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Joni attends 'Paved Paradise' in New York City Print-ready version

by John Kelly
November 4, 1996

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By Wally Breese:Joni was in the audience Monday night (the 4th) at John Kelly's "Paved Paradise : The Songs of Joni Mitchell" tribute at the Fez. My new NY buddy, Frank Jump, sent me this report-

"The show was incredible last night and needless to say a dream come true for all, especially John. He was stupendous. On several occasions you could hear Joan's belly laugh. After Shadow & Light (which opens the second act) she jumped to her feet with this look of awe and cheered. During Circle Game when John asks the audience to sing along like on the Miles of Aisles album (album? what is that?) she sang full force and swayed a little. Too unreal. Everytime she lit a cigarette, her face would lite up in the dark like a postcard. I have about twenty of those postcards etched in my brain since LaMitchell is a chain smoker. After the show she went backstage to congratulate John."

Thanks for your report Frank!

I talked to John the next morning and he was most pleased that Joni seemed to understand and appreciate him as a fellow artist. He said that Joni hugged him, told him how wonderful he was, and gave him a gift - a dulcimer, which she proceeded to demonstrate how to play in her unique style with just a bit of "A Case of You." There were photos taken. Another homepage visitor wrote me and related that as Joni left the theater, Lypsynka suggested to her that she tour and have John open for her. First Joni said that was a great idea, but then changed her mind and replied that she thought John was so good that she'd feel timid following his act. What a compliment. Congrats, John!

I think I may live on the wrong coast.

By John Kelly:

Journal Entry: November 4, 1996

People come up to me and ask "Are you nervous?" "Are you excited?" I respond with "I just need to do my job". As long as I am able to do that job, I shall be fine. I will be able to strike the right character, find the correct tones in my voice, and straddle irony, homage and pathos. As long as the people around me aren't running around like crazed chickens I will be fine, and my heart won't jump out like an alien uncomfortably ensconced in my chest, or feel witnessed and dissected under the scrutiny of a 19th century medical school autopsy.

The Night We Met Joni Mitchell

We set up 3 performances, the first two allowing us to get used to the cramped stage and fabulous sound system. A tiny green room had to function as a dressing room. The night of the third performance, having gotten ready, we milled around in the long and narrow hallway which contained employee lockers and refrigerators for food, as this was below Time Cafe. The smells reminded me of the years I spent working as a waiter, getting into my uniform before going out "onto the floor". The show had sold out days ago. I had stopped listening to my answering machine which had every day contained upwards of 20-30 messages, mostly requests for admission to this rumored visitation. Word had gotten out, a solid rumor as Joni had performed a legendary concert in this same space a year earlier.

Upstairs was supposedly a mob scene, with a line of pilgrims winding out through the restaurant and out onto Lafayette Street. In the lounge I was told Joni sat with her small entourage, wearing a beret and quietly eating, in full view of and oblivious to the gawking, snaking queue in front of her. I'm sure this was worth the price of admission; I would have given anything to have witnessed this unplanned juxtaposition of devotee and deity. Downstairs, I continued to prepare myself and attempted to remain calm in the face of this potential slaughter, wandering through that ugly florescent lit hallway which looked like the set for Alien 4. I tried to breathe deep, and as I loped back and forth in chunky silver heels, I slowly became terrified.

I'm not alien to stage fright, especially at a premiere or a significant performance. I realize that it is just energy which can remain fear or be channeled into performance focus. During these long waits, especially when the curtain is being held, I feel I want to shit, throw-up, or retire, to somehow eliminate this horrible feeling of inadequacy and dread. From my hidden vantage point I could hear that the room was packed, noisy and energized. At one point Ellen Cavalino, the woman who runs Fez, came backstage with my friend Danilo who I hadn't seen for a year. After some comforting words it was time to venture into this buzzing den of scrutiny.

