great ones must not unwatched go"…
King Claudius, Hamlet
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.
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while I do not cite this example to indicate I see Michael as some kind of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
artistinsane.com 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.
"MAD ABOUT McD":
Bryn Mawr, PA 5/5/01
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
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,
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
"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
Doubt is a wall I must climb..."
...and his latest hit, "Unemployed", from the album Last
"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
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...
clearly was the rest of the attentive -- indeed enraptured -- crowd.
"Was it fate or was it luck
Or was it coincidence we were
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
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
when I'd stopped
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..."
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
"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
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
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"...
you waiting for
Are you waiting for
The night will make
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.
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