I was in a gorgeous theatre last night in Kitchener, Ontario. The Centre in the Square hosted Jann Arden, a singer-songwriter from Alberta. A friend of mine at the Belmont Diner had seen her in London last week. She and her daughter cried when Jann spoke and sang about her mom, who has Alzheimer’s.
For a long while as her mother waded the murky waters of dementia, Jann tried to convince her that “the orange men on the patio” weren’t really there. Orienting her to reality seemed like a smart thing to do, but it wasn’t. Jann had always been competitive but finally decided to let go … the illness wins. The key moment came one day when Jann walked through the door and mom put up her hands as a shield. Was she thinking that Jann was about to hit her? That was it. Jann changed from shooing the orange men out of her mom’s mind to suggesting that if they’re on the patio, they should at least pick up a broom.
The woman on the stage showed herself to be a full human being. I enjoyed that even more than the singing and the songs. A group of women in the front row held up images of Jann’s face in front of their own. Groupies! Jann laughed with them … and with us.
At one point she talked about a failed relationship. “If you’re going to be with a singer-songwriter, and everything starts going to *****, you better expect that you’re going to end up in a ***** song!” I wouldn’t have chosen some of her words but so what? Jann was thoroughly herself for 2 1/2 hours.
The woman was transparent. Her father was an alcoholic and her brother was often beaten up by the man. The younger one fell into a spiral and ended up murdering someone. He’s been in jail for many years and every month she visits him, setting aside her judgments again and again and returning to love.
Jann wrote a song for her brother – Hangin’ by a Thread. It was inspired by something their mom said as mother and daughter walked out of the prison: “I’m so tired of looking at my feet.” Jann goes inside him and honours what’s there:
And every tear falls down inside
And I pray with all my might
That I will find my heart in someone’s arms
When I cry, cry
I think of every awful thing I ever did
Oh, when I cry, there is no love
No there is nothing that can comfort me enough
When I cry, cry, cry
Everyone I come close to
My hands are barely holdin’ up my head
All the secrets that I keep
My heart is barely hangin’ by a thread
Hangin’ by a thread
I’ve lost so many things that I so dearly loved
I lost my soul, I lost my pride
Thank you, Jann, for being with us. It was a privilege to share the concert hall with you.