Paved Paradise begins with an audio tape of the "CBS This Morning" program in which audience members ask Joni questions. This includes a question as to her feelings about "...the performance artist John Kelly's use of your work...", to which she eventually responds "...I'm honored.", even though at that point she had not yet "...been an eye witness..." to the show. Well, here was her chance. In the dark, Zecca (dressed as Georgia O'Keefe) and Mark McCarron (as Vincent VanGogh) find their way to their places. I'm meant to follow, but before opening the door of the hallway into the darkened space I unscrewed the glaring overhead lightbulb. I then sneaked onto the stage and hid behind the mirrored column. In these last moments of darkness I made my way to my Guild, and put the strap over my head, and stood with my back to the audience, waiting for my cue. As the lights came up I began to strum the first chords of "He Comes For Conversation," then slowly turned to face the audience. It was hard to make the fret shapes as my hands were trembling, and even more difficult to hear the other musicians as the audience had broken into a deafening roar. I thought "don't change a thing, focus, focus". The tempos for the first few songs were probably too fast, from nerves, from the desire to arrive at our destination, a goal which normally contains fewer hurdles. Intermission, costume change, buzz, buzz.

I didn't see her and didn't want to. I had asked that she be seated at some undisclosed table in the back, so I was sure she was at one of the banquettes which line the back wall, really only 18 feet away. I'm glad some of these tables were missing candles. Maybe that was intentional. Relax, relax.

Part 2 opens with "Shadows and Light," a cooler, more savvy Joni, and a calmer- and more determined to conquer--John. I've always regarded this song as an anthem, and go out of my way to look into peoples faces as I sing it, to make contact and put across the words, as it is a slow and serious song and tends to make silly and nervous people giggle. This is the point in the work where I set myself the task of completely obliterating any lingering prejudice or preconception regarding the fact that I happen to be wearing a dress. I want to take my audience elsewhere, and with this song there is certainly the chance to connect, to flow, and to kick some ass. 10 songs later we were off the stage, laughing and hugging each other.

I went back into the dressing room, alone. Zecca and Mark had disappeared. The crowd was still screaming and yelling. I thought to myself "I have sung all the possible encores, we've nothing else prepared, we've already done "Urge For Going," except maybe we could get through "River". I have to do something, so I make a statement and sit, clarifying the moment, an act of aggression, by removing my wig, with legs spread in 2nd position as I continue to hear the constantly refurbished bravos and rhythmic applause. "They still want me", I think, as I get up and put my phoney flaxen-hair back on. I then sheepishly open the door to the club to find the entire room on its feet, clapping and cheering, facing the banquettes at the back of the house. (Ellen later told me that at the end of the show she thought she would quietly remove Joni from the room, to bring her backstage. But the audience would have none of that--this was obviously their chance, so as she got up to get her coat, the entire room turned around and focused on her. I'm sure they had been eye balling her all night. Frank Jump said that every time she lit up a cigarette, which was often, "her face would light up like a postcard").

"It is no longer for me", I realize. "They are applauding for Joni, yelling for the real thing!" I found I had suddenly become a part of this revised equation, and joined in with this ocean of adulation. She was then led through this dense gauntlet toward my hiding spot. Aghast, and with a pre-ordained dread I re-entered the safety of the tiny Fez dressing room, quickly glancing down the florescent corridor to see if she was coming. My gut erupted into stage fright #2, and I had to decide- wig or not? Not, and off it came.

This procession is led by 2 or 3 accolades. I stand there in a state of awkward honesty and demi-drag. Then, the inevitable as she enters, a woman obviously aware of her power, flanked and followed by her friends and handlers. Spying me standing, she says "Oh, I want to take off my jacket so I can hug you!". The physical contact which follows is sudden, clear, and chemically simpatico. We embrace, this and this is all I observe. A moment for my history. I'm in ecstasy, I'm in the arms of this great artist.

There were lots of record people, photographers, friends crowded into that tiny room. We sat on the couch, I gave her one of my cigarettes, and somehow changed back onto a boy. Joni's friend Melanie, my go-between and pen pal, who had flown in from California for the gig, handed me a long black case, a gift from she and Robbie Cavalino, Ellen's brother. It was a dulcimer. Sensing a once in a lifetime chance, I handed it to Joni and requested an impromptu lesson. She showed me the strumming/hitting technique, and played a few chords of "A Case Of You." More photos, more handlers saying "Joni, we have to go". I thought, she is having a blast, let her stay with us. Kate Pierson of the B52's shyly approached, and I functioned as go-between as diva met diva. More chatting, more photos, the voices of her entourage getting more insistent. Then she was gone, gone. There was quiet. We had been graced.

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Added to Library on September 11, 2015. (7735)


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