Discussions about Lena Zavaroni’s contributions as a performer tend to be overshadowed by references to the difficulties she faced in her personal life. Perhaps her well-known emotional performance of ‘Going Nowhere’ on Lena and Her Music in 1981 should be considered in the light of its own merits rather than under the glare of these
“Many did not, and still do not, recognize her strength, as the most common publications written about her ‘highlight drug addiction, alcoholism, feminine weakness, depression, lack of formal education, and other difficulties unrelated to her contributions as an artist‘.” (my emphasis)
Zavaroni may not have had the same life experiences as Billie Holiday but it seems that, like Holiday, any discussion of her work as a performer is often interrupted by the issues she faced in her personal life and the spin the writer wants to put on them. Indeed, I struggled with writing this post for that very reason. Is this something all great performers (particularly women?) have to put up with: never being able to be viewed as separate from their vulnerabilities?
Zavaroni’s rendition of the “tragic showbiz-is-rough ballad” ‘Going Nowhere‘ on her own show Lena and Her Music from 1981* is often regarded as her best ever live performance and the emotion she conveys is moving and believable. As well as the possible showbiz theme (something writer Neil Sedaka would have also been familiar with himself), there seem to be wider existential concerns at play:
so many folks, dissatisfied with everything,
who need someone to understand they’re lonely, they’re lonely,
and they’re not alone.
they shrug their shoulders, tell themselves that they don’t care,
and all the while they make believe they’re happy, oh they’re happy,
but not really.
And they’re asked to hold the world together,
make it happen, give it children,
who in turn are turning on to going nowhere.
And all the strength they’d ever need to help them
has been wasted, remains hidden,
in the confusion of going nowhere.”
The song acts as a call to people who feel trapped by their problems and coping mechanisms (“where you are is where you’ve been so many years”) or have ever lost sight of their own strengths in the face of trying to live up to the demands placed on them by society. This arguably almost universal meaning and demonstration of the fine line that often exists between apparent “normality” and a fractured existence can easily be read into Zavaroni’s performance, with every flicker of turmoil perhaps representing a sense of collective suffering, as a human being, rather than a more specific personal cry for help.
Watching Zavaroni’s effortless return to composure after this performance makes me wonder if the whole thing was made possible thanks to her brilliant acting and interpretation skills and perhaps not some need to express her own pain. And, of course, there’s no reason why that should make it any less special.
Click here for a more detailed description: Lena Zavaroni – Going Nowhere video details.docx
* (Unfortunately episodes for that year are not as readily listed as the first series.)