Music with a Message: An Ode to a Subtle Creature

[Artwork by Jozie Furchgott Sourdiffe; Photo by Alessandra Genovese]

*Disclaimer: : The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect KXSU.

ode (noun): a lyric poem usually marked by exaltation of feeling and style, varying length of line, and complexity of stanza forms.

Last week I went to a lecture given by Miriam Cooke (an expert on Middle East studies) on creativity and resilience in the Syrian revolution. She talked about what she calls “artist-activists” who represented, and continue to represent, the resistance, defiance, and resilience of the revolution through dance, music, poetry, video, sculpture—you name it. The sheer volume of work that has come out of Syria in the past several years is staggering, and I think we’re seeing echoes of this, though not to the same extent, across the world in response to other revolutions emerging from the Arab Spring, the spread of right-wing politics across Europe, and the ethnic violence occurring in South Sudan.

As the United States is morphing into resistance and protest of a recently-elected demagogue who shall not be named, I’ve been thinking a lot about the art being produced lately and the artists I’ve seen, past and present, who use their talents and passions to serve a greater purpose. A single piece of art, or a single artist, does not a revolution make; but the art of an individual may be powerful enough for a single observer to grasp on to and hold close in moments of doubt, confusion, and fear, and then use to engender a boldness to pursue a cause.

This month, I’ve been holding close the art of Shira Erlichman, who describes herself in a Winter Tangerine publication as:

“As a child of the Gulf War, an immigrant at a young age, an inheritor of mental illness, a Queer woman in a heteronormative landscape, a twice hospitalized & aggressively medicated body, my Self has long been fissured, challenged, & questioned. There is a war internal & a war external – the lines between them blur, burn, & smoke. At the same time, I am a blessed body. I breathe. In Hebrew, my name means Song. A God I cannot pronounce daily paints my vivid life. My poems are born of this inextricable sting & salve.”

Shira, a multi-medium artist, currently resides in Brooklyn with her partner, and prolific poet, Angel Nafis. The two are currently in the midst of a cross country tour called Odes for You, and just performed in Seattle at Gay City on Saturday night to a sold out room. In their accompanying chapbook, they present a manifesto to odes, saying, Isn’t there work to do? Yes. Much of that work is devoting our resources & time to organizing, healing our communities & actively fighting injustice. Alongside that necessary work, we must ode…. Where so much conspires to steal our joy, this is radical work. When we face what we want to reject, we ode (clarify, alchemize, honor) it.”

One of my favorite poems read last night was “Ode to Lithium #-1: Pink Noise.” Here’s an excerpt:

My illness wants me to note the double-meaning of patient:
from Latin patientia, literally “quality of suffering.”
to endure. a constancy in effort.
see also, “a card game for one person.”
see also, “a minor form of despair, disguised as virtue.”

In addition to being a visual artist and a poet, Shira has self-released more than five musical projects. Her electro-soul pop sound is stripped down in this acoustic version of the song “Tip Toe” off of her October 2016 release, Subtle Creature. The song initially started as a reflection of her grandmother, a 1950s housewife, whose undiagnosed bipolar disorder was intensified by silence and shame. Ultimately, the song turned into a reflection of herself and the connections, both emotionally and artistically, she has with her grandmother.

Write an ode to the things that scare you, contain you, or accompany you throughout this life, whatever they may be. Maybe it will provide painful insight into our earthly condition, full of the unuttered knowledge we all carry with us. Maybe it will piss off the hell out of you and inspire action, in many forms. Maybe it will be a vulnerable experience that brings you closer to (you and) your communities.

Speaking on the complexity of medication and mental illness is a political act, and artists like Shira Erlichman are producing with grace and strength and grit. To those who create in the stark face of oppression and fear and uncertainty, this is my work-in-progress ode to you.

The Squares Project – 365 days in 1×1 square inches
We are everything we are – 12.22
Hold me through this – 12.26

SHIRA: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

EMMA PIERCE | Trying to break away from a legacy of shame | KXSU Music Reporter


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