A main reason I decided to start writing about k.d. lang is because I feel there is more to her creations that she is given credit for. The irony is that the very voice we find remarkable stunts most, if not all, conversations of her work besides those about performance. Granted, she is asked questions about her Buddhist tenets, but even these are asked of her in a way that they are essentially unanswerable. “Has being a Buddhist affected your voice?”, is a common one. Of course it has! But so far, no one has asked k.d. lang the correct follow-up question. The next question should not be “How has it affected you?” This is a bit like asking a ballerina, “Why do you dance?” No matter what the response is, it forces the artist to qualify their work; to constrain its integrity.
Questions like this are too open-ended. Truly, what would you have k.d. lang say in response to such a “huge” and oversimplified question? “Hmm…well…..” Really, how can any legitimate interviewer generate a meaningful conversation like this? Maybe it is just my pet peeve. But it seems to me that some thought in preparation might be better for k.d. and her audience. It is important to ask artists questions that have an answer.
So I am proposing that a follow up question to the “Buddhism” one should have something to do with the complete absence of anger, revenge, and regret in her original songwriting. This is unique in an artist. From painters, to choreographers to architects, anger and its affiliate emotions are usually present. Not the case with k.d., at least prima facie. In fact, even the songs she chooses to cover are not angry ones or ones with a malevolent feel. They may be songs of loss, but anger is not present. I find this interesting and I think it says a lot about why k.d. lang’s artistic genius does not have a simple explanation.
There are many songs I could talk about. But to keep this post shorter, I shall talk about only one. Take Season of Hollow Soul. This track is found on Ingenue. The entire song is about enduring a difficult time, an environment anger and rage usually infest. Yet neither one is found here. Instead, there is a knowing acceptance: “Keen to the shifting wind I bend to it blind to rid these kisses of sin that must stay behind”. So, she is aware that change is coming and that she must give up things she loves; things that are “sinful”. And she responds to the onset of change by “bending to it blind”. Here. ‘blind’ refers to not fully understanding what is to come. Despite knowing she has to give up habits, a way of life, or an existence she loves, she willingly does it. It may be scary, uncertain and sad, but she is not angry about it. This is not a usual response to such circumstances, and neither is the deep sense of knowing this song exudes.
The song continues: “Sour the fruit of neglect the core of my doubt. Deprived are my veins you infect with or without”. k.d. is admitting to neglecting her very essence and realizing that this neglect is the cause of her current existential dilemma. Yet, she does not seem angry about this either. I think most people, arriving at this realization, would be steamed! Next, she acknowledges that her life force is minimized because of this neglect whether or not she realizes (“with or without” realization) it. In other words, she is saying that even though she may not have control over the delinquency of her spiritual life, she understands that she must confront change (that pesky wind that is blowing). But still, no anger. Even though this entire situation is going to be difficult, painful and heart wrenching (and she may not be responsible for it) she is accepting of it.
Her acceptance is so profound that she gives a stunningly simple argument about why this is happening “Fate must have a reason. Why else endure the season of hollow soul”. She understands that she is about to embark on a period in her life where she is emotionally eviscerated, but instead of lashing out, she appeals to a force she does not understand in the least (Fate). The next line is even more infuriating (at least it would be for most), “The ground on which we leave on; how strangely fuels the season of hollow soul.”
Are you kidding me? So, what k.d. is saying is that the spiritual life she has been living has been grounded on falsities; ones that were not even her doing. And don’t forget that the neglect she mentioned earlier would have happened no matter what, too. She realizes her soul not only has been neglected, but that this neglect arises (partially at least) from a view of reality that is not true. She has been duped and neglected and yet her response is to merely acknowledge it; to note how “strange” it is.
I think most people’s response to such an understanding of the world is to act out. Assuming that this song arose out of k.d. lang’s own personal experience, I find it profound that there is not a mote of anger in this song. How many artists are there who could pull off such a creative expression? So, the next question to k.d. about her Buddhist influence should be something like “How do you explain the absence of anger in your work?”. This is a question I know has an answer, and I would love to hear what k.d. says about it.