I’mma get the cliché out of the way (“The Show Must Go On”) so I can get to the bit about how doing yr job on stage can make you seem vaguely sociopathic off stage.
I had a shitty day and played a show that night. I was chatting with my friend, who came to the show, at length about how shitty a day I was having, before going on to play a pretty upbeat show. After the show, my friend had trouble believing I’d been as upset as I claimed. I took this as a compliment, if not as a performer, then as a professional. But when my friend asks, “How do you do that?”, I’m stumped for an answer. I’m not sure whether the question is meant as “How do you put your emotional shit aside long enough to do yr job?” or more “How real can your emotional shit be if you can make it seemingly disappear on cue?”, which adds to my uncertainty about how to answer in a way that will make sense.
In my mind: this is one of the things that the artists I look up to just… do. I try to emulate these artists, in many aspects – the life in-between as much as the life onstage. But what do I really know of either? Glimpses taped together with guesses. I watch the their exploits from a distance; I don’t get to ask them “How do you do it?”, and so I never find out. I have to formulate my own answer from afar: “Well, that’s just what they do.” It’s like learning a colloquial expression in a foreign language: there’s no literal translation, you just adopt it and apply whenever appropriate. So I can’t repeat the answer the artist I look up to might give when that question is asked of me.
And I think this is a separate discussion from the one about “authenticity” in one’s art: the idea that something of the artist’s “real” pain, emotion, life must bleed into or through their art and its delivery (“performance”) – which I would argue doesn’t ever really happen, at least not in the way that a lot of people I talk to imagine it does… maybe that’s something for me to write about another time.
But – and this is a question that perplexes me – what would the artists whose work deals with dark and disturbing ideas, in a lived-in, tactile, intelligent and challening way, be like at a dinner party? Or just over a cup of coffee?
Without going too far down that path at this juncture, here are some excellent words from David Lynch on the topic of art and suffering:
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