Between My Ears and a Hard Place
August 29, 2007, 7:27 pm
Filed under: deafness, hearing disability, Rufus Wainwright, Uncategorized

Rufus Wainwright and band have exited the country for Canadia, leaving yours truly with a massive lapful of reality that includes a busted hearing aid, a messed-up school schedule, and the usual condition of perpetual overwhelm. In all fairness, Rufus did not personally bust my hearing aid. What happened was that we had huge storms last week all over the Midwest and one of them knocked out not only my left hearing aid but my Comcast internet service as well. The internet finally came back after a two-day ordeal during which we received countless automated calls from Comcast informing us that service had been restored when it had clearly not, but my hearing aid was not so lucky and had to go out for repairs. By the time my internet came back not only had my father gone back into the hospital (he’s being treated for lung cancer), not only was my ebay business in a shambles, but also I had two very expensive concert tickets that I was in no condition to properly appreciate but that it was too late to sell. It seemed the only thing to do was to make the best of the situation and attend the Milwaukee show impaired, but I hope I can be excused for feeling a little sorry for myself.

I wish I had more of a sense of humor about my disability, but I’ll admit I tend to sink into despondency when my aids fizzle out on me. Problem is, although hearing aids are in no way a substitute for the two good ears I was cheated out of, they help me function almost “as if.” For a severely impaired person such as myself, a prosthetic device becomes an extension of the self, and when that extension is removed we are reminded all too clearly of our limitations. I imagine this dilemma has different twists for different disabilities, but what makes it particularly frustrating for a hard-of-hearing person is that people cannot tell how deaf you are by looking at you and will therefore talk to you as if you could hear them. Faced with that situation, I first struggle to do the impossible then feel compelled to explain that I’m not really like this when I have my proper equipment. It’s isolating, maddening, disorienting, and exhausting at best, despair-inducing at worst, and not exactly the condition under which you want to undertake a road trip. Welcome to my life, and lucky you that you can just peek in the doorway for a moment and then take your leave. I do strive to count my many blessings and avoid feeling sorry for myself, and most of the time I succeed fairly well. Other times a sensation washes over me that life will be so much easier when I don’t have to deal with these things, rapidly followed by the harsh realization that such a time will never come. This realization is inevitably accompanied by an overpowering sense of loss, but then I get distracted by something shiny and life seems bearable again.

Since spring of 2002, one of those pretty things that help make life worth living has been Rufus Wainwright, who entered my life at a time when I had a baby daughter and was finished with the kind of fandom that involved road trips to see concerts. As a friend once remarked, something about his voice directly stimulates the pleasure center of my brain, disabling my judgement and directly compelling me to buy show tickets for places like Indianapolis, where I first dragged my spouse to see Rufus at the Vogue Theater in May of 2002 in the last show of the Poses tour. Five years later, I’ve now seen him in Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wisconsin for a total of nine shows. Monday’s concert in Milwaukee was certainly one of the best of these, but it came at a price for me both for the reason above and for one I’ll share below.

I’ve been to Milwaukee numerous times for shows, mainly the Kinks and Elvis Costello back in the old days. The city has a comfortable working-class feeling about it whilst offering a healthy dollop of culture, and I could imagine myself living there someday because it is so close to Chicago that one can comfortably travel back and forth between the cities in one day. Their expressways are another matter, as they are currently under construction with exits obscured and roads in a state that leaves you feeling as if the one you are on could abruptly end in midair, plunging you to a sure and sudden concrete death.

Once we left the scary highway, we found the Pabst quite easily and found our seats in Row AA. This wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds, because the usher who led us to our seats explained that Rows AA and BB had been reversed when they were putting them in. The way she explained it, it sounded as if this had happened just the other day and it was a condition to which she was still in the process of adapting. The seats were bolted in, rendering that hypothesis an unlikely one. Not only were they bolted in, they were right smack up against the rather high stage. Whiplash, here we come.

The Pabst is a stunning vintage theater with lots of gilding and one of the most beautiful crystal chandeliers I’ve ever seen. Although it seemed generally well preserved, it did worry me a bit that I could feel movement when my foot pressed against the stage. This was a bit too much like home, where opening a door is always an adventure because one never knows when it will fall off the hinges. Since we had nothing better to do, we plopped into our seats, tried to keep our feet to ourselves in order not to collapse the stage, and sat through two mildly entertaining opening acts.

With Rufus came the announcement that the show was being filmed by a crew headed by Albert Maysles of Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens fame. This was both good and bad news, good because this exceptional show deserves to be preserved for posterity and bad because the presence of a film crew inevitably changes things. The show is very delicately paced, and when a few songs had to be repeated, the flow of the concert was irreparably damaged. As much as the Judy Garland drag and lively choreography of Get Happy make for a joyful climax to the show, having it repeated was like trying to force a second orgasm when the first one has already left you spent and wondering if there’s any pizza left in the refrigerator.

More important, the film crew was a constant presence in my already-obstructed sightlines. From where I was on the far right side of the first row, I could not see Rufus at his piano apart from occasional glimpses of his tossing hair over the keyboard and intriguing reflections of his graceful hands on the polished top of the piano when it was propped open. The film crew was constantly moving onstage in front of me, frequently blocking my view and causing me to have to crane my neck around them to see Rufus. Since I already had my own significant impairments to work with, it was both exhausting and disappointing to be faced with more obstructions. In no way did I feel I got the experience I paid for, but this loss will be more than redeemed if the footage is released to fans. The official word is that the show was documented only for posterity, but the more the fan base is made aware there is a record, the louder they will squawk to get their hot little hands on it.

As a fan, I think this tour deserves to be documented not only because it is by far the most fully realized performance Rufus has ever created but also because his current band is perhaps his finest ever. With both seasoned regulars like Jack Petruzzelli, Jeff Hill and Matt Johnson plus musical director, lead guitarist and Spooky Ghost Gerry Leonard (formerly in David Bowie’s band), as well as a smashing three-man horn section, this band is full of distinctive personalities that command the stage very nicely even when Rufus is off powdering his nose. This band exudes confidence without the slightest sense that they are competing to wrest the copious prize of stardom from Rufus, unlike certain famous siblings. I’m glad they are there, and I want to tell them that much more than I would ever want to stand in line to stammer the usual awkward mumbles of adoration to the star attraction.

Now that Rufus and his cohorts have moved on to other parts, I will tuck away my mingled recollections of stardust and struggle and get back to the business of raising a daughter, finishing library school, trying to pay my bills, and traveling to bar mitzvahs and weddings like a normal, non-obsessed person. I reserve the right to feel a bit wistful that I experienced my second and final show on this tour through a veil of distraction and discomfort and hence missed my one chance to share the stage with Rufus and band on “Between My Legs,” but mostly I’ll feel grateful to have been there to have witnessed the spectacle. Speaking of which, I’m also grateful Rufus’s boyfriend didn’t drop him when he picked him up, because I’m convinced that ramshackle stage would have collapsed and tragedy would have ensued instead of the delightful madness you see below.

4 Comments so far
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I understand exactly how you feel when your hearing aids give out on you. Please check out my blog – I’m a musician writing from a hard of hearing perspective.


Comment by Hoh

Nice blog, I’ll definitely be going back to it! Not only have I dropped my hearing aid in the toilet, but I once fell out of a canoe into the Skokie Lagoon and my aid survived!!

Comment by denalynn2001

A little tough on them, are ya?


Comment by Hoh

Well, I try to live a full life but there is some wear and tear involved. Speaking of which, I’m going to a water park this weekend and of course that presents its own challenges.

Comment by denalynn2001

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