Anne Lamott and Mary Chapin Carpenter
At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Tuesday, April 4.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer
It’s good to hear the simple truth, whether it’s pretty or not. It relieves us from the burden of denial, and it restores our faith. As artists, author Anne Lamott and singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter are stylistically distinct, but on the final night of their first joint tour, they both ministered tenderly to the audience by telling their truths.
The pairing came about when Carpenter’s dog died — she found an entry about dogs in Lamott’s online diary, and was so moved that she emailed her. The relationship clicked, eventually resulting in their collaboration. Carpenter lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains; her style is country, tempered by her education at Brown University. Observing between acts that Campbell Hall was a contrast to her usual “beer and funnel cakes” crowd, she thanked the audience for “letting her be soft.” Introspective and occasionally sentimental, she soothed the audience with earthy lullabies in a deep, resonant alto. Unadorned lyrics revealed the meaning of her life through stories of falling in love, a favorite well-worn shirt, and her compassion for the homeless victims of Katrina. “You will light a stranger’s life by letting yours unfurl,” she sang. And so she did.
Alternating readings with Carpenter’s songs, Anne Lamott took her audience on a deftly crafted tour of her emotional and spiritual landscape. Unable to resist celebrating the resignation of Tom DeLay, she invited the crowd to stand and sing “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” at the start of the evening. Lamott’s wickedly irreverent humor was even funnier alongside her born-again Christian faith. She read of telling a worried dying friend that if God denied entry to heaven to her Jewish friends, she would boycott it herself: “We’ll organize!”
Darting in and out of deep waters, Lamott dazzled with her ability to deliver unlikely connections and pull out just before taking herself too seriously. Partway through an eloquent description of the transcendent beauty of the desert so admired by her friends, she remarked, “I love the desert too. In short periods. From a car. With the windows rolled up and the door locked.” Her graceless moments on the ski slope were the occasion for painful, funny, deep explorations of community, kindness, and redemption, while the experience of winning a free ham at the grocery store took her from cynical depression to renewed faith — an experience she likened to a sudden desert downpour: “It seems, but only seems, like you went from parched to overflow in the blink of an eye.”