Meredith Monk, February 1, 2009, Whitney Museum
We once went to hear Clio Lane sing at the Regency. Her husband, John Dankworth, was on the keys, as always. It was a triple date then, with T-- and L---, and the other man in the group was my dad. Thinking about it now makes the base of my stomach tingle with nervousness, and it might have then, were it not for good vintage wine and, more so, her voice. It was rich and so deep and delicate but sharp too, qualities that seemed accented by her age -- not just because of its own vintage, but because all clues (the velvet setting, the velvet gown, the velvet skin, the air even) said she was a relic treasure, confined to the museum of the record, and somehow magically unearthed for this one performance. Her voice sang from another era, one I only hear on the radio or vinyl, which made it so much more deliciously unsettling to hear it in person, mouth to ear as it were. The sort of sound that made you not want to move, not because you'll interrupt it or unsettle it, but because all the moving in the room had been reserved just for that voice, and by an unsung law of physics, you simply can't move anymore.
Meredith Monk turns that equation on its head. She makes voices move with free reign, makes everything seem to move, tearing seams with sounds. Her choir, whether banging the doors that you're standing outside of, waiting to get in, or vibrating the air when you enter the room, is like a cult in a way. That way that everyone involved is channeling the same high, on the same drug, and they're hypnotizing you, and suddenly you are part of the song. And you see it is not a cult at all, nothing so superficial. It is an altered state of being, simply of breathing and not doing, and you are beating your chest, clapping your heart and even if you have no sense of rhythm now you have one and while it's partly improvised, the yelps and the woofs, the gibberish and beast calls, the roof raising and the twirling, all a matter of some great chance, you know there is only one way that it goes only, it is what it --
Who is it. She is there. Say it. I had to. She. Bizarro Monk, if that were possible. I am finding my seat. I am looking for a seat. Yes, I am about to finally get an Indian style seat on the floor before Meredith Monk and her clan, and we are all going to be transported to the deep colors that could only exist in the gray sixties, she with braids on, one behind her back, and something resembling overalls, we with hair needing to be cut, we needing showers, needing something, anything, because we take what we can get--but excuse me, excuse me, sorry, just trying to get my seat, just --. I'm not exaggerating things. I'm not being dramatic. Everyone there is a drama queen. Everyone is being dramatic, but not really about the things you should be dramatic about now. I hear a man going on about a sandwich. I hear a woman lamenting the 1 million dollar price of something. An apartment in DUMBO. A --
The woman is Bjork. She is wearing a black tunic, oval around the neck, the neck lined with white bone-colored shells that look like the skulls of exotic fish in cross-section. I am in cross-section. I am in sections. There she is. Miss Iceland. The video goddess of my adolescence, fairy of Faroe, a wizard who is accidentally living in this time and singing chanting from less another time than another place entirely. There she is.
I could touch her, I could interrupt her. Her, of the cardboard forests and massive bears, of the traipsing and the shattering and the jelly aura and one long ancient invisible blizzard, talking about schools for her children and living in Brooklyn.
She is not made of mountains and fjords. Her body is not radiating neon. She looks like a child grown up.
Having realized this perhaps, later, after the performance, I dart to her. (After that, even later, visiting the basement bathroom on my way out, a gaggle of girls is rushing up past me in some kind of happy shock, half looking back. In their wake comes the ice queen, and a classic parting: "Bye Bjork!" I raise my right hand while walking past, an oath and a sign of the gulf there. Sideways, demurely, she goes "Bye." Alex. Bye, Alex.)
But now I am fumbling through sentences, trying on costumes for her like a fool, like the fool, telling her I love her as best I can and referencing a concert in China (I videoed it too) and my trip to Tibet and the environment and a desire to interview her and all the while she is smiling as I knew she would and also folding into herself, biting her black hair even, delicately picking her words in an accent light on the edges but dark in the vague center, and she is terribly polite, not terrible, but so uncomfortable, and I see (others step in, inevitably, crassly, and reminding me of my own shallow invasion) she is already in hiding, as she always was.
But there she is.
And yet, during the finale I did not know I had come for -- a meditation on journeying across the earth and a dream of ascension -- I am forgetting she is there, and she is forgetting too, and I am forgetting too, about me being there, and then we see the others, and then all of us. And there we are, ears and vessels, bodies and floor and chairs, awakened by the sounds of voices, all of us moved but not moving.