Last week I went to see the wonderful Mary Chapin Carpenter in concert. (Tift Merrit was the opening act — she was pretty great, too.) I have seen her before, and plan to catch her the next time she tours.
One of the delights of the concert was her question and answer session with the audience — although “session” is too much formal a word to use here. It was more MCC asking “Anyone have any questions?” at more or less random intervals. (It was a small enough venue that this was possible — for people in the Bay Area who have not caught a show at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage, you really should.) One gentleman asked about a song that she performed only once, at a country music awards show, called “Opening Act.” One of the friends I attended the concert with sent the YouTube link of the performance the next day. I have watched it probably ten times since then, and it makes me giggle.
She wrote “Opening Act” about being a new musician, but it applies to so much in life. (Ask new associates at very large law firms, e.g.) As she told the tale, as she was going on, a major industry figure told her “Nice career you had going there, Carpenter,” but when she was done, she received a standing ovation. The very best part, for me at least, was that she resisted the efforts of her label to capitalize on it and release it as a single. Clearly a woman who has a sense of time and place. (Also, for me, I try to figure out who “the jackass I am opening for” was… especially given the line about “I’m not going bald so I don’t wear a hat.” Okay, so there’s Garth Brooks, and Alan Jackson, and quite a number of other male country acts at the time…)
I love Mary Chapin Caprenter’s music. I have written before about “Come On, Come On,” but it goes beyond that. Just right now, I am sitting in my home-away-from-home (a.k.a., the Starbucks near work) dancing in my seat to “I Feel Lucky” and “Shut Up and Kiss Me” and “I Take My Chances.” (Dignity be damned. I am too old to give a flip.)
“The Moon and St. Christopher” describes my relationship with the world for too much of my life. “I have run from the arms of lovers, I have run from the eyes of friends, I have run from the hands of kindness, I have run just because I can…”
“He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” hit far too close to home when I was a stay-at-home mother of small boys. “For fifteen years she had a job, and not one raise in pay; Now she’s in the typing pool at minimum wage…”
She was singing “Down at the Twist and Shout” as I danced in front of the Capitol steps in 1993 with a very small boy on my shoulders. A very small happy boy.
“I Am a Town” tells the story to me of my very early childhood, and the small Southern towns we drove through on the way to visit my grandparents. It makes me remember that, for all the reasons I hate the South, there are many more reasons I love it.
“This Shirt” could be about the cotton shirt I had in college with the butterfly (what else) painted on the back, that I wore until you could see your hand through the fabric.
“The Stones in the Road” is about the compromises we make in growing up, and the toll that it takes.
“Passionate Kisses” and “Quittin’ Time” bookended a friendship.
“John Doe 24” makes me smile and cry at the same time.
“Halley Came to Jackson” reminds me of my family in Mississippi.
And “Why Walk When You Can Fly” … I am trying to get to this place. Really I am.
Ms. Carpenter, all I can say is thank you. Please keep on keeping on, and I hope to see you the next time you hit town.