Tag Archives: Country Music

Happy Birthday, Olivia Newton John

26 Sep
5923_31

5923_31

Today is Olivia Newton John’s 67th birthday!  I want to say Happy Birthday and I would like to celebrate a woman whose music has brought me endless joy and whose dedication to social justice inspires me. Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England in 1948. Her father was a Welsh-born professor and her mother a German Jew whose family fled Germany as the Nazis came to power. (Her mother’s father was Nobel-winning physicist Max Born.) The family moved to Melbourne, Australia when Olivia was six, and it is that country that she considers her home.

A talented singer, she began performing in her teens and took part in a number of Australian TV programs. She met future collaborator and producer John Farrar, who encouraged her to take part in a contest on Sing Sing Sing. She won a trip to England, initially planning to stay for a year to explore the country and her career. She built up slow, steady momentum and released her first album in 1971.

That launched real international success, including an invitation to perform the U.K. entry in the 1974 Eurovision contest. (She came in 4th; the winner that year was Sweden, with ABBA’s Waterloo.) She was still struggling to get a foothold in the U.S., but won a Grammy for best Country Female Performance. That award raised anger in Country purist circles, in part because she was still based in England. (The ever-wonderful Dolly Parton, however, supported her.) Taking advice from fellow Aussie Helen Reddy, Olivia moved to the U.S. In short order she launched a massively successful career.

I remember getting beaten up in the bathroom when I was a little kid at summer camp.  I was singing You’re the One That I Want from Grease, when a couple of bullies came in and beat the tar out of me.  How I hated those kids and how I loved Olivia and how did I not know I was gay back in the 7th grade?  Of course, even today I sing to Xanadu and all of the classic Olivia songs.  There is another song that holds a very special place in my heart, Tutta La Vita.  This song came out when my friend Kent was sick in the hospital and I loved this song for both the lyrics and for the music.  Sadly, my friend Kent passed away from HIV, but I think about him when I hear this song.  How wonderful that our Olivia stands in solidarity with the LGBT community.

Besides her beautiful music, Olivia has been a tireless advocate for many causes. She is an outspoken environmentalist and animal rights advocate. (She has cancelled Japanese tours over the slaughter of dolphins in tuna nets.) A breast cancer survivor, she also devotes a great deal of energy to cancer education, diagnosis, research, and treatment. She has also worked closely with UNICEF and been an advocate for LGBT rights.

A great singer, actress, activist, and all-around decent human being, I love our Olivia! (And who can forget her amazing performance in Sordid Lives?) Thank you for bringing your joy and passion into so many lives.

Bigot of the Week Award: April 12, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J

12 Apr
Bigots of the Week

Bigots of the Week

The musical merging of Brad Paisley and LL Cool J is strange enough as a concept. Sadly, it also results in a horrific song. The title, Accidental Racist, is bad enough, demonstrating a blatant race to innocence and ignorance of privilege. The lyrics are even worse. Paisley defends wearing the Confederate battle flag as a simple expression of “southern pride” while implying that the way people may look down on Southern whites is somehow comparable to centuries of institutionalized racism.

I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done
And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

Paisley doubles down by name-checking Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band whose Sweet Home Alabama famously celebrates George Wallace.

We’ve noted Paisley’s behavior previously, notably his overt homophobia. More surprising is hip hop star LL Cool J joining in the song. He engages in some tragic overidentification with the oppressor, rapping

If you don’t judge my do-rag
I won’t judge your red flag.
If you don’t judge my gold chains
I’ll forget the iron chains.

So trendy street bling somehow neutralizes militant defense of human slavery and a long history of racist laws that were designed to define “whiteness” and oppress black folk? That’s a seriously offensive and dangerous message. Even in the controversy, however, both artists continue to defend the song, with Paisley stating, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” I’m sure you wouldn’t, Brad.  I’m sure “some of your best friends are black, or gay.”  Wow, his obliviousness to his own unearned power and privilege make me rather ill.  While, I don’t expect any better from Paisley, I am rather disappointed in L L Cool J–who is not so cool!

Dishonorable mention this week goes to Rep. Paul Broun (R – GA). The arch-conservative, who is running to replace retiring bigot Saxby Chambliss in the Senate next year, was responding to a proposal (currently shelved, by the way) to include gender reassignment surgery in Medicare and Medicaid coverage. The ever-delightful Broun commented:

I don’t want to pay for a sex change operation. I’m not interested. I like being a boy.

