the one about coming back to performing after a long long layoff

I’m in pain most of the time. Physical pain, that is; my heart & soul are about as mercurial as your average oversensitive artist type, but by and large I’d say my spirits are good. I just hurt a lot.

The reason why is this: Five-plus years ago I was a serious Ashtanga yoga practitioner and teacher. My teacher and employer was a problematic person, to put it mildly; I ignored a lot of warning signs. Finally the universe got my attention one morning in class when she wrenched my right leg behind my head (knee behind shoulder, ankle behind neck) and tore my knee up so badly that despite three surgeries, I haven’t really walked properly since. Also my left knee tore due to me standing on one leg for the better part of five years. So the phrase ‘not a leg to stand on’ has taken on a new meaning in my life. I don’t walk so well; I can’t run or dance or carry my guitars. I work hard to remember that despite this I am still so much luckier than most people; I wasn’t blown up in a war or crushed in an earthquake.

But chronic pain is tiring and depressing, and has a way of undoing one’s best-laid plans: you wake up with your head full of all the interesting, exciting and important things you’re going to do that day, only to find that your body isn’t up to it. Pushing too hard a few times, or a few hundred times, teaches that taking it easy when you need to take it easy is A REALLY IMPORTANT PART OF CARING FOR YOURSELF RESPONSIBLY. I am learning this lesson…slowly.

Friday June 18th was my big return-to-music show. I hadn’t played in a year and a half, since before my last surgery. Eight days before the show I got some shots of synthetic joint fluid in both of my knees – two giant, horse-penis sized syringes full of stuff that’s supposed to make life easier. Except it turned out to be too much to inject at one time, so for almost two weeks following the shots, I was in worse pain than I’d been in for 12 months, and was hobbling like a crone, and low on energy. This was discouraging. I don’t really like pain.

I always was a tough girl. I could carry my own amplifiers, I went hiking and running and practiced Ashtanga yoga. I’ve always driven a truck. So it’s been weird to have to accept the changes that injury has wrought. It feels a little shameful to admit that I’m fragile, that I need help with stuff as basic as carrying my guitars, that rehearsals and work and then a show leaves me needing to rest for days after.

And I was worried about how I’d get through the show. But while I was playing, there was no pain in my body, not anywhere. I played sitting down, as I can’t stand for an hour; and the whole time we were playing, I felt a kind of energy I don’t know how to describe in words coming through my body, out my chest, out my throat, down through my feet. It was bliss, there’s no denying it. It was part of why the music sounded so good that night (it sounded SO good!), and I think it was a gift from the music to me.

There were many many reasons why the show was great. The guys I play with are musical true loves of mine: Sam Craft on violin and vocals, Jack Craft on cello, Caleb Guillotte sharing lead vocals with me, singing backup and playing his badass guitar. Playing with people I trust AND respect AND just plain love – and having the music sound better than it’s ever sounded: that’s one reason. My friend Ellen naming my upcoming record based on the outfit I was wearing: that’s another. (It’s going to be called ‘Pistachio Pearl’ and it’s coming soon, and it’s really good…but that is a story for another time). My mom flying down from Virginia to hear me play and spend the week with me was another reason. It also turns out that my mom is the best merch girl in the history of merch girls. No one can resist her. She sold a shitload of records! My best friends in the audience, loving me and singing along to the music; the women from my Reiki II class, sending good energy; the people who were new to the music coming up afterwards to tell me they loved it: all of these things are part of what was magic. And more, and more….but the thing is, when you try to write about happiness, about how good something felt, it rarely works. You just have to live it. It was one of those nights where I actually knew how precious and magical each passing second was.

And then you come back to earth…you wake up the next day and your knees hurt and you’re just a person with an aching body, and you catch the flu, and a week and a half goes by while you struggle to figure out how to write about it all without sounding like a braggart or an idiot. Or at least, I do.

Recently I watched online a talk Elizabeth Gilbert gave about the creative process. She said that many, many, many years ago in Northern Africa, dancers would gather to perform sacred dances for their people. Occasionally the watchers would see that one particular dancer had been possessed by God (N.B.: Having luckily been raised without much religious training or indoctrination, ‘God’ to me just means ‘the divine,’ and the longer I live the more I think that everything is divine…but I know it’s a trigger word for some of us). When they saw that, they would shout “Allah! Allah!” Eventually some North Africans emigrated to Spain, and the cry of “Allah!” became “Ole!” – an interesting tidbit.

