Story by John Halverson
Michelle Shocked, round-faced and bright is at the front window of her tour bus as it shuffles from the Summerfest grounds.
At 43, with the life she's lived, she ought to look used-up.
Raised by divorced parents -- one a Mormon, one a hippie. Put in a mental institution (twice) by her mother. Thought she was crazy (how could she not?). Was given shock treatments (thus her stage name). Become an activist for the homeless (as she was nearly homeless herself). Traveled Europe, worked for Greenpeace, was raped.
On album covers and publicity shots she appears: Punk. Like a cowgirl. Oriental. And, in one of her latest, butterflies surround an innocent face.
She ought to look lost, but she looks found instead. She has a facility for using the found stuff of her life -- a photo of her being hauled screaming from a demonstration became an album cover.
She's done swing, folk, Disney, traditional roots music, driving rock -- the diversity made her record company crazy. So she sued them for slavery. Now her own boss, she does the unheard of -- putting out three albums at once, one in Spanish.
When she performs at Summerfest, her lanky body plays with the air like a marionette. She rocks back and forth on a teeter-totter of emotion, guitar in hand, voice unchanged by the motion.
Now divorced, a recovering alcoholic, she lives in a Korean section of Los Angeles, sings in the choir of the black church she joined as a born again.
As the tour bus backs out from her last U.S. tour of the year, I notice she's changed into a black T from the white shirt and vest -- now sweat stained, I'm sure -- she wore in concert. The funky hat is gone. No longer does she remind me of k.d. lang in heat.
Standing there like a benevolent captain, she smiles.
I'm touched. Made happy. The beer in my hand tastes fuller. The lake I face seems more graceful.
I hold forth the belief that some people, having lived more than others, having found the other side, are rewarded with something akin to a shower of pixie dust.
Maybe she's someone like that. I've met so few.
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