Apparently he also likes being a bigot and an idiot. Don’t want a sex change, Rep. Broun? DON’T HAVE ONE! But don’t use your power to prevent others from receiving reasonable medical care.

Women’s History Month 2013: Olivia Newton-John

8 Mar

5923_31Today I would like to celebrate a woman whose music has brought me endless joy and whose dedication to social justice inspires me. Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England in 1948. Her father was a Welsh-born professor and her mother a German Jew whose family fled Germany as the Nazis came to power. (Her mother’s father was Nobel-winning physicist Max Born.) The family moved to Melbourne, Australia when Olivia was six, and it is that country that she considers her home.

A talented singer, she began performing in her teens and took part in a number of Australian TV programs. She met future collaborator and producer John Farrar, who encouraged her to take part in a contest on Sing Sing Sing. She won a trip to England, initially planning to stay for a year to explore the country and her career. She built up slow, steady momentum and released her first album in 1971.

That launched real international success, including an invitation to perform the U.K. entry in the 1974 Eurovision contest. (She came in 4th; the winner that year was Sweden, with ABBA’s Waterloo.) She was still struggling to get a foothold in the U.S., but won a Grammy for best Country Female Performance. That award raised anger in Country purist circles, in part because she was still based in England. (The ever-wonderful Dolly Parton, however, supported her.) Taking advice from fellow Aussie Helen Reddy, Olivia moved to the U.S. In short order she launched a massively successful career.

I remember getting beaten up in the bathroom when I was a little kid at summer camp.  I was singing You’re the One That I Want from Grease, when a couple of bullies came in and beat the tar out of me.  How I hated those kids and how I loved Olivia and how did I not know I was gay back in the 7th grade?  Of course, even today I sing to Xanadu and all of the classic Olivia songs.  There is another song that holds a very special place in my heart, Tutta La Vita.  This song came out when my friend Kent was sick in the hospital and I loved this song for both the lyrics and for the music.  Sadly, my friend Kent passed away from HIV, but I think about him when I hear this song.  How wonderful that our Olivia stands in solidarity with the LGBT community.

Besides her beautiful music, Olivia has been a tireless advocate for many causes. She is an outspoken environmentalist and animal rights advocate. (She has cancelled Japanese tours over the slaughter of dolphins in tuna nets.) A breast cancer survivor, she also devotes a great deal of energy to cancer education, diagnosis, research, and treatment. She has also worked closely with UNICEF and been an advocate for LGBT rights.

A great singer, actress, activist, and all-around decent human being, I love our Olivia! (And who can forget her amazing performance in Sordid Lives?) Thank you for bringing your joy and passion into so many lives.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 21, k.d. lang

21 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate an award-winning musician and activist, the talented k.d. lang. Born in November 1961 in Edmonton, Alberta, Kathryn Dawn Lang grew up in Consort on the Canadian prairie. She attended Red Deer College where she got her first exposure to the music of the late Patsy Cline. Fascinated, lang started her first band in 1983, a Cline tribute group wittily called the Reclines.

The band quickly outgrew the direct tribute and became a strong musical unit in its own right although still drawing clear influence from Patsy’s work). Their first album, 1984’s A Truly Western Experience, got strong reviews and led to a Juno for Most Promising Female Vocalist. Angel With A Lariat followed quickly, recorded in Nashville for major label Sire. After a strongly received duet with Roy Orbison on a new recording of his classic hit Crying, lang scored another coup landing famed Nashville producer Owen Bradley — the architect of Patsy Cline’s sound — for her third album. Over the course of a dozen albums ranging from country twang to meditative pop, lang has demonstrated an amazing musical breadth and won eight Juno awards and four Grammys.

k.d. lang was also one of the first singers to come out relatively early in their careers. Announcing she was lesbian in 1992, she has been a stalwart supporter of LGBT issues for the past two decades. She has campaigned for AIDS awareness and research and donated recordings to a number of albums to raise funds. She is also an animal rights activist and an activist for improved human rights in Tibet. Although she had already begun the transition from country to pop when she came out, she has retained her ties to Nashville and worked hard to improve the country music environment for LGBT performers and fans.

Despite living in the U.S. for many years, lang is also very proud of her Canadian heritage. She recorded an album, 2004’s Hymns of the 49th Parallel, featuring her take on songs by her favorite Canadian writers. Her powerful version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah led to her being part of the opening ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver where she performed the song. The singer recently moved a bit closer to her roots, leaving Los Angeles for a new home in Portland, Oregon, TSM’s home town. Welcome to the Rose City, k.d.!

