July 24, 2018
One of the last concerts that Kim and I saw together was Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt.
I've talked about it before, but there's something else I want to add.
It was just the two of them on stage trading songs.
People from the audience would shout out requests - and one of them asked Hiatt to play "Lipstick Sunset".
Hiatt said he wasn't sure he remembered the lyrics.
Members of the audience said they'd help.
So he started.
Midway through a verse he got stuck.
"Well a radio was playing"
He played his guitar til it got back to the start of the verse and he started again. He rested his hands on the guitar a moment.
Someone in the audience called out the line.
"And that old summer heat was on the rise"
He nodded and played and sang it. They called out the next line and he continued.
It was sweet to watch him sing this song with the help of the audience. No one was one-upping anyone. Everyone was involved in creating this moment.
The song ended. The concert continued. The singers traded stories and songs and there were no more stutters that night.
But the moment that stuck with me was when Hiatt stumbled and the audience helped him up.
This week I've wondered if there was more to it than that.
In the latest episode of Malcolm Gladwell's "Revisionist History" he looks at Parapraxis by examining the many mistakes that Elvis made during the spoken part of his hit "Are you lonesome tonight".
Elvis seldom forgot lyrics to songs and yet he struggled to remember that short portion of that one particular song. There are versions were Elvis replaces the lyrics with nonsense and others where he breaks into uncontrollable laughter.
In the Gladwell story he talks to therapists, musicians, and plays clips of interviews with Presley's wife.
Gladwell visits Bobby Braddock and Casey Bowles and they perform the Elvis song and talk about recitations in old country songs and how they tend to be easier if they're set to music. He shows them a "Handbook of Psychobiography" containing an essay on Elvis' song with a chart of all of the mistakes Elvis made in live recordings of the song.
Casey related immediately. She talked about her song about her mother called "Somebody's Something". She said, "There's a line, 'She's always been somebody's something, she's lived every life but her own'" and then she pauses - she can't remember the next line.
This is the next line of a song she's performed often that she wrote about her mother.
She sings her way back to the line and then it comes to her in the context of the song.
"She's always been somebody's something"
"She's been everything but alone"
"A daughter, a lover, a wife, and a mother"
"She's lived every life but her own"
A moment later Gladwell asks her about the line and it's already gone. She's lost it already.
These were the sort of things I loved talking to Kim about.
She was a speech therapist.
She loved thinking about the brain.
It turns out, we can forget lines - not because they aren't important to us, but because they are.
Elvis' wife left him for another.
Now the words in the spoken bridge had a whole new meaning.
And his mind kept getting in the way of those painful memories.
I don't know if something stood between John Hiatt and the lyrics to "Lipstick Sunset", but I think of that night a whole lot differently.
Maybe there was something in the lines...
"I just had to get away"
"Before some sad old song"
"Brought tears to my eyes"