Chile… Ms. Lauryn Hill Was Late Again.

Pre-Reading Disclaimers:

  1. Chile… Ms. Lauryn Hill was late again.
  2. She issued a public statement, explaining her chronic lateness and attributing some of it to the challenge of “aligning (her) energy with the time, taking something that isn’t easily classified or contained and trying to make it available for others”.
  3. I’m not here to talk about isolated incidents. I want to talk about the chronic arc of Lauryn’s relation to time… and perhaps, to trauma.

All clear? Let’s go.

In an open letter regarding Hill’s lateness, Questlove starts with a recap on what it takes for artists to have business acumen when it comes to putting on a show. He explained general artist-to-audience etiquette but then made the ‘Boom’ statement:

“… on the other side of the coin (and not wanting to put people’s business out there) this is prime psychological sabotage fear in motion. This is the embarrassment of that Newark 4 lawsuit. This is age fear talking loud and clear. This is resentment of having to now do this to survive (I mean we all “do it for the love”—but this is survival) the embarrassment of now being a one album legacy artist and the possibility of not mattering anymore in this disposable society. People will kill something before it grows.

This is prime example of that”

I’m not advocating for Ms. Hill’s actions because they are inexcusable. Holding a toxic relationship to your audience’s time is just… not okay. At the same time, I want to explore this theme of “psychological sabotage” and / or trauma.

There are very real implications about what trauma does to the body, the heart, the mind, the music, and daily functions… such as showing up on time. There have got to be some very real outcomes for the mind, body, and spirit after enduring Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, financial troubles, legal battles for songwriting credits, and a tenuous relationship to the first and premiere album you’ve written.

In Ms. Lauryn Hill’s 2009 Essence magazine interview, she states:

“For two or three years I was away from all social interaction. It was a very introspective time because I had to confront my fears and master every demonic thought about inferiority, about insecurity or the fear of being black, young and gifted in this western culture”

Might it be that she is still dealing with this in her backstage / offstage life? Might it be that this is what is spilling over to her onstage life?

In her written apology to fans, she referenced her “perfectionistic tendencies” and her need to “align (her) energy with the time”. Might she be limited by the trap of perfection (as Brene Brown OFTEN talks about)?

I’m not altogether sure why I have this need to figure out what in the ham-sandwich is going on to make her consistently and chronically 2-3 hours late for shows. After all, this really is not just about her. It’s about the audience, as well.

Audience members are traveling, gathering seats, navigating their accessibility needs in the same moments that Ms. Hill is aligning her energies. Gathering coins from each week’s check to put towards an artist’s tour schedule. Finding ways to get to the venue… even if it takes some ‘doing’ to do. Standing. For four hours. Sitting for two hours before she even gets onstage. This is something that not everyone is physically capable of doing.

I imagine there are quite a few audience members who struggled with these levels of demand on their bodies. Perhaps it also took some time for her audience members to also ‘align their energies’: push past the anxiety of crowded venues and to work through whatever ‘psychological sabotages’ would have hindered them, so that their bodies could show up in that space. These scales hold in the balance the time and effort it always takes for her fans to get there too. And that should be honored.

And yet… I understand (more than I really want to) her post on lateness.

I live with chronic illness (which I have talked about at length on this platform). It made me late for a lot of things before I knew how to properly manage it. This was not necessarily my fault. Undergoing traumatic processes to the brain, body, and psyche are not Ms. Hill’s fault. However, as writer Tammy Perlmutter says, “it is our responsibility” to address. I learned that in order to thrive, I needed to find systems, exercises, and positive coping mechanisms so that I could show up as close to time as possible… and slay when I got there! And let me note: it was hard as hell.

I don’t know Ms. Hill, what she does / does not have access to, or how she is understanding her personal mind / heart / soul journey.  I can only see what the public sees. But I’d like to believe that she isn’t doing this on purpose.

It’s really easy to mock Ms. Hill’s reasoning, her chronic lateness, and her somewhat erratic behavior. Yet, when does this mocking become the easy way of not actually SEEING her humanity, seeing the trauma that she has been through, and understanding the layers that are there. Yet, I think there are some real layers to why things are happening this way. We don’t have to excuse her specific behavior to note that. We also don’t have to excuse this behavior to practice empathy in our own lives. So here’s where I’ll start: with the simple hope that everyone (Ms. Hill AND all of the audience members who keep on showing up) gets what they need.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons, Original posted using Flickr upload bot on 26 May 2013 (UTC), by Stefan4