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I've seen Calvin Johnson perform live once; it was a wonderful and fun experience, and one that bolstered the impression – one I'd previously gathered from the uncharacteristically inoffensive, if nonetheless less than enlightening, responses to YouTube videos of his performances – that many seem to think of his shows as akin in some ineffable spirit to performance art.  I suspect that it is something in his aloof demeanor, the contrast of his blunt baritone with his unexpectedly effete gesticulations, and his mercurial tonal changes that has sparked this comparison; the distancing effect that much performance art has on some audiences – who, in lieu of finding anything palpable to attach the performance to, apply obscurity and obliqueness to the medium as if they were its essential elements – is replicated by Johnson's physical movements, which often seem as though they were the residue of thoughts made inarticulately manifest in insecure postures.  But the best performance art, no matter how seemingly obtuse, usually directs the willing viewer or participant toward proper engagement; Johnson's movements seem off-the-cuff and capricious.  If it were performance art – in the deified sense –, it would be bad performance art.  I think he's probably just having fun.  Johnson is one of the most pioneering forces on the independent popular music scene, and has been for about twenty-five years now; but, watching him perform, it can feel as though you're witnessing someone uncomfortably pushing himself beyond the limits of his quite limited talents: his dancing is awkward, his voice not very good by any traditional measure, his stage presence in no typical sense very strong.  But I find his dancing and his singing beautiful, his stage presence entirely charming, and it's largely because it feels as though I'm just watching someone have fun, unconcerned with whether or not others share the sentiment; he's "in" on the oddness of his performances, and he likes it.  This video of him performing "Look at What the Light Did Now" – it's a cover of a song by Little Wings, whom I don't know particularly well – is wonderfully emblematic of his beguiling style.  I love how, during the chorus, his voice all but disappears beneath a whisper: we know the chorus, the logic seems to go, so we don't need to hear him actually sing it.  I love it how, with confident unconcern and no apparent reason, he repeats the beginning of one of the song's tongue-twisting lyrics as if he'd made a mistake, which he hadn't.  I also just love his voice and think he's a terrific songwriter, so perhaps this skews my response to his performances too easily toward the admiring.  But when he makes a languid attempt at flight toward the end of the video, we're not watching intentionally abstruse performance art, we're watching someone enjoy the act of performing and, in a sense, of feeling himself perform; I find it moving.

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