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: Out and Proud in Country Music

11 Jun

Stevens, Wright, Jensen

For all the “liberal Hollywood values” associated with the entertainment industry, it certainly has its share of homophobia. Music is performed by people, after all, and any segment of the population is bound to demonstrate both the good and the bad. Of all the genres of the music industry, Country music has the most conservative traditions and the most entrenched homophobia. Despite this, there are some out and proud Country performers, blazing trails into historically hostile territory.

Doug Stevens, who performs with the aptly named Out Band, formed the Lesbian and Gay Country Music Association in 1998. The organization is little known, sadly, but does host tours regularly and provide outreach to performers needing support. Stevens has been out his whole career, perhaps accounting for his relatively low profile. Stevens is a powerful force for good and a strong voice for LGBT equality in Country music.

Chely Wright is equally amazing. Not only did this rising Country star recently come out, she had a very public wedding and acknowledges her role as an advocate. She stars in the documentary Wish Me Away and tours the country with the film talking about being an out lesbian in country music. Wright is brave, self-effacing, and witty as well as being a talented musician. Let’s hope her bold approach will not damage her success.

Another remarkable out Country performer is Canadian Drake Jensen. Not only did he come out, he included his husband in a recent video. This is a very bold move for the genre. He also added an anti-bullying message to the YouTube version of the video. Jensen received the  Coup de Chapeau (Hats Off) award from the Fondation Emergence in Montreal for his contribution to the fight against homophobia. The last recipient was Lady Gaga for Born This Way.

Honorable mention goes to the amazing kd lang. She came out publicly in 1992, one of the first celebrities to do so. By that time she had largely left Country behind, embracing her broader musical palette. Lang has long been an LGBT pioneer, and her career — especially in Nashville — has suffered for her boldness and authenticity.

There are also a number of strong LGBT allies in Country music. For every yahoo like Brad Paisley and John Rich (of Big & Rich), there are plenty of wonderful Country stars who are open, accepting, and supportive. Dolly Parton recorded the amazing song Travelin’ Thru for the movie Transamerica and is an outspoken friend of the LGBT community. Willie Nelson is well known for his leftist politics; he contributed a song to the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack and had a hit with the charming Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other). Country megastar Garth Brooks is very supportive and won a GLAAD Media Award for his song We Shall Be Free, which includes the line “We shall be free, when we’re free to love anyone we choose.” Just this week, Carrie Underwood announced her support for full marriage equality, risking a Dixie Chicks backlash from her Evangelical fan base.

Every medium has room for improvement. The music industry, for all its U2/R.E.M. liberal reputation, has plenty of Ted Nugent and Buju Banton to go around. These brave Country pioneers deserve thanks and recognition for taking a uniquely American musical form and demanding that it truly embrace American values of equality and freedom.

Celebrating Women’s History Month: March 4

4 Mar

Honoring Dolly Parton

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Dolly Parton. Parton has been a favorite of mine for many many years, dating back to her days with Porter Wagoner. I will confess, back in the mid 1970’s my former stepmother used to force us to listen to country music–I hated it!!! However, there was one song that caught my heart.  We were listening to Just Because I’m a Woman, by Dolly Parton. I loved the song and felt so indignant that there was a double standard for how women and men were treated–I fell in love with our Dolly with this song.  How impressive that a female country music star was addressing the inequities between gender in 1976.  Of course, if there is anyone that listens to Toby Keith, one wonders if he is even aware of the women’s movement, or anyone that is not a white heterosexual man. Just Because I’m a Woman, was one of many clues that I would become a militant feminist. The next song that caught my heart was The Bargain Store. I used to cry listening to this song. How could she not see her value and how lovable she is? The song is very telling of how often women internalize messages of self-doubt, or the misconception that they are lucky if someone choses them, whey in reality they should do the choosing!

Parton has been good friends with two of my other favorite women, Linda Rondstadt and Emmylou Harris. Who could not love their album in 1987 The Trio, specifically My Dear Companion? I also loved Trio II. The song Blue Train, I find haunting and beautiful.

I also loved Dolly Parton in the quintessential women’s movement movie of the 1980’s decade, 9 to 5.  How can you not love Doralee? I would be remiss if I did not include Hard Candy Christmas, from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I will conclude this article with a song that Ms. Parton was robbed of an academy award for, Travelin’ Thru, from Transamerica.

There are many reasons to love our Dolly Parton, just some of which are: a pioneer for strong women in country music, a powerful and smart business woman with a brilliant voice, and a supporter of the LGBT community.

%d bloggers like this: