I like my music raw. It is the blood, tears, sweat and other bodily fluids a performer brings to their playing and singing that hooks me. Amanda Palmer might not always be perfectly in tune, but she’s very real. And then there’s Jacques Brel, dripping sweat and tears breaking his heart over Ne Me Quite Pas, which we’ve mostly had in bad translation.
The intimacy of this performance, the realness of it, the raw emotion… entrances me. But this is not how we normally present emotion in music. This is the more familiar version in English –
The words are much calmer – ‘if you go away’ is very different from trying to sing the better translation ‘don’t leave me’. In this version, the emotions are tamer, softer, less alarming. No one actually cries. Singing a song with some expression isn’t that difficult. Getting up in front of a bunch of people and singing like your life depends on it, like your heart is breaking, your world hanging in the balance… making the emotion of the song absolutely real and immediate for those few minutes… is unspeakable difficult. Especially if you then need to change tack and sing from a different space for the next three minutes, and again…
The soft, tame songs make good wallpaper. We can happily half listen, barely engage, and not feel too much ourselves. The other way of doing it demands attention. It can make the audience uneasy, embarrassed even, it can elicit emotional responses in return. It’s not safe, for singer or listener.
I’m an intensely emotional person, and there’s a lot (and increasingly) in my life that affects me so deeply, there are days when I can really only manage that by singing. Bleeding into the steadfast container that is a powerful song, can be an incredible release around things that I barely know how to articulate to myself. At the moment, I’m doing that at home. I have no idea whether I could put that in front of anyone else, and no idea what would happen if I did. But I don’t usually let things like that stop me.