Being human is generally a miserable and painful experience. You always have to wait in lines for things, nobody answers their cell phones when you call them, and practically nowhere has free parking. Oh, and cancer. Cancer plays a big part in making life unavoidably miserable and painful for way too many people.
I’m not a fan of cancer. I am, however, a fan of Tig Notaro’s, and I have been since her debut album Good One. Her latest, Live (pronounced like the verb instead of the adjective), is a massive leap away from Good One in terms of subject matter and tone. What it lacks in clever impressions and deadpan sarcasm, however, it more than makes up for in a deep and rich reflection on death, mental and physical pain, and trying to understand why the human condition can be such a jerk.
In case you don’t know the story, Tig’s Live covers four critical parts of her recent life: being diagnosed with clostridium difficile (a bacterial infection that made her too sick to eat regularly); the end of a relationship with her girlfriend; the sudden and tragic death of her mother; being diagnosed with cancer in both breasts. Some people might be able to handle such a sad-storm of terribleness over a lifetime, but Tig had to experience and process all of these events in the span of a few months. I tend to cry and whine about my life when a jar is too hard to open or if I stub my toe. Tig’s life throws a few fiery curveballs at her face, and she gets on stage to perform a half-hour set about it.
Live isn’t really about dwelling though. Tig isn’t asking everyone in the audience to feel bad for her and treat her differently. She just wants to point out, in her very specific tone and perspective, that these events are weirdly harsh, difficult, and completely unavoidable. At one point in the album, Tig mentions seeing a childhood picture of herself. She talks about looking at the tiny Tig photograph and wanting to say to the little girl, “You’re going to get cancer.” It’s a line that’s so amazingly brutal and funny that your body will make a weird kind of sob-grunt-laugh sound trying to understand it.
Live is a hard listen but for the right reasons. This isn’t the kind of album you can casually experience like you would a sitcom that has a terrible laugh track or a child’s birthday party you weren’t invited to. It’s a brief examination of a good person forced into a rapid-fire series of traumatic events. If you have even the slightest degree of empathy, Live will make you cry and feel and think and laugh and probably cry some more.
Final Rating: The number of bee jokes we all need to tell in order to make people stop getting cancer so often (I really hope it’s a low number, but I have a bad feeling that bee jokes don’t actually cure cancer).
You can purchase Tig Notaro’s “Live” for $5 only on Louis CK’s website HERE.
If you’d like to listen to parts of it, as well as here Tig herself explain her process — as well as her current condition — on NPR’s Fresh Air, listen here. And Louis CK was on that same episode of Fresh Air, talking about why he got involved.