Why do you do this to yourself?

Things in life can be a 50/50 bet.  A toss of a coin. Good or bad.  And so it was the case when we recently saw Evan Dando.  He has notoriously had disasterous gigs, but for all the times I've seen him perform it has been a joy.  Only a couple of years ago I wrote about the wonder of seeing your aging idol, noting that we were all growing older together and some people's voices can still be a touchstone for you. But this recent gig was the other side of that coin. The bad gig that many others have experienced.

We could see from the side of the stage that Evan turned up late to the venue.  Arriving as he should have been coming on the stage.  He ran out hurriedly and spoke into the mic.  He spoke so quickly it made no sense whatsoever. Jibberish.  After the first few songs some people walked out of the venue.  The gig itself was a mix of good and bad moments.  Songs we all loved (and sang along with) and others where he forgot chords, changed tempo, got half way through and abandoned.  Peter joked wondering if anyone would try to list the songs played on Setlist.  One brave soul was up for the challenge.  60 songs in total.  Sounds like a dream night except for the way in which they were played.

There were better moments, where songs were played in full.  And even better moments when he was genuinely funny. 'I probably shouldn't have partied so hard today, but I don't think it's interferring with my enjoyment of the show'.  People laughed.  Then there were other moments where he seemed scattered and all over the place, talking inaudible nonsense into the mic.  Some people still laughed.  Peter and I looked at each other wondering what they found so funny. How is watching someone self distruct amusing?

This performance made some of his lyrics more poignant and heartbreaking.

Why do you do this to yourself?
Refusing any kind of help
You're not hurting no one else
But you can't see
Why do you do this to yourself
If you knew just how it felt?
You're not hurting no one else
Cause you can't see

He has sung many songs about personal demons. Listening to certain lines during this show I felt a rawness. "I'm too much with myself, I wanna be someone else" (My Drug Buddy), "Walked back home to my place, Tired of getting high, Guess I don't want to die" (Rudderless),  "Don't wanna get stoned, But I don't wanna not get stoned" (Style), "What a comfort to find out you're losing your mind, When you re-realize that it's not the first time" (Losing my mind). That night it hurt to watch my troubled troubador perform.

I bumped into a friend a week later who was also at the gig.  We were talking about Evan's behaviour.  She said 'in any other social circumstance you would be concerned for that person's wellbeing and go see if they are ok'.  But somehow Evan's history of drug use and abuse means some people responded with laughter. All I could think of was Amy Winehouse.  Seeing that terrible clip on youtube where she is so drunk she's booed off stage. Later that year she is dead. I wonder how many people around these performers are watching out for them?  Or do self destructive people surround themselves with enablers?

I posted a photo of the gig online and someone asked if it was 'Good Evan or Bad Evan'.  Another commented that she had seen him perform a number of years ago and he was a train wreck.  She wouldn't risk seeing him live again. The ticket was a birthday present from Peter.  Money has been tight and I didn't think I'd get the chance to see Evan this time around.  I don't know if I would risk another gig.  Not because of the money, but because it honestly broke my heart to see him.

Since that night I've been playing his CDs in my car.  Like trying to wash the bad taste of something out of my mouth, I've been trying to rinse my ears of the jumbled versions of songs I adore. Listening to Evan's recorded voice I have been reminded of all the reasons I've loved his music.  I found a CD that somehow I'd missed playing - a second CD from his Live at thew Brattle Theatre recording.  There were a couple of covers on this album and and they both packed a punch.  'Tribute to Hank Williams' seemed particularly plaintive.

Goodbye, Hank Williams my friend
I didn't know you, but I've been to places you've been.

He sang from his heart, took the pain for his fans
Who watched the pain in his heart
And they sat and then clapped their hands

Something about Evan's voice, like Elliott Smith, is suited to emotional torment, heartbreak and inner turmoil. Does someone's real life experience contribute to their performance?  Are the emotions more hightened because we've all seen the fall out for ourselves? Watching the up and down battle Evan seems to have with drugs and alcohol I can only hope he doesn't go the way of Amy and Elliott.  I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that the coin flips again and I get to continue listening to Evan's deep voice as we both get older.


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