Terrifying Empathy

(Written June 2021) In my last, suddenly-precious couple weeks of full-time working at home, I am binging on podcasts and other forms of aural entertainment I won’t be able to so fully enjoy, once I’m back at the ol’ on-site grindstone.

I listened to Marc Maron’s interview with Patti Smith from October 2020. A wonderful interview with one of my favorite humans. Among so many incredible things, she talked about her experience performing “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” at the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony for Bob Dylan’s Writing Award.

Her nerves overtook her as she sang in front of (many other intimdating things) enormous video cameras, Nobel Prize laureates, and the Royal Family of Sweden.

She said to Marc Maron:

I had this terrible episode of strange, white-out nerves … I thought I would die.

She said in the New Yorker:

This strange phenomenon did not diminish or pass but stayed cruelly with me. I was obliged to stop and ask pardon and then attempt again while in this state and sang with all my being, yet still stumbling. It was not lost on me that the narrative of the song begins with the words “I stumbled alongside of twelve misty mountains,” and ends with the line “And I’ll know my song well before I start singing.”

From this post about writer’s block, April 2015:

I developed empathy for those who fear roller coasters by having one single, random, harrowing experience on the “Top Gun” ride at Great America in the 90s. I discovered that when I am really really scared, I make a totally ineffectual squeaking noise.

I also developed empathy for those with stage fright. A vast majority of the time on stage I am shamelessly strutting and soaking in the spotlight. Then every once in a long while, the cold clammies come on, complete with tunnel vision and thoughts of “this is a dream, right?”  So cliche, yet so terrifying.

As Patti said of her experience:

New Yorker: As I took my seat, I felt the humiliating sting of failure, but also the strange realization that I had somehow entered and truly lived the world of the lyrics.

Maron: Most of the time, people are with you … People seemed to identify, because everybody has these moments the worst moments of their life! I guess I had to be the poster girl for the worst moment of your life.

If it served anybody, then it’s okay.