She talked about what it must be like for one of those dancers to wake up the next morning, just a person in a frail mortal body that has to pee and is sore and does all the things bodies do. What if that moment of divine possession never came back? What was the rest of life to be after that?

And it was true: I woke up and the dog needed feeding, breakfast needed making, there were floors to sweep and bills to pay and work to do. And I didn’t care, and I still don’t: I was just so happy. I can still feel that surge of energy, what it was like to be possessed by music, to give myself over to it.

But I wanted to write it down so I’d remember it, and so the people who weren’t there can read about it too. There are pictures and stuff on Facebook, and I’ll be posting the video of “I Want A Boy” to Youtube tomorrow.

I’m just so fantastically lucky, so lucky beyond all imagining, to have been born with music in me, to have a mother who encouraged me to pursue it, to have encountered teachers and collaborators who helped and taught me. I’m so lucky that I get to feel music moving through me, that my body is my instrument, that even though my body can’t do lots of the things I used to love to do, it can still sing.

I don’t know whom to thank for that gift and blessing, but to whom it may concern: THANK YOU, MERCI, DANKE SCHOEN, GRACIAS, GRAZIE. I’d never want to live without it.



About alexinwonderland42

Alexandra Scott grew up on a cattle farm in Virginia and cut her teeth playing out as a teenager in the Charlottesville music scene of the late 90’s. She loved Suzanne Vega, the Replacements, Waylon Jennings and early R.E.M. One day she packed her truck and moved herself to New Orleans, where she met producer Tim Sommer (Duncan Sheik) with whom she made two records and formed the Eno-homage, drone-punk ensemble Hi-fi Sky. Her star was rising in the Crescent City in the summer of 2005. She played Bonnaroo that year and opened for LeAnn Rimes. Then a large hurricane named Katrina formed in the Gulf of Mexico. Alexandra evacuated the day before Katrina hit with her dog, her acoustic guitar, her baggiest pair of jeans and some t-shirts. For a while, that was all she had. Amidst the grief and chaos of that time, she found that there was something about the stripped-away-ness of it all that she liked. She ended up in New York City, and then in Canada, and then in Providence. She has a long list of states in which her dog has peed. Alexandra plays underground pop, a type of rock ‘n roll that’s been dubbed *dream-a-billy.* She likes to turn out slow, simple dance songs for long lonely nights to come. After three years of wandering, Alexandra moved back to New Orleans to recover from a bad knee injury that left her unable to tour & to live in the place she loves best. When not writing songs, Alexandra works on her novel, a ghost story set in New Orleans, acts in film and television projects, and plays with her dog, Jack.
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4 Responses to the one about coming back to performing after a long long layoff

  1. Pamela says:

    I am so glad I was able to witness your return to the stage, Alexandra. That night was amazing and exhilirating and inspiring. You’ve been one of my favorite songwriters since I first heard you back in the summer of 2004, and I have missed seeing you play! Yes, you are lucky to have the music in you, but we are even luckier to be able to experience your music!

    • Pam, you’re my first blog comment! They say you always remember you first…
      I’m so glad it was as amazing a night for yall listening as it was for me singing.
      Thanks for your words. They’ll send me off with sweet dreams. xx

  2. Morgan says:

    That is the best description of an indescribable feeling I’ve read since I stopped performing. Not singing/dancing/acting in front of an audience feels like an empty place in the center of my chest. I don’t have the music in me the same way that you do…music/song/phrase isn’t what I write. But I know what it feels like when the music’s gone, and I know what it feels like when the music takes the pain away and all you feel is love.
    I’m so happy for you that even through the pain your music has returned and I can’t wait to see it flowing through you very soon.

    • You know what’s so funny? I know what you mean about the empty place in the center of your chest – I’ve been feeling it for the last year and a half. And onstage that night, I had the strongest feeling of lift and fullness in my chest the whole time – like my whole heart chakra was open, like I was getting a good adjustment from a (not-evil) yoga teacher who gently said ‘lift into your sternum’ and boom, the world opened up. I’m so glad someone else has felt that too. And thanks for reading this, ladybug. x Alexandra

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