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I started reading this article about Fiona Apple because I like her, and I was curious to get a different perspective on her “extreme outburst.” (Yes, I’d read the Huffington Post article about her “graphic tirade”.)

And then I was riveted.

By this point, expressed by Apple herself:

“As a person who performs on stage, it’s good to be emotionally open. If you mess with someone when they are in that state, it’s like you’re messing with an animal when it’s eating. What do they expect me to do? What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to stop in the middle of my show and have a conversation with you about what I look like?”

And then by this point:

“There are two other dangers of this kind of reflexive, simpleminded sniping. One is that fascinating artists feel discouraged from making more art; Apple has said she’d put out albums more often if she enjoyed the touring and publicity process more. The other is even sadder: People get discouraged from taking seriously what those fascinating artists have to say in their songs—and as a result, miss out on really great stuff.”

There are numerous reasons why I quit performing. One was the loneliness of constant touring. But another was the critiques.

Amanda Palmer writes, “lately i look at each arrow shot at me as a chance to practice ninja-arrow-catching skills & feel compassion for those taking aim. not easy.”

No, it’s not easy. It’s actually incredibly hard, and I have tremendous respect for artists who keep putting themselves out there, over and over, in clear range of those arrows. Because I couldn’t do it. I had to pull the plug.

There is this phenomenon where people feel as though, because they have bought tickets to your performance, because you have decided to put yourself on stage, that they are entitled to tell you what they think. And that you should be grateful and appreciative that they have done so. Maybe, in theory, this is true, but in practice, it hurts like hell.

People would routinely come up to me after shows and say things like:

“I’m really impressed that you chose to wear that outfit considering how fat it made you look.”

“Are you pregnant?”

“That video you used for song number three really didn’t work. You need to do something different.”

“I didn’t think your show was very good tonight.”

I’m not talking about the hecklers. They didn’t bother me as much. Since my performance style was always pretty confrontational, my mode of response would usually be to engage–and by engaging, to embarrass. I’d drag frat boys on stage with me. I’d take their beers away from them. I’d jump off the stage and perform directly in front of their face. That kind of behavior I could handle.

But the “thoughtful” and “contemplative” critiques after the show? Those I couldn’t handle. Those would devastate me. Who are you to tell me how to do my show? Who are you to tell me how to dress or how much weight I need to lose?

And so I decided to stop putting myself out there, at least in such a public and “arrow-catching” way.

Was this a cop out? Sure, maybe. But at the end of the day, we can only perform as much as our psyches will allow (and protect) us.

So for now I’ll just interface from behind the computer screen and from the front of a classroom. And for everyone else with the courage to keep putting themselves out there on stage, good for you. I have tremendous respect. Maybe one day I will join you again.

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