Tenderness and Truthtelling

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.”


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