Cheryl Wheeler

By Paul Moffett

I admit that I went to see Cheryl Wheeler at the Rudyard on November 12 as an unabashed fan of her recordings. Like any fan, I could detail the songs that thumped me in the heart, that made me laugh out loud, that caused me to shake my head at her insightfulness and brilliance as a writer.

Then, of course, there was her voice, which long ago had made the visceral connection so necessary to fandom.

So it was with considerable discombobulation that I departed after Wheeler's hour-and-ten minute performance, uncertain as to how to connect those recordings with the distant performer I had just seen on the intimate stage at the Rudyard.

Arriving on stage from the "green room" at the Rud, Wheeler was seriously dressed down, although she did allow as to how these were her stage clothes and besides, she was wearing a bra, something she had not been in the habit of doing until recently.

Cheryl Wheeler

Following a short monologue about being a "fat, old 47-year-old woman who really loves her job" she launched into "Driving Home," the title tune from an early album and followed that with "Just Like God," before arriving at what would be the central theme of her performance: "Divorce." After a relationship of some fourteen years, she had split up with her POSSLQ (Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters - US Census Bureau).

It adversely affected her songwriting. Every time she sat down to write, she said, it came out as "I'm so sad." Or, as the title of the next song noted, "Close to Blue."

But it was not all grim and dour. Wheeler did an amusing tune about watching an early spring mosquito having lunch on her arm and postulated that it might be that mosquito's very first meal. She followed that with "Arrow," her song about the conflict between wisdom and the desire to fall in love: "I wish I could fall in love / though it only leads to trouble / oh, I know it does."

The fallout from her divorce yielded a bitter, biting tune about real estate deals with banks, a song that resonated with anyone who has ever gone through that experience. She also did several funny songs centered on her cats and her dog, animals which have 1apparently replaced her POSSLQ as the center of her emotional life.

Then there was the silly songwriter tune about potatoes, in which she hit every different syllable in that word while always ending up on the correct pronunciation. Essentially an exercise in singing and songwriting, it nevertheless evoked laughter from the audience.

Her song about the rash of school shootings, in which she detailed the many, many, many possible reasons/excuses offered for the shootings, ended with a simple solution: "If it were up to me / I'd take away the guns."

She wrapped up her show with "Estate Sale," the tune with the dangerous chorus: "Going through dead people's houses / wonderful things they have collected. / Open the drawers and desks and closets / don't leave a corner uninspected."

Wheeler's unflinchingly clear-eyed take on the music business was reflected in her performance. After "Estate Sale," she thanked everybody, walked off the stage only as far as the back of the room, then came back and announced that since this was a polite audience that would applaud even if "she sucked," she would forgo the pretense that she wouldn't do an encore and do two more songs, which she did.

Then she said "Good night" and left the stage for the "green room." End of show.

The audience milled about for a little while, waiting for her to come out and chat, sign autographs and other similar fan-stroking behavior. When it became apparent that she was not going to do any such thing, the crowd departed.

I bought a copy of her new CD and considered that, indeed, I was a fan of her recordings.