Woman of Heart and Mind

I got an email today saying that I should go see John Kelly’s new Joni Mitchell show Get Up and Jive that has recently been extended at Fez. Well, I’ll take any opportunity to see John Kelly, regardless, but the email continued by saying that Ms. Nicole Kidman would be in the audience and, well, darned if she wasn’t sitting right there in one of those booths in the back.

Five minutes into the show I was already enrapt by Mr. Kelly’s voice and presence, as usual. I leaned over to take a sip of my drink only to see Ms. Kidman stroll quietly into the Fez, every bit as stunningly gorgeous in real life as on the screen.

It is a testament to John Kelly that even the distractingly beautiful Ms. Kidman could not divert attention from his performance. His voice is in fine shape, the arrangements are wonderful and the accompaniment by Zecca Esquibel as Georgia O’Keeffe was brilliant.

And of course the songs are magnificent. We don’t do reviews here (well, we try not to, anyway) but if there is anybody left in the Western World who is unfamiliar with Mr. Kelly’s interpretation of Joni Mitchell, then you MUST GO SEE HIM NOW. It is a tonic and antidote to the bleakness of these times.

The beauty, eloquence, humor and vision that John Kelly brings to Joni Mitchell’s songs is transporting. After the show I turned to my companion and said, “Seeing him is like an Oasis in the desert.”

These days it is so rare to see a performer who leaves you feeling opened up, who makes you feel bigger, wider and somehow more than you were before. It’s not even that it’s so rare as that sometimes it seems that we aren’t even trying to get there. And if we as a culture are going to make it through, if we are going to resist the destruction of our society by the conservative barbarians currently in power, then we must cherish and nurture our visionaries, our Cassandras in Drag.

But back to Ms. Kidman. Strangely, the presence of celebrity seemed to add yet another dimension to John Kelly’s already intricate, complex and multilayered performance. Whether it was the lyrics of “For Free”, in which a successful star reflects on a street musician making good music for love & not money; or the song “Cactus Tree” in which Joni Mitchell agonizes over placing career before love, the songs resonated differently. Because in the context of celebrity, or rather in the context of the “celebrity narrative”, I found myself wondering, “What do these songs mean to someone who lives life in the public eye?” And of course, how weird must it be to be an Icon watch a performer interpret an Icon? (Although in some circles John Kelly is, deservedly, an Icon!)

All the meta-meta-cultural and performative implications aside, ultimately it is about John Kelly and his brilliance and courage. From the haunting beauty of “Blue” to the sadly still-relevant lament “The Fiddle and the Drum” to the silly but joyful sing-along for “Circle Game”, Kelly brings us on a journey of mind, soul, spirit and heart that is to be treasured and shared.

Here’s some links to John Kelly articles elsewhere:

review on culturedose.net

interview by Jed Ryan

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