blog

Betty Buckley @ Joe’s Pub

There was a time, a couple of iPhones ago, when the iPhone I had played ghost music at random every once in a while. I would be sitting on a bus, or at home, minding my own business, and music would spontaneously burst forth from this otherwise silent machine. There was no rhyme or reason to it—it happened only rarely and seemed unrelated to anything I’d recently been listening to—so I didn’t think much about it until SarahB and I were coming out of a theater one night, chatting as we made our way down the sidewalk, when she suddenly grabbed my arm and said, “I think I hear Betty Buckley coming from your bag.”

Anyway. At the risk of sounding pretentious (FYI not a crime), I will quote myself:

Betty's voice scares me sometimes, like getting a jolt from an electric fence and then stepping on a rake right before you stumble into a hole that might be your own grave. But in a good way.

The most distinctive voices are seldom the prettiest, and the music and we are better for it. I’m not saying her voice isn’t beautiful—it’s gorgeous—only that “pretty” is oversold. It's surface shine. Stephen Sondheim wrote, “Pretty isn’t beautiful… / Pretty is what changes / What the eye arranges / Is what is beautiful” (yes, there’s a Sondheim for everything), and this is true of the ear, as well. The hard wire of Betty’s voice, her habit of moving between singing and speaking in the same line and lingering on a syllable a beat longer than expected, are what make her sound like no one else, are what carry the songs through a room, through a radio, through a speaker or headphone, and turn them into stories. For me that's a gift and a fine grace, forever & ever, amen. 

She sang this one last night (written by Lisa Loeb, and also included on her Bootleg album), along with some Steely Dan, a couple by T Bone Burnett, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Joni Mitchell:

I've already employed every superlative I can think of to describe the experience of seeing Betty Buckley perform live—from year to year to year, from Town Hall to Feinstein's to Birdland to the Blue Note to Joe's Pub—so all I have left is this: she is one of the best markers of my time here, of what I wanted my life in this city to be. I'm awed still by these chances, and forever grateful.