PRINT December 1995

Evelyn McDonnell


What happens when an artist plays music in the woods and no one’s there to hear it? In the pop world, where the moment is everything, silence equals death; artists absent too long from the public eye must be revived or resurrected. Not surprisingly, musicians don’t enjoy having years of their lives erased. Ask one about her comeback and she’ll inevitably respond that she never went away. “I was with you always,” PATTI SMITH told a Toronto crowd in July, at her first show with a band in 15 years. “When I was cleaning my toilet, I thought of you. When I was doing my laundry, I thought of you. When I was changing my children’s diapers, I thought of you. Do you believe that?” I believe. There was a tremendous feeling of continuity with the past in her performances this summer, as if she spent those years in Detroit carefully tending her imaginative and expressive spark. As she read from one of her books at Central Park’s Summerstage, I realized that, although she has read in public only a few times since 1980, she must have practiced many nights, telling stories to her two kids. Not content merely to rest on her laurels, flogging the dead horse of her adolescent fantasies like so many aging rock stars, she sang and read new as well as old material. Hearing her, I felt as though the ’80s were finally over, and the millennium might well be the Second Coming.


MICHAEL JACKSON returned from his brief, forced exile with an album half stuffed with old hits, as if to remind everyone of who he, Michael Jackson, once was. The King of Pop had come to reclaim his throne. I have a soft spot for Jackson dating to my first crush, which his sweet voice on “I’ll Be There” elicited. But I’ve never seen such a debacle as his performance on the MTV Music Awards. The once-videogenic genius lip-synched a medley of faded glories, the cheering was as canned as the music, and the dancers and special effects looked like something out of a bad Grammys acid trip. Jackson’s was one of the few success stories of the ’80s that contained a grain of magic; but the spell, now broken, cannot be recast.

Evelyn McDonnell is coeditor, with Ann Powers, of the anthology Rock She Wrote: Women Write about Rock, Pop, and Rap.