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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, September 04, 2008
    You’re going to be fine
    In a granite city awash with dismal rains, incongruously seated in damp denim jeans and soggy hiking boots in Scotland's oldest and most wonderful small concert hall St Cecilia's, supping Guinness on an empty stomach at a table directly in front of a low stage, I saw Kristin Hersh perform Paradoxical Undressing.

    This was every bit the unique and memorable event I'd anticipated (see blog, 31 July), one of those very special gigs which are a world to themselves, in which Kristin, a painfully introvert performer, got up-close and personal sharing the experiences which have helped shape her powerfully complex music over the years.

    Kristin's lyricism is intricate but not impenetrable. You need a sort of intuition that the intense imagery and deep metaphors in her music relate to direct experiences, even quite mundane ones. If you have that intuition and you can make the connections then you find her songs exploding into the loveliest colours or the scariest shapes as they take on meanings for you. Paradoxical Undressing revealed a lot of astonishing details which my intuition had previously missed.

    One day Paradoxical Undressing will be a book, I hope. In Edinburgh it was one small woman at a lectern with a ring binder full of papers by her right hand and a guitar strapped across her left shoulder, reading and then singing, reading and then singing again in front of a screen projecting the richly coloured paintings of Molly Cliff Hilts. Captivating.

    Kristin has eschewed music business norms and as well as inviting donations to keep her work going she fills her websites with artwork, photography, music and video clips free for all to encounter and enjoy. She also posts out pieces of writing like this below, which she shared with us beneath the chandeliers in Edinburgh and is a perfect illustration of the power and wonder - and agony - of her life and work.
    Then some old lady forgot how to drive for a minute and suddenly, I was flying. I flew up over her car and through the air in vivid slow motion, thinking, so this is what this feels like.

    As the pavement came toward me, I could see tree branches blowing in the breeze and smell cut grass. I seemed to have stopped somewhere between flying up and falling down, as if I were hovering over the street. Then the words “go limp” popped into my head, so I did.

    As soon as I relaxed my muscles, time sped up and the ground jumped into the air, crashing into my head. I slid down the street on my face for what seemed like a very long time, then flipped over. My neck snapped back and my legs twisted up underneath me. The old lady and her car were long gone.

    I lay there on the street for a minute, feeling the brand new sensation of a lot of blood leaving my body, then tried to unfold myself. I lifted my left leg, noticed that there was no longer a foot at the end of it, then sat up and looked around me. Blood spread across the ground in a deep red puddle, pouring into the sewer. I'd never seen blood pour into a sewer before.

    A woman appeared from nowhere and leaned over me. She was wearing mirrored sunglasses. What I saw in her glasses was bizarre: I had no face, only hamburger and blood with two blue eyes staring out. Even my hair was red with blood. It snaked out from under my head, unrecognizable as hair. I looked away, deciding to look for my missing foot. “You were hit by a car!" the woman said loudly. “You’re going to be fine!”

    Pic: from Nailest's Paradoxical Undressing Flickr photoset