My grandfather was an Irving Berlin/Frank Sinatra kind of man, smoking a pipe filled with Captain Black tobacco in his Long Island basement office. He didn't care much for my music — Depeche Mode, Duran Duran. He couldn't understand a word Bono was saying most of the time.
But one day we were driving in the car and I put in my k.d. lang Ingénue cassette. This, this was not so bad, he said.
She reminded him of Rosemary Clooney and Judy Garland but "not so sad." I remember him smiling as the songs spiraled on. He particularly liked "Wash Me Clean" — the way her voice soared and thickened.
Twenty-five years later, as lang takes to the Keswick Theatre on Friday as part of an "Ingénue Redux," tour, that memory lingers like my grandfather's pipe smoke, strong and sweet, and maybe a little sad.
I remember reading an interview about her 2000 album Invincible Summer in which lang said she had a feeling in mind for each of her albums. Summer is almost the counterpoint to Ingénue, light and airy, that dreamy feeling at the beginning of a romance.
But I fell in love with k.d. lang while she was still dark and a little bitter, starting with her first album, Shadowland. I was still a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and they played her rendition of the Sarah Vaughan song "Black Coffee" endlessly while I lived the song — I walk the floor and watch the door, and in between I drink. OK, not black coffee, but milky coffee doesn't sound the same.
When Ingénue came out, along with one of the sexiest straight-on stares to arrive on a promotional poster, I was graduating and looking for a job in journalism. Everyone suggested I have a Plan B. I figured if I had a Plan B, I'd already given up on my Plan A.
It felt like k.d. was in that same space, knowing what she wanted, but having to wait and hope it'd all work out. Think about what was on the radio at that time: En Vogue was fierce and sexy; "Baby Got Back," fun and sexy; Boyz II Men, velvety sexy. There was nothing quite like k.d. lang, languid and flirty one minute, wishfully thinking the other.
While everyone was playing "Constant Craving" to the point of nausea, it was about "Season of Hollow Soul" for me. That doubt, the worry, hoping that the fork in the road chosen wasn't the wrong one.
When I saw her on stage in Chicago, dorkily dancing around the carpeted floor, there were no signs of worry. She seemed at home in her voice and fearless in the climb to those soaring notes, both in quirky songs like "Miss Chatelaine" and the dark tones in her cover of "Crying."
Ingénue sounds like it should be fresh, naïve, hopeful, but it's rich, sumptuous, falling into the deep thoughts. "Where is your head, Kathryn?" "Why hurt yourself, Kathryn?" "Why do you fight, Kathryn?" she sings in "Mind of Love."
She clearly won the fight with her mind and remains both a gay and a vocal icon. Maybe it took 25 years for her to find the answers. Me, I'm still searching, with a little pipe smoke in the background.