The Point  5-5-01
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"Madness in great ones must not unwatched go"…
                                                   King Claudius,

In the interim between Saturday's show at "The Point" and setting up this review page on it, I've been tossing around -- and repeatedly discarding -- ideas on how to preface it, how to truly do justice to the experience that is Michael McDermott live at any given place and time. As some of you may recall I attempted to pay homage to his last visit to this venue with a piece I called "The Clown". But as I sat spellbound before him once again I was reminded anew of how impossible it is for my words (any words?) to accurately depict even the smallest fraction of what this artist can convey with just one note, one look, the slightest catch in his powerful clear voice.

I know what the cool, dispassionate and ever-so-sane skeptics are thinking as they read this, how appropriate the name "artistinsane" seems to them at this moment. And I'm sure, too, they will easily dismiss me as some obsessive, perhaps even dangerous maniac whose mental instability has sanctified this ordinary man to make up for something I missed in childhood -- or might be missing now.

They're wrong. For, in fact, it is they who are missing something. And I am deeply thankful that I'm not.

The Bible says in Mark that when Jesus' family heard he was drawing crowds "they went to take charge of him for they said, 'He is out of his mind.'" And while I do not cite this example to indicate I see Michael as some kind of savior or saint -- nor to glorify my own self-proclaimed madness -- it proves nonetheless that true greatness far too often goes unrecognized…and that this lack of recognition does not make one in any way less great.

That said, I believe Michael is in fact an ordinary man. So was Shakespeare, surely, to those who knew him. And as for madness and unrecognized greatness mingling in the same ordinary person, well, there's always Van Gogh. Of course, while both Van Gogh's greatness and insanity are legendary today, indeed taken for granted, perhaps not everyone yet realizes that in his lifetime he sold only 1 painting. Not only does his life therefore prove that unrecognized greatness and madness can be mingled, it also might provide an explanation as to why they often are...

But enough on abstract philosophizing. To get to "The Point" and how all of this pertains to Saturday night, I just hope to explain to those who haven't yet experienced Michael McDermott in concert how I can wax so ebullient about each live performance when they may notice that many of the same songs are performed each time, and in the photos see merely the same ordinary person in different clothes. I want to give some indication of how an ordinary person can not just perform, but completely LIVE each song afresh with every phrase. I want to explain why I felt so compelled after the show to seek him out and babble appreciation I immediately recognized as so inadequate that I left feeling certain I must seem the "silly-looking clown" Michael's so often called himself -- and yet will never be.

To do this I've used examples of universal illustrations to convey what words cannot. And to explain why I feel featuring Michael McDermott so prominently on makes so much sense, I'll attempt to paint one more. As the quote by Michael Shurtleff on this website's home page states, "The arts are about learning to find the dream in you and putting it right up there on the stage for everybody to see. You have to be crazy, thank God, to want to do that."

In the words and photos that follow, some may see an ordinary person. And, of course, I see him, too. But up on that stage Saturday night this ordinary person found the dream…and the nightmare…and the darkness…and the light that are in all of us and burned them on our souls. As he did so I saw in him a madness of the greatest kind -- and once more felt my own artistic spirit challenged to become so very beautifully insane.


The Point
Bryn Mawr, PA  5/5/01

"About every third show I lose my mind...," Michael ruefully quipped as he took his seat at the piano to open with "Getting Off The Dime"...


   "Do you ever feel the forces 
    that you have to work against
    fight you all along the way 
    from both sides of a 
    crooked fence?"



Remaining at the piano, he followed this with the beautiful "Bourbon Blue" and a bluesy cover of the Randy Newman title, "Guilty" (from the 1974 album, Good Old Boys)...

"Yes, Baby, I been drinkin'
 And I shouldn't come by,
    I know
 But I found myself in
 And I had nowhere
    else to go..."

Taking a turn at the guitar, Michael next performed his signature hit, "A Wall I Must Climb"...


   "So quiet is the terror
    That swallows me like the night.
    So quiet is this sickness
    And the song that I long to write.
    But I shall receive my passion 
    From beyond the bitter stars 
          that shine...

    Doubt is a wall I must climb..."



...and his latest hit, "Unemployed", from the album Last Chance Lounge...


 "I can take tragedy, loss and defeat...  
Choke your bitterness 'til your blood turns sweet..."


Still on guitar, Michael continued with the insightful "Hand of the Hunter"...


  "Are you aware of the
        gifts that your Gods
        are bestowing, even
        though you feel

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


Back at the piano, Michael dedicated "Wounded" to a surprised and delighted fan...a longtime favorite of mine which I'd never before heard live, I was stunned by the intensity and truth of this searing performance... 

   as clearly was the rest of the attentive -- indeed enraptured -- crowd.

                 "Was it fate or was it luck 
                      Or was it coincidence we were together...
                  I'm beaten by the forces ceaselessly spinning around
                  There's only one recourse for this silly-looking clown...

                  I'm gonna wash my hands in the water;
                  I'll dry them in the garden's dirt.
                  I'm too tired for sleeping;
                  I'm too wounded to hurt..."                                

 After a performance few could effectively follow, Michael continued to amaze his audience with the reminiscent "Summer Days" and the inexpressibly moving Stephen Sondheim-penned "Send In The Clowns"..


   "Just when I'd stopped 
       opening doors
    Finally knowing the one
       that I wanted was yours...

    No one is there....

    And where are the clowns? 
   There ought to be clowns.
    Send in the clowns --
    Don't bother -- I'm here..."


Switching to guitar once more, Michael moved back into more familiar territory with the infectious "20 Miles South of Nowhere" and the haunting tale of a likeable drifter lost in the downward spiral of self-destructive behavior, "Say Hey Charlie Boy"... 

 "Now Charlie, he fit right in,
  But around here it's not that
  I met him playing ball on a 
  In old man Murphy's yard..."



This was followed by another crowd favorite and former single release from Last Chance Lounge, "Junkie Girl" before Michael returned once more to the piano to close out his set with the gorgeous "Around the World"... 

    "I've been in books,
     I've been in movies...
     I've rubbed elbows with many
     I've jettisoned with 
        the jet set;
     I've flown over six of
        the seven seas...

    I had to travel around the world
    Just to find my way home."

As on prior visits, the crowd refused to let Michael leave without an encore,
calling him back for the emotional "Annie and the Aztez Cross", and another personal favorite I'd never before heard live:  "Lantern"...

    "If I had some sunshine, I'd cast it all
         on you;
     If I had the power your dreams would
        all come true.
     I know you must be frightened --
     Don't you know that I'm scared, too?
     If I had a lantern I'd light the way
        for you."


 Still not fully satisfied after he'd once again bid us all farewell, the audience pulled Michael back to the stage with screams and applause for a second encore.  This time Michael chose the lovely and seldom-performed-live "Morning Never Brings"...

 "Are you waiting for 
  Are you waiting for 
          your wings? 
   The night will make
          you promises
    The morning never



Indeed this night no one was waiting for tomorrow -- rather we wished collectively that it could somehow never end.  But knowing that it must, I sought out one additional memory to insure the morning would bring no doubt that I had truly lived this wonderful experience...

...and as you can see, after signing autographs and being besieged by other fans, the unbelievably patient (although surely exhausted!) Michael kindly indulged my photo request...

Again, I can only conclude that no words do this -- or any other -- evening of Michael in live performance justice, and will therefore close my attempt to do so only by urging you to experience this yourself as soon as possible!    But be forewarned...

Madness about McD is incredibly contagious -- and once you've contracted it, you'll more than likely never ever want to be "sane" again.

Thank you, Michael!

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