Script for Queer Music Heritage, April 2003
Charlie Murphy Intro
Hello, welcome to tonight's edition of Queer Music Heritage, which I think you'll find will be packed with history and humor. The humor will come in the second half when I'll feature an interview with those dragapella divas, the Kinsey Sicks.
The first part of the show will be a tribute to one of the influences of the women's music movement, Ginni Clemmens. I've been planning a segment on her for quite some time, but now it carries a special sadness, because she was killed in an car accident near her home in Hawaii on February 15th, just a few days before her 67th birthday.
Before I get into some of the history of Ginni, I want to play a song she recorded on a various artists compilation. The compilation was called "Gay & Straight Together" and she produced this album in 1980 on her own label, Open Door Records, in Chicago, and Folkways Records also issued the album that same year. The album included Charlie Murphy, who you heard in my intro, and several other artists I've played in the past. Again, it was called "Gay & Straight Together," and with her typical spirit she wrote on the album notes that it was brought into existence to promote understanding, acceptance, and support between different lifestyles. The album contained a mix of gay and straight, young and old, and male and female artists, and for her own song on the album, Clemmens chose one written by folksinger/songwriter/activist Malvina Reynolds, called "Love Somebody."
Ginni Clemmens - love somebody (1980)
Ginni Clemmens had a long history in music, and it went back much further than her involvement with the Women's Music Movement. In the late '50s in Chicago she got started in folk singing, but she did not limit herself to one style. For example, she decided to take up the banjo, not your typical woman's instrument in those days. And she also included blues songs in her performances, which she continued to do throughout her career. But she wasn't a full-time musician. She was also a recreational therapist working with retarded children. And she found that music, and especially getting them to sing together, was a useful way to reach them and to help them feel less alienated from one another. This led in 1965 to her first album, called "Sing A Rainbow & Other Children's Songs," on the Folkways label. Here's a bit of one of the songs from that album.
Ginni Clemmens - sing a rainbow (1965)
So, by the late '60s and early '70s, she had progressed from folk and blues to children's music, but for the people who like to classify artists, she was about to confound them even more. Here is a quote from her that explains the catalyst to her next progression.
"I heard Cassie Culver sing, and Margie Adam. And they were singing songs coming our of a feeling of strength and integrity in being women, and it gave me a different perspective on what it meant to be a feminist. I saw that it didn't have to be man-hating, but rather a belief that women could be strong, and independent if they chose to be, and that it was important that they have that choice."
This realization led her more and more toward performing at women's gatherings, meetings of the National Organization of Women, and feminist conferences. One of her most known blues songs was also one of her first feminist songs, "Wild Women Don't Get The Blues." It was written by Ida Cox in the 20s and using it to promote feminism, Ginni Clemmens brought a whole new meaning to it.
Ginni Clemmens - wild women don't get the blues (1981)
Ah, yes, those wild women don't get the blues. That song was one of the staples of her repertoire, and she recorded it twice. The first time was a more acoustic version on her 1976 album "Long Time Friends," and then she recorded the version you just heard and made it the title track of an album in 1981.
But her influence went further than just her songs. You've heard me mention many times on this show of Ladyslipper Music as being one of the main sources for recordings by lesbians. I was able to get some short interview comments about Ginni from Laurie Fuchs, who was the primary founder of Ladyslipper. In 1976 Laurie began Ladyslipper because there just were no sources for women to buy the early recordings from the artists they would hear about or see at the women's festivals. So, as you'll hear, Laurie started a mail order business, which is still going strong today. You can find it on the net at www.ladyslipper.org. Laurie starts out her comments by telling about her first exposure to Ginni Clemmens.
Laurie Fuchs Comments on Ginni Clemmens:
When I went to the first festival for me, which was 1976. It was actually the 3rd National Women's Music Festival, in Champaign-Urbana. For some reason, one of the strongest memories I have is round robins just cropping up, and there would be Ginni, with her banjo. And so from that time many many people went away from this festival just being very inspired to go home and start something as their participation in cultural and political we considered it cultural and political work at the time. And I really think that Ginni Ginni's presence helped foster that feeling of this being something that we were all invited to participate in
Can you tell us something about the influence of her music itself?
