k.d. lang has the most beautiful Voice in the world. Her incredible Voice, nuanced in tone and bursting with emotion while always being held in perfect moderation and absolute control, provides high warning of her greatness.
That Voice belongs not to her, but to us, because such a gift cannot belong to a single person — a Voice like that is property of the universal human condition and while k.d. lang may be the vessel of That Voice, the sound produced by the resonance of that vessel is a vibration only the Gods can create in their power to shake the land we inhabit.
If you haven’t taken an opportunity to invest in the beautiful experience of k.d lang — and I mean really listening to her for tone and timber and not just having a song play in the background — I will tell you now why you should sit down with her in your headphones as soon as possible.
Last year k.d. lang released an album unlike no other called Hymns of the 49th Parallel and right there with the title of that album you can feel her greatness. She didn’t choose to write “Songs” of the 49th Parallel — she said “Hymns” — and that precision in word choice is an important and substantial difference between two wildly divergent concepts on an aesthetic level. All Hymns are songs but not all songs are Hymns. Next, she did not write “from” the 49th Parallel she chose “of” the 49th Parallel.
That careful carving of a word is another small, but incredibly significant word choice. The Hymns she sings are not “from” the land they are “of” the land — part of the land — nay, the very land itself. Hymns of the 49th Parallel is a tribute album to her fellow Canadian songwriters. She exquisitely covers two Neil Young songs on the album: Helpless and After the Gold Rush and once you hear k.d. lang’s cover of those masterpieces you will never need to hear them any other way again.
The album is “unplugged.” You have drums, a few strings, a piano and That Voice. Her Voice stretches with yearning and tenses with incredibly taught emotion that calls Helpless out in the dark.
Her Voice is eerie and sad and slightly tempting joy. Her pitch is perfect. Her heart is pure. We are taken away with her in a tidal wave of regret and frustration. We are helpless with her and we enjoy every instant of our shared dismay. k.d. lang makes After the Gold Rush another immediate classic.
While After the Gold Rush is the first cut on the album you need to hear Helpless first because that cut influences the dead emotion that rips away the ashes of the human spirit in After the Gold Rush.
You are taken on a time-bending rip of history in After the Gold Rush and you spin around the paths of active imagining and of existential wishing in four minutes. Only k.d. lang can help navigate us through the perilous deep water of the consequence of human frailty tempting more beyond the edge.
Her magnificent and haunting Voice provides a steady rudder for navigation. If your previous exposure to k.d. lang has been only through her politics or her personal life or through songs like Constant Craving and Big Boned Gal — you need to remove those experiences from your catalog of her talent and instead focus your entire attention on Hymns of the 49th Parallel because it is unlike anything you’ve ever heard before or will ever have the joy of hearing again.
k.d. lang scares me a little. I like her music and all but I don’t know what she’s trying to tell me by her appearance.
You are brave to bring up the issue of gender and identity and meaning when it comes to k.d. lang and her career. What is it about her that specifically scares you?
Well I guess first I’d want to know her preference for identification.
She probably would respond that gender doesn’t matter and that’s why she likes to present herself as an icon of uncertainty. Is she male or female? She may have female genitalia yet she dresses and presents herself in everyday life like a man. How do we reconcile that conflict in semiotics?
I have no clue how to reconcile it that’s what I’m trying to figure out. I think she should decide one way or the other and go with that then.
She probably would say she lives in the indecision. Her career is in the in-between. It doesn’t matter if she is male or female or gender-vague. The only thing that matters is the music and the intent of the song to move your spirit. There are a lot of people unwilling to be moved by her because of reasons beyond the Hymns and for that reason alone she finds great power to change minds and move forces.
Okay well that’s clear and that’s fair. She knows what she’s doing and if it doesn’t matter to her how she’s viewed sexually as a performer then it shouldn’t matter to us. I think a lot of people see her as a woman trying to be a man though and that turns them off. If she really wanted to be indifferent she wouldn’t swing so hard the male way in clothes and hair and presentation.
If you only look at k.d. then you might think she’s only presenting a male persona but when she sings and you hear how delicate her voices is and how uniquely feminine her tone is you know beyond the threads and inside the skin the gender identity might be mixed but the biology beneath the surface is completely female. That conflict of desires and images and expectations is what gives her a powerful edge in understanding the world from both sides of the fence.
I can see how tempting both sides of the fence might be interesting to try but there are others who can only handle their own side of the fence and to wander over to the other side doesn’t work so well.
I don’t think k.d. is asking anyone to wander around with her — I think she’s just asking to let her wander on her own in her own wondering without judging her effort or her intent either negatively or positively. She lives in the neutral and the expression of that neutrality is found on the extreme ends of all sides of her sexual identification.
