k.d. Lang at MotorCity Casino in Detroit
On the weekend, Rachelle and I were in Detroit to see k.d. Lang perform at the MotorCity Casino. I guess it’s fair to say that the show wasn’t all that well attended. Rachelle was pretty clearly the youngest person there and the crowd was overwhelmingly white, slightly older than middle-aged and full of women who looked like they played competitive hockey or softball.
Sitting beside me were a couple of women who had driven five hours from Wheeling, Ohio to see the show. Holding a large, plastic cup of beer in her hand as if she was at a Tiger’s game, Terry said, “This will be the fourth time I’ve seen her. Five hours is nothing. I would have driven 15 hours—there’s nobody like k.d.” Her girlfriend leaned in over her shoulder and nodded her head at me, adding, “It’s true, it’s true. You’re going to love the show.”
They were right.
On stage Lang is simultaneously ironic and sincere, in possession of a fearlessness and confidence that she pours right in to her receptive audience. Her voice is a wonder, the sort of thing that gives one pause and forces consideration of divinity– as if for reasons unknown a presiding spirit touched her with a vocal genius that would ever elude the rest of us. Watching, she reminded me of an oracle, an entity that defied categories of gender and who by turn and flash of light, appeared masculine or luminously, mystically feminine. In another age she would have been burned or worshipped as a God.
In Detroit, she was simply adored.
The embodiment of a single-combat hero for a generation of women, the power and self-assurance of her persona– the complete absence of uncertainty– seemed to be helping the audience imagine better, idealized versions of themselves. A kind of alchemy was taking place, and for 90 minutes the crowd was celebrating in who they were and who they might yet become, free now from all the battles they might have confronted as young, gay women growing up in the States in the 1970s.
At one point in the show I looked behind us and saw two black women near 60, the only black people in the crowd, I think. Both of them– looking like they had dressed for church– had their hands pressed to their lips as if in wonder or prayer, and tears glistening in their eyes. It was a holy moment, I think. With Lang’s voice rising so clearly, it felt like we were all in a cathedral rather than a casino. Looking about, everybody seemed so lost to the voice that it was impossible to know to what point they might have been transported, or what healing they had been looking for in this pilgrimage to MotorCity in the first place.