There were a few things that were really notable on her early LP "Looking For Some Long Time Friends" that I remember. One was that she performed a song called "Lady-O," I think this was by someone called Judee Sill. But it was one of the really early lesbian songs that I ever heard. And I think the title of her LP, "Long Time Friends," sort of captured some of the spirit of the early women's music and culture movement. And another thing that I think she contributed was there was a real sort of do it yourself sense that she brought to this. Women started making their own cassette tapes and just sort of doing some general things that have become much more popular now, and the do it yourself spirit is much stronger today then it was back then, but I think that's something important that she brought to the movement, was to say that you don't need to have big bucks, you don't need a fancy producer, you can do it, yourself
When did you first become aware of her album, and how did that get to Ladyslipper?
That festival is where the idea for Ladyslipper was born. So I went to the festival, and before I even left the festival I was already thinking, "Oh, I think it would be really nice to have a mail order business where people could find the recordings of some of the people who are present here and performing here." I know that her LP was in our very very first catalog and we had 13 and we had 13 titles in it and Ginni's was one of them.
How about some personal memories of Ginni?"
I didn't know her really back then but I would just say that she seemed to have a real generosity of spirit and inclusiveness and just kind of down home, and warm and inviting, and sense of humor, and we had some contact over the years, around distribution and then a couple of years ago my partner and I were going to visit Maui. And we got in touch with her, and she, well at first she said 'of course, I'd love to get together, and let's meet on the beach," and then she was sick and she almost cancelled out of this, but finally she decided she was well enough, and she came on down to the beach, and she just met us there. And she had her guitar and you know we just sat there and we would talk and she would sort of intersperse you know the conversation with the songs she had written since she moved to Hawaii, and they were just absolutely beautiful. They just really really moved me. You know, then she handed me the CD, "Under Hawaiian Skies," and there they all were. I was really glad that they were recorded. And you know just having listened to them as the sun set over the ocean, you know it was a very special time and I'm glad that we were fortunate enough to have that time with her.
Laurie mentioned the song "Lady-O" from Ginni's "Long Time Friends" album, and yes, it was written by Judee Sill. Let's hear it
Ginni Clemmens - Lady-O
That was "Lady-O" and I followed it with the reprise of the title track from the "Long Time Friends" album, from 1976, on Ginni's Open Door Records label.
I've got a special treat for you now. The next song was recorded live at the second annual National Women's Music Festival. That festival was held in 1975 at the University of Illinois in Champaign. And the song Ginni Clemmens sang was one many of you fans of women's music will know. It's "Best Friend (The Unicorn Song)," which was written by Margie Adam. That means you're hearing a version recorded a year before Margie Adam recorded it herself on her first album, and also a year before it appeared on Ginni's "Long Time Friends" album.
Ginni Clemmens - best friend (the unicorn song) (1975)
That was "Best Friend (The Unicorn Song)" as sung by Ginni Clemmens at the 2nd National Women's Music Festival in 1975.
Ginni Clemmens was a quiet force in the Chicago folk scene for over 25 years, and then in the late 80s she moved to rural Indiana, and then a few years later moved again to Hawaii, where she continued to write and perform. In celebration of her 65th birthday in 2001 she released her seventh album, inspired by living on Maui. It was called "Underneath Hawaiian Skies."
While many of the songs are filled with her insight, humor and eloquence, she couldn't do an album without a sassy blues song. So that's what I'm going to use to close this tribute to her. It's called "Volcano Mama (Geothermal Blues)."
Ginni Clemmens - volcano mama (geothermal blues) (2001)
Again, that was "Volcano Mama (Geothermal Blues)" from her last album, "Underneath Hawaiian Skies."
While it is tragic that Ginni Clemmens was killed in a car accident, we are blessed that we have her music, and her spirit, to enrich us. She will be missed.
Ginni Clemmens - I can sing a rainbow (reprise)
Jamie Anderson ID
from Jan 2001 show
Next I've got a very special interview. At the end of January one of my favorite groups came to perform in Houston, the Kinsey Sicks. They bill themselves as America's Favorite Dragappella Beautyshop Quartet, and they can back that up, because they are incredible singers. Since 1997 they've released three CDs and they are all wonderful. They are probably most known for their comedy songs, parodies of songs you know but done just a little bit twisted. Before we get to the interview I want you to hear probably my favorite of their songs, "Gay Straight or Bi."
Kinsey Sicks-gay straight or bi
That was "Gay Straight Or Bi,"
from their second album, called "Boyz 2 Girlz." While they
were in town I was able to get an interview with two of the members
Ben Schatz, who plays Rachel, and Chris Dilley, who is Trampolina.
And, as you'll see, sometimes it was hard to tell whether it was Ben,
Rachel, Chris, or Trampolina answering.
Oh, I'm so glad you asked. The Kinsey Sicks actually formed by accident. We formed a few of us were friends; we went to a Bette Midler concert, New Year's Eve, 1993. And we went in glorious Andrews Sisters drag, because we thought they'd be lots of drag queens there, but it turned out that when we went that we were the only drag queens there, other than Bette. And we got tumultuous applause, and then there was this woman who came up to us and said she was a promoter, and would we sing somewhere? And we said, we don't sing. And then on the way home we were so transfixed and inspired by Bette's gloriousness that we started singing in the streets, and we sounded really good. So we stayed up until three in the morning, and decided to form a singing group, and that's how the group formed, completely by accident. And it's an accident that continues to this day.
How many different Kinseys have there been?
There have been I guess we're up to seven Kinsey's now, which is, considering it's been nine years. Two of us, Rachel and Winnie, are originals. We've been with the group for nine years. Trampolina replaced Vasolina, and you came in I came in four years ago, so Trampolina's four years old, but she looks even younger.
Who's the most talented?
Next question. Um Huh. You shouldn't be asking questions like that. I don't think either of us wants to say who's the most talented, but I think we would both agree that the two least talented members are Winnie and Trixie. I think it's Trixie and Winnie. Yes. Yes.
Do your alter egos take over?
Absolutely Not! I can't imagine! What do you mean "take over," I'm already in charge! No, I would say actually this is Ben speaking I have to say that Rachel gives Ben a fighting chance of being socially appropriate, because Rachel is one big old piece of work. And she gets a lot out of my system. Some would say not enough, but none the less, she does get a lot out of my system.
I think Trampolina's dippyness can definitely take over once in a while, but that was a problem before Trampolina even existed, so, yes, she can take over, absolutely it will probably happen within the next ten minutes.
How about for the other two, can you comment on their alter egos taking over?
Well, I'll have to say that the other two, they're both really a mess. Period. And so you know whether or not their alter egos take over, it's equally unattractive. Right, their therapists are making thousands and thousands of dollars on that issue alone. Undeservably, I should add. On both of their parts. [It's not working] No, no, no, no.
What is this connection between lawyers and drag divas? [note: Ben (Rachel) and Irwin (Winnie) are both lawyers]
Um, what is the connection between lawyers and drag divas? Absolutely none, although I am pleased to say that the Harvard Law School Alumni Magazine did run an article, just a few months ago, on Rachel and Ben, which I believe is a first for a Harvard Law School Alumni publication. So I'm very happy about that. The connection is, in a more deeply rooted way, that we're able to negotiate our own contracts. And, you know, you spend all that time in Law School and in a Law Office and wouldn't you want to become a dragappela diva yourself? My parents were deeply deeply humiliated by my decision to become a lawyer, and I finally gave in to their live-long dream of having a singing drag queen for a son. It was just family pressure. We're trying to get Ben and Rachel to really express their own views and not be affected by other people like that in the future.
To some of the listeners it may be obvious how you got your name, but to others it may not be, can you explain?
The name is based on the Kinsey scale of sexuality, which was developed in the 50s by Alfred Kinsey by Alfred Kinsey and the Kinsey School the Kinsey Report and it's a scale based on sexual experience. And the scale runs from 1 to 6, and 1 means if you're a 1 it means that you have had solely heterosexual experiences. If you're a 6, you've had solely homosexual experiences, so obviously 6 is a perfect score. So we decided to call ourselves the Kinsey Sicks, and it's spelled s-I-c-k-s, which is a nod to our virginal sense of humor
Rachel, what's you're favorite KS song?
My favorite KS my favorite Kinsey song is whatever I happen to be singing that makes people look at ME, ME, ME. No, there are so many. My favorite song is one that I'm backup in, and that is "Be A Slut." That just happens to be it. And it's not on any of our CDs, so there you have it. So be sure to come see us live, so you can see the song. Um, I love "I Wish You Peace." I love some of the more obscure ones like "Dead Princess." You know, there's songs I love to perform I love a lot of them. Yeah, sorry.
And you, Trampy? may I call you Trampy?
Yes, you may, all my friends do. My favorite song right now, like Ben, is a new song called "Rent-A-Homo," which is just so much fun to sing. It just feels really good to sing. We're starting to arrange more and more songs that really let us sing, sing, sing our little hearts out as well as have bitingly funny lyrics, and all of that other great stuff that the Kinsey Sicks are known for. But I also love some of the obscure things. There's a track on "Boyz 2 Girlz" called "Song For An Answering Machine" that I really, really like. And I also have a good time with some of the more standard Kinsey stuff like "Beaver" and "Titantic" and "Worry," the old standbys that we always put on stage for everybody's delight and horror.
I've asked your favorite song, this is not quite the same question, of what song are you most proud?
Well, as of late I think "Rent-A-Homo" is one that I think is really fabulous. Winnie and I did the arrangement on it, and arranging music is my primary creative role with the group at this point, and I think we did a pretty fantastic job on that one. "What You Never Told Me" is another one that Winnie and I arranged together and we are pretty proud of that one as well, as far as the arranging goes.
And Ben, Rachel?
I'm proud of some of the more daring stuff politically, or stuff that's daring in a variety of ways. I'm proud of "Life Size Jesus" and "Dead Princess" because they both take audiences in an unexpected direction. Usually what a song will do is start off being mock serious and then becomes funny. But what those two songs do is the opposite. They start off funny and they end up being poignant. That's harder to do. I'm proud of those. I'm proud of songs like "Rent-A-Homo," "Buy My Pride," which is a new song we've done. We're going to be arranging a new song called "All The White Faces," again fairly daring politically. And you know I love the opportunity to address in the songs things that people don't normally talk about. And we do it with humor, so it's not the kind of stuff that beats people up over the head. And I love being able to challenge audiences, and I think audiences really like the fact that we don't talk down to them, that we challenge them and that they have to really pay close attention and listen a few times
What's the group's most tasteless song?
Wow, there are a lot of contenders in that category. "Snatchmaker," "Anal Warts," "Herpes," what else? "Beaver" Uh, "Beaver's" not as tasteless as I guess not.
Well, I don't think I can play any of those, but let's take a musical break to hear my favorite song from their latest CD, "Sicks In The City." You'll know the tune, and their twist on it is both political and funny. It's called "Locked Out Of The Chapel Of Love."
Kinsey Sicks - locked out of the chapel of love
Is there any member who's the den mother?
Winnie. Absolutely. Because she's a pain in the ass. [laughter] Sometimes Rachel sneaks up on you. [That's a definitive statement] I guess so. Winnie is terribly, terribly organized, with the emphasis on the word terrible. She keeps us all in line, and when things go wrong with sound or whatever we travel so much that we're always in a new venue and inevitably something will be kooky and go a little awry and Winnie's always the one to take charge. And she's also wearing the pitch pipe, so she gives us the first note of every song, and makes sure everybody's ready before we start. She takes care of us, that Winnie.
Ben, tell us about your work with the Clinton White House.
Well, mostly it was just sex, and, uh, and quite frankly I didn't get paid enough for it and I've got several dresses with stains on it. In fact I'll be wearing one in tonight's show. [Is it blue?] No, it was blown. Grammar, darling, grammar. You just can't find radio interviewers like you used to. Is it blown? Not, is it blue? Frequently, but not frequently enough.
Oh, would you like a serious answer? [ah, yeah] Okay, back when I was pretending to be respectable and I was an attorney and I ran the gay and lent I was the executive director of the gay and lentil? I was the executive director of the gay & lesbian medical association, and before that I'd been an attorney doing AIDS discrimination issues and as a result of that work I was asked to write Clinton's gay rights policy stuff. Stuff, that was the official term, during the 1992 presidential campaign. And as a result of that I ended up getting offers for jobs, which I decided not to take, but then with the Clinton Administration, as opposed to with Denny's. And then I ended up serving on the Presidential AIDS Council as the chair of the discrimination committee, so that's and I did give Bill Clinton a copy of our "Dragappella" CD the night before he was impeached in the White House. That was probably the only time he laughed that day.
Trampy, how did you get in the group?
Hmmm, there are so many ways to answer that question, but I'll give you the serious answer, because that's the first one that comes to mind. I was actually performing next door to the Kinsey Sicks, in San Francisco, at the New Conservatory. And we shared a dressing room, and I was doing a musical, so they knew that I sang and that's when we became friends. That's when I became a fan of the group. And actually I have a copy of the first CD, "Dragappella" signed to me, Chris, as Chris the fan, with no indication that I would actually become a member of the group. And then a few months later I got a call because they were doing their new show, and one of the members wasn't going to be able to fit each performance into their schedule. So they needed an understudy. So they asked me to audition, so that's how I became an understudy. And then a few months later Jerry, who played Vasolina, left the group and I was asked to fill that spot. So that's how I became a member of the Kinsey Sicks.
Was there a casting couch?
No, and I'm really offended about that, I meant to tell you. I took it personally. There was a casting sling however. It's really comfortable, by the way. By the way do your viewers know that you don't wear any pants when you do these interviews? [They didn't until now] Oh, well I must say, you're bra matches your testicles. [laughter]
Who does the writing and arranging for the group?
I, this is Ben, I do most of the lyric writing and most of the writing of original songs but I am completely clueless when it comes to arranging. You know, like making a song sound half decent. And that is where Winnie and Trampolina take over, and they do a magnificient job. It's not as absolutely clear as that. You know, various people have written original songs and parodies. I've done a little help with arranging, but basically that's the primary breakdown, other than the breakdown that we all experience when we spend too much time together.
Ben, you've done most of the lyrics. [I have] How did you get the knack to do that?
Well, I'm a a a a eloquent. [Well said] Thank you. I come from a family of writers. You know I was a lawyer, so I just, I usually speak words and sometimes I write them. Rachel really has a way with words. Yes, I love to write. For me the writing is as much fun as the performing. I just you know, having it was something I always used to do but I didn't have a vehicle for it and it's one of the things that keeps me really excited about the group is that there's a host of new things that can be written about that no one else has been tasteless enough to tackle before
Who does the press releases?
They vary, sometimes it is Winnie, sometimes it is I. I mean generally we don't do a whole lot of press releases, we, you know, we have our announcements on emails. Oh by the way, how do people get on our email list? Oh, they check out www KinseySicks dot com. Oh, what was that again? I'm so glad you asked. Yes, I didn't hear it, sorry. It's KinseySicks dot com, k-I-n-s-e-y s-I-c-k-s dot com. And the email list is really fun to be on. We get lots of responses that it's the most entertaining spam you could ever get.
It is, I can vouch for that. Are you planning a new CD right now?
We have enough material for a new CD. We have enough material for two new CDs. So, it's just a question of when we have the time. We're on the road so much now. I mean, fortunately the world is full of tasteless people. We've now, we've now sort of just stopped inflicting ourselves on U.S. citizens and we've been performing in Canada and Mexico and Europe. And so we're constantly traveling, and it makes it harder to record CDs, but we know we'll be doing another one relatively soon.
a Christmas one?
Yes, we do have a Christmas one in the future and we do have another, another batch of our fabulous songs. I'm really excited actually. Out three CDs are wonderful and I think they just keep getting, our next crop is going to be really exciting and impressive. The fourth one's going to be smashing!
Of the songs you've not recorded, which are your favorites?
Ah, well, we've talked about "Rent-A-Homo" and "Buy My Pride," which is a parody of 'By My Side" from "Godspell." "Be A Slut" is a Trixie original. It's a gospel number that's rousing and wonderful. I love singing "Don't Rain On My Buffet." Yeah, Rachel does a parody of "Don't Rain On My Parade" that's really wonderful. I do a spoof on "The Way We Were" called "Herpes" that's about, well, it's about herpes, actually. It's hard for me to remember what are the songs we haven't recorded, I have to sit We also have a batch of ones that we've had for years and years and years that for one reason or another just never got onto a CD, so we'll mine those as well, cause there's some great, great oldies that haven't been [Does it blur together? Did we record this?] Yeah, it does, at this point. Yeah, at this point almost everything blurs together. Including your eye makeup, let me fix that. Thank you. Yeah, there you go.
What's your favorite interview question?
Oh, my favorite interview question is 'what's your favorite interview question.' Aw. [And, Trampy?] Hmm, I'll go with that for now. I'll have to think about that and jump in. Actually, my real favorite interview question is 'How can our listeners arrange to have sex and pay you for it, Rachel?' Just send an email to Kinsey Sicks dot com with photo that's right, that's right and payment offers oh that's not legal. You don't have to pay me. I'll accept food. Can you say the F word on your show? [No] Oh, darn, I love the word fruit. Apples are really good for you. Oh, I wasn't supposed to say it, I'm sorry. No, No. I'm sorry. Apples. Can I say that? The A word?
That's the last question I have. I've been trying to figure out a way for you guys to do a jingle for my show and I'm not creative enough to think how you're going to get Queer Music Heritage into a jingle. That's a challenge.
Well, ladies and gentlemen,
you should listen to Queer Music Heritage. This is the Kinsey Sicks
ordering you that, after you go on our website and buy all our merchandise
and come see our show. What's our website again? www dot Kinsey Sicks
k-I-n-s-e-y s-I-c-k-s dot com. After you do all that you should listen
to Queer Music Heritage.
Kinsey Sicks Medley