled in wonder.

"I'll be free from the hand of the hunter."



And, of course, he played the wonderfully descriptive, incredibly catchy "20 Miles South of Nowhere" from the upcoming Knockaround Guys soundtrack...


 "She wants everyone to think
          she made it
   But I know her mama
          bought her that...

   A guy asked me
          if I was an artist;
    I said, 'A con-artist,
          mon frere,'
    And turned my back..." 


...before moving on to the darkly insistent, "Junkie Girl"...



   "Pain  from panes
         just looking out...
    Was it the fear
         or was it the doubt
     That got you
         runnin', girl...
     That got you
         feelin' numb?"



Michael then announced that he would be concluding his set and launched into an incredibly impassioned performance of "Around the World" on piano...

...but not before hamming it up for the camera a bit first...
  "Commence, Maestro!"

In perhaps the only moment reminiscent of his show at "The Point" just a week earlier (considering the incredibly different settings of a suburban coffeehouse and an East Village club), once again the crowd refused to release Michael into the New York night without an encore... for which he chose the powerful, and honesty-laden "Leave It Up To The Angels...

  "Have you ever been afraid to move
   'Cuz you thought somehow
        you might break?
    Ever heard a voice you
        couldn't ignore,
    Ever had a feeling that you
        couldn't shake?
    I'm frightened by the way I feel,
    And maybe you are, too...
    I'm losing faith in everything
    And everyone but you." 


As an amazing conclusion to an amazing night, the crowd savored these last moments with Michael fully, as their voices joined with his to fill the room.  It was a moment that truly provided chills of the best possible kind!

Far too soon, of course, the moment was over and almost immediately anticipation started to build for the next show -- wherever and whenever that might be.  In the meantime, we'll "leave [that] up to the angels" and happily store away yet another beautiful memory of witnessing the "intense fragility" that is Michael's music...a gift like "nothing [else] we are to perceive in this world".

Again, thank you Michael.  Please come back soon!

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