Okay, well that’s fair and makes sense. I guess your article today was more about just listening to music.
Right, soos! Sometimes the real is found behind the obvious and that’s the fun of exploring ideas and issues here!
I need to expand my musical horizons in regard to today’s musical guest since the only k.d. lang song I can think of is Constant Craving.
It’s interesting that soosieloo brought up k.d. lang’s preferences in the post.
I wonder if having some sort of characteristic that distinguishes one from the rest of society makes for better art?
I appreciate your involvement in this thread. I know the issue of gender-bending and sexual ambiguity in performance can be difficult and uncomfortable for some.
For many folks, preferences in life define who they are. The fact that k.d. is — on the surface anyway — ambiguous about her gender identity intrigues as it provokes.
k.d. has done so much since Constant Craving and defining herself in opposition of the mainstream has quieted as her career and musical abilities have advanced.
Being the first in a niche always brings you get memory and honor in the community you are serving. Quentin Crisp —
— is a bold example of this “it doesn’t matter who or what I am as long as you accept me as a person” and he lived his life loud and on the outside of the mainstream with crossover mainstream success.
I met Quentin on the street when I first arrived in New York City. He was dressed in that hat you can see in his URL and I remember him infinitely playing with a long, flowing, purpose scarf around his neck.
Meeting Quentin was definitely a lesson in what you think you know may not be the reality reflected around you.
I love her singing, and that’s all I really care about. How she presents herself is totally her choice. She has always said that she looks masculine and trying to feminize herself with makeup and dresses just makes her look more like a man trying to look like a woman. Her mother told her when she was young that she was very “handsome” looking. So she has remained true to that, and I think she must look alot like her father. But she is definitely woman on the inside. Just enjoy her voice. Linda
Welcome to the blog and thanks for your fine comment!
I agree k.d. is a magnificent being and her voice is ethereal and she cannot be bound by traditional gender roles so why bother trying?
It does not matter whether she dresses like a woman o like a man all that matters is that she moves you with her voice. And that, she really does.
I agree with you in the complete, Asun! Well said.
Music has never been a very important part of my life, but something changed the day I first heard k.d.lang sing thirteen years ago. I had never heard of her and certainly knew nothing of her gender issues but that voice affected me as no other has, before or since. The more one opens up to her, the more she has to give. It is a voice that still stops me in my tracks.
Well said, Pamela! I am with you all the way on your beautiful discovery of K.D.’s magic!
kd lang possesses the most beautiful voice in the world. Sadly she is under-rated, imo.
soosieloo, get a grip. Who cares what kd looks like. It’s her magnificent pipes that people pay to hear. Nothing more……
I agree, trevor, that k.d. is underrated and that lack of attention makes us all smaller.
Humans make judgements and appearance is the almighty barometer of how we summarize someone we don’t know, yet are drawn to for some reason, even if it is just to voice our disappoval. We do it constantly everyday all our lives.Some people are going to be out of our “normal” scope and they force us to articulate that judgement in some way. In itself this is neither a good or bad thing. Unfortunately, those who are offended tend to make the loudest reactions. Given this I don t believe it takes a lot of courage to be different, but it surely takes a lot of courage to stay different.
Hi neath and welcome to Urban Semiotic!
Your words are wise and obviously hard-won through living a human life.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us.
Guys Guys come on!!! What she is trying to tell us is she is a gifted artist and she loves to share this gift with us,just that!!! She is absolutely lesbian,thats the way she looks and feels.
Love to you
Hi everybody! I totally agree, k.d.’s voice is the greatest of all.
I absolutely love her. Her voice is magic, I lost myself and start daydreaming everytime I hear her singing or talking.
Not to tell I have a big crush on her since the first time I saw her….I’m hopelessly addicted!! ^-^ I love the way she looks, her blue eyes and her bright smile. Don’t really care about what she wears. Inside those clothes there’s a wonderful woman!!!!!
everybody performs gender – kd lang’s disunity between anatomy/gender/performance (see her ‘Miss Chateline’ live performances) points out our own mimetic and indexical gender performances in everyday life.
how does anybody decide what is gender-conventional clothing or action? it is learnt/copied and makes reference to visual codes around us……..
The article is written perfectly for the reader to appreciate who R.D. Lang is emotionally, artistically and personally.
We can think, we can state what we think, however, the way R.D. Lang lives her life, presents herself and all things else is her personal choice; it’s who she is and we have no input how she should do anything.
We enjoy her “as is.”
Thanks for the great comment, Denise. It was a joy to write that review of her work.