k.d. lang, Meet Alice; Alice, Meet k.d. lang (Part One: How Did This Happen?)
December 2, 2012
It started with a tweet:
I don’t use Twitter and don’t know Dr. Clark, so the Tweet between her and k.d. lang about Alice didn’t ping anything over here, although I did notice a few more Canadian visitors to the blog than usual; otherwise I knew nothing about the above until Dr. Clark emailed me shortly after she tweeted.
She wrote that she follows k.d. lang on Twitter and that she lives in nearby Vancouver. She’d been searching online to find out about k.d.’s recent move to Portland. Her search led her to my post from July in which, trying to cheer Alice after the departure of her dearest friend at The Place, Celia, I told her that I’d heard k.d. lang had moved to town. (See A Bit of Good Cheer.)
Until she came to Portland four years ago at age 93, Alice had lived in little Midwestern towns all her life. She’s amazed by the size of this city, and she brings to it her version of small town whimsy. She pretended to anticipate meeting up with the embodiment of a voice she had loved from the first moment she’d heard it back in the 1980s: “What will I say to her?” she asked me.
It was facetious, but it was fun – the only bit of brightness I’d seen in her since Celia had gone away to the nursing home, not to return. I assured her she’d think of something.
Now, months later, here was a Dr. Clark sending me a link to a tweet and telling me that k.d. lang was currently on tour in Canada and that she wanted to arrange a visit with Alice when she returned to Portland.
That explained the Canadian visitors. But naturally, I was doubtful. I searched for Dr. Clark and found this sweet looking person:
She has her own naturopathic practice. She’s legitimate. Further email exchanges revealed she has a k.d. langy streak herself. (Think k.d. during her performance art years) :
This reminded me of the spirit behind one of k.d.’s most endearing goofy girl moments many years ago on the Pee Wee Herman show:
Dr. Clark was right. Sammi from k.d.’s team did contact me. In email exchanges over the span of a few weeks, ever respectful of Alice’s schedule and needs as well as her employer’s, another assistant named Leah worked out a specific date and time. It happened to fall on my birthday, which I thought was perfect – a gift back to Alice that of course would not exactly match the gift of life she’d given me (she never fails to mention the torture of it all on every single one of my – by now many – birthdays: “You weighed ten pounds, eight ounces!”), but at this late date a meeting with one of her favorite singers might just come close to calling it even.
I waited until the hour before the visit before telling my 97-year-old mother that k.d. lang was about to show up in her apartment for a little chat. I’d been fretting for quite a while about her reaction. Would she be overwhelmed? Short of breath? Anxious? Worse? Best not to let her sit in anxiety for days or weeks, I’d decided. An hour wait seemed long enough. Some deep breathing and we’d be all set.
At first she thought I was joking.
Then came the old question, but framed now by Shocking Reality. “What am I going to say to her?”
I suggested various topics: k.d. lang’s music, other musicians Alice likes, favorite songs. I pointed out that the two of them came from small prairie towns, not all that far from one another. They could talk about that.
“She grew up in a town of about 600 people,” I said.
That didn’t persuade Alice of anything. “600! That’s twice as big as the town I grew up in.”
I agreed it was a bigger town, but reminded her that there’s a certain kind of peacefulness that comes to those of us who grew up surrounded by the natural calm of the prairie. So there was nothing to be nervous about.
She wasn’t buying it. How could I say the prairie was calm, she wondered. What about blizzards? Tornadoes?
When she’d heard about k.d. lang’s possible visit, Meg, who happens to be a folklorist and loves all kinds of music, had suggested I remind Alice about one of her old journals. In its back pages Meg and Alice and I had once found some of the songs that Alice’s mother, Martha, used to sing to her. Alice had recorded them in her neat hand. I decided to give Meg’s idea a try. I took out the journal. “You could share a few of those old songs Grandma taught you.”
She looked skeptical.
A sample of what she found:
This whole idea didn’t make any sense to her. “Why would k.d. lang care about these old songs?”
“Well…” I began, but she ignored me and turned a few pages back toward the beginning of the journal. Within moments she was absorbed in reading entries from her long ago eighty-something self. She hadn’t looked at the book for quite a while.
“Oh yes,” she said. “That time Lillian and I had the car accident. Oh my.” She flipped to another page: “Your father wanted a cat. That was when we got Peeper.” A few more pages: “It says here ‘Andrea is coming home for Thanksgiving.’ That was 1996. You still didn’t have a job.”
She got so absorbed that she forgot all about k.d. lang for a while, and I busied myself loading my camera with fresh batteries and checking my email. I reread a message from k.d.’s assistant that said she’s always either prompt or early, and it occurred to me I’d better head down to the lobby.
“Will you be okay if I go wait for her by the front door?” I asked.
Alice looked up from her trip back to the 1990s. “I’m not going anywhere, if that’s what you mean.”
Part Two, the beginning of the conversation between k.d. and Alice, is here. Part Three, in which the conversation continues, is coming soon.
NOTE: k.d. lang’s newest CD, k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang Sing it Loud, contains several new songs she wrote with Joe Pisapia. Gorgeous songs. (Nobody is paying me to say this.) Go here to visit the store on her web site.
And if you like old tunes, here’s one of Alice’s mama’s songs, Christine Leroy: