Script for QMH, August 2002
My feature artist this evening is one of my gay music heroes. And I'm very pleased to say that in recent years I've gotten to know him and am honored to consider him a friend. His name is Dan Martin. Dan and his lover, Michael Biello, have been writing together for 27 years, and have been creating music that is both heartfelt and relevant to our lives. A number of their songs were inspired by the devastation of the AIDS crisis, and reflect the pain many of us felt as we went through losing so many of those around us. That was the inspiration of the first song you'll hear, as it reaches out through the pain for healing and hope. It's from Dan & Michael's 1992 release, "Human Being." The song is called "The Dance."
Dan Martin - the dance (1995)
From 1992, that was "The Dance." In June I interviewed Dan Martin in New York, when I was there for the Outmusic Awards. I feel one of Dan's major contributions to our queer music community was in founding the organization Outmusic, some twelve years ago. I asked Dan what his vision is for the future of Outmusic.
I would just like to keep building the community of queer music, and the ways in which we support each other and become more visible to the world at large, and also attract more and more support from the general public. It's so interesting to me that Outmusic is still flourishing. It's a project that I created 12 years ago, and it meant a lot to me personally at the time, and I was very interested and somewhat frustrated in my own push to get my music heard, which was openly queer music. It's really gratifying and interesting to me that all of these years later it still means so much to so many people, and also that there's still the need for this kind of support and visibility. I mean, I think it's good for any trade or any group of people to have a support network, but I feel that there's so much that still needs to be done in the world, in the terms of having queer music in the general consciousness, and something that is supported by even the gay community at large, and the general music community.
Thinking about the Outmusic Awards, are there any of the awards that are special to you?
I think the awards are all special, I mean, as a songwriter I'm especially interested in that award, because I think the writing of songs, especially the writing of lyrics is at the heart of queer music, and at the heart of what we do when there's an amazing song that has out lyrics. So I think the songwriting award and the Out Song of the Year award are probably especially are of interest to me.
How would you describe your musical style.
I like to think of my musical style as coming from an emotional place. So, I try to infuse all of my music with emotional truth. I know that's not really a style, but because I work in a variety of styles I sometimes write in classical art song kind of style. I think it's partly my romanticism and emotional connection that I feel defines what I do.
Can you tell us how you write a song?
I've had several artists say that they were just the vehicle for the music, that it sort of came through them
Well, the thing about being a vehicle that I think is really, has truth, and I think for a lot of artists, is because there is in general being an artist the necessity of opening the space between you and your creativity, however you define your creativity, whether that coming from an internal place or the spirit above, or wherever the spirit lives, and there definitely is a process of opening those channels and trying to get out of the way of what's coming through. I know a lot of times when I sit at the piano I will play familiar things for a while. I might play through a song I've already written, an old song, or some song of somebody elses, or some riff I've been working on for a while. And there's usually a place, after I've quote unquote warmed up, where I can let go of what I think I'm supposed to be doing, and just let the spirit come through me, into my hands, into my voice, and that's usually when the best stuff happens.
Do you then present Michael with the music and say here's what I was feeling, are there lyrics that this music suggests?
Sometimes I do that. We have written some songs music first, but it's much more practical to start with lyric. Often the way Michael and I work is that he will give me a lyric, maybe a page or a couple pages of lyrics, and I'll look through it while I'm at the piano, and I'll play some things and see if lyrics jump out at me, and I'll find one section in the song that really speaks to me musically and which I feel I can express, and I'll set that section to music, but it may only be a fraction of what he's written. And then I'll give it back to him and I'll say, and I'll play it for him and I'll say, this is what feels like a song to me, and then he will usually build, based on that he'll let go of much of what he's already done, and just go with the kernel that inspired some music some music in me, and then a song will come forth out of that.
Of what song that you've written are you the most proud?
It's hard to choose one, it really is hard to choose one, it's almost like saying of which of your children are you the most proud. Um, if I could name a couple at the top of my list would be "You Do Not Know Me." I'm very very proud of that song, and I'm very proud of "In My Body." Right now I'd say those are two of my, two of my favorites. The think I love about "You Do Not Know Me" is that it's an odd it's very unique and it's a very successful fusion of theatre and pop. To me it feels very much like a pop song, but it's not really like anything that most people know as pop, but it has these stories in that seem to move people, and these three different characters that we speak about, or whether it's one character or three characters, it's sort of a little unclear. But it's just feels original, it feels very original to me, and I'm proud of that.
And that happens to be my personal favorite among Dan's songs, here is "You Do Not Know Me
Dan Martin - you do not know me
Dan said the other song he was most proud of is "In My Body"
In my body was written for our musical, "Fairy Tales," which we then renamed "Breathe," for various reasons that I won't go into at this moment, but ah
There is already a musical called Fairy Tales.
Well, there you go, that was why (laughs) ah although I think "Fairy Tales" was possibly a better title for the show, but we did change it, and "In My Body" was very much influenced by work that Michael and I had done in studying erotic spirituality, also influenced by AIDS, as we couldn't help but be and still be, but for about ten years very much so. We worked with a group called Body Electric and did a lot of workshops with them, who brought circles of men together to sort of look at the emotional underpinnings of our sexuality. And this was written for a character in "Breathe" who is a touch healer and who expresses himself through touch and has lived the life where he's been shamed and taught about, well taught about shame, as we all are in the culture. So it's a real celebration and personal liberation song for him, for that character.
Dan Martin - in my body
The version you heard of that song was from the 1996 recording called "Chosen Family," and I think it's a very special album. I asked Dan to tell us about that release.
"Chosen Family" is a collaboration between Grant King, myself and Robin Burdulis. And we formed a band, I guess, although it was really a little different than that in that we each were performers and writers, and we came together to share concerts, and back each other up on each of our songs, so for several years we performed together as Chosen Family, and toured a bit.
Was it always the same material
No, it changed. We would add in stuff and try new things and a lot of songs that I was working on at the time for "Fairy Tales/Breathe" were worked on in Chosen Family, including "In My Body." And Grant would come to the table with some wonderful new songs. We worked on a lot of songs of his, together, "On the Dream Side of the River," a lot of the stuff that was on his first CD.
I love that recording
Oh, thank you (laughs), thanks, thank you.
Also on "Chosen Family" was one of the few songs he's recorded that he didn't write, but he did take it to a new level, and you'll see what I mean. The song is called "One Boy," and it came from the 1962 musical "Bye Bye Birdie." Ann-Margret sings it in the movie and here's just a short clip of it, so you can compare to Dan's version.
Ann-Margret-one boy (1962)
As I said, Dan takes the song "One Boy" somewhere else entirely, and before he starts singing he intros it.
Dan Martin-one boy (1996)
From "One Boy" I want to stay with the Chosen Family album for one more song. This one features all three of the artists on that concert recording. The song is called "What We Believe Is Right" and is sung by Dan Martin, Grant King and Robin Burdulis.
Dan, Grant, Robin-what we believe is right (1996)
QMH IDs-Grant King
What was the first recording you were involved with?
I guess that would be playing flute on Tom Wilson Weinberg's "All American Boy." That's probably the first recording that that I did.
I think that was from 1982. Where was this?
We were both in Philadelphia, and making openly gay music, and we would meet and perform together occasionally on each other's material. There was a coffeehouse, a gay coffeehouse in Philadelphia that would have Friday night performances. And Tom was generous enough to ask me to participate in his recording.
In addition to releasing several albums, Dan & Michael have been perhaps more involved in writing musicals and theatre productions. Some of the earlier ones included "Two Men Dancing," "X Posed" and "Homo Love Song" and I asked Dan about two recent productions, one called "Q" and the other called "Breathe"
"Q" is a review of songs that Michael and I have written over the last um 25 years. We actually wrote it as a 25th anniversary present to ourselves. And we were lucky enough to have a theatre in Chicago, the Baliwick, that wanted to produce it. So we put together, we went through our trunk, and we put together 16 original songs that reflected both our relationship and our coming out and our love and the AIDS crisis, and all the things that we had been through during the course of our relationship and put this show together that expresses that. And then along the way we wrote a couple of extra songs for it. And it did get produced in Chicago and went very well, and we're about to produce it in Philadelphia this fall, and hopefully, in other places.
One of the productions of the musical "Q" was at the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre in Chicago in 2000. Dan sent me a recording of the show. Now this was recorded live at one of the performances, so you'll hear the audience laughing in places, but I think you'll still enjoy a sampling of the song "Table 3."
Q cast member-table 3 (2000)
That was a bit of "Table 3" from the musical "Q." Dan, what about your show, "Breathe"?
"Breathe" is another musical of ours. It's actually seven short musicals that range from 5-minute pieces to 20-minute pieces. And it's basically about queer family, and the power of gay people within their families and their chosen families. And I love "Breathe." It involved a lot of really beautiful experiences for me, including a lot of showings in New York and working with wonderful people on it, wonderful musical directors, and actors and singers and a wonderful summer in Provincetown, in 1996 performing it. And then a really fun couple of months in Chicago with it a couple of years back.
At the same theatre?
Yes, "Breathe" was the first show that the Baliwick did of ours, and it went on to win the After Dark Award for Outstanding New Work, and was really well received. It was a great, it's wonderful to have your work heard and appreciated and when you're writing musicals it's a lot of writing and preparing for years at a time and then when it finally gets produced and people get to hear the music, it's really gratifying.
And they are working on a new musical, called "David's Heart." I've heard one of the songs from it, and I think it's very nice, but you can judge for yourselves. Now this song has not been officially recorded. I heard it sung at an Outmusic Open Mic in June, and I just had my mini-disc recorder running from a few feet away, so this is a very amateur recording. It was done in a club, and you'll hear a little crowd noise, but I wanted to share the song with you. Dan is playing keyboards on it and it's sung by Bill Gross. The song is called "More of You"
Bill Gross-more of you (2002)
Again, that was a live recording of Bill Gross singing Dan's song "More Of You."
And, another side of Dan's talent is in producing albums for others. I mentioned that he and Grant King appeared together on the concert recording "Chosen Family," well, he also has been involved in producing Grant's two CDs.
Yeah, Grant is another gem of a human being, and I think he's so talented and such a great writer and such a beautiful voice, oh my God. And I worked on his first CD, "Let Love Out," but with another team of producers, so I produced I don't remember if it was four or five songs off that CD. And when he did "Bodies of Water," I was lucky enough to produce the entire album. And Grant is another person who really loves working with the Outmusic community, and it's part of his generosity in finding ways to know the different artists in the community, and find ways for them to solo on his record, or play bass or sing backup, and so, working with Grant is the joy of working with him and all of his talent, and also working with the community because that's one of his commitments.
And, since I know Dan is so modest I knew I'd want to get Grant's comments on Dan as a producer.
Well, I asked Dan to be my producer completely. I had worked with him on my first album, "Let Love Out," and I liked his work so much on the five songs that he had produced on the first album that I wanted him to produce the entirety of it, of "Bodies of Water." And he graciously agreed and it was a joy, it was a total joy. He's an amazing producer. He's very sensitive to the artist, because of his own background as a songwriter and a musician. And his classic training, he's a wonderful pianist. He brought so many ideas and just a real a real brilliance to work with.
Another artist whose album Dan produced is Amy Fix. Dan, tell us about working with Amy.
Well, that was such a wonderful experience, such an honor. I just think Amy is so talented and so original. And I think she went about her recording in a really smart way. She took years to do that recording, and she kept it very simple, and focused on the songs and ..I mean that was partly my influence, but I was just thrilled in my relationship working with her. Part of what happened with that is she had been recording her songs to make a record, but she hadn't been using a producer. She just went into the studio and the engineer she was working with was kind of giving her feedback. And she listened back to the material and she was not happy with what she was hearing. So she called me, cause we had worked together years ago, I had helped her when I first heard her at Outmusic I was so impressed, I had helped her make a tape, a cassette tape at the time of a few of her songs. So I was honored to be called back many years later to help with the CD, and it you know Amy's record, or even if you don't it's a really amazing blend of very witty comedy songs and reflections on being queer, and society, and also some songs about her history of abuse, of incest within her family. And it sounds like it can't work, but it does work, partly because of her spirit and humor.
I think the production on that album
was wonderful, the clarity was amazing
And, again, I was able to get the artist to talk about working with Dan. Here is Amy Fix with her comments.
Dan Martin is like my guardian angel. He was a mentor from early on in my music making and he came along with this project was kind of in a stuck place, and he pulled it out, and just brought out the best in me as someone who's a singer and someone communicating important messages. He brought out wonderful work from Sam Fenster, the guitar player, and he guided, guided the steering of the ship
I think it's a tribute to both of
their talents that Amy's CD, called "Spoon," recently won
an Outmusic Award for Outstanding Debut Recording by a Female. With
my next question for Dan, I think I kind of surprised him. Dan, who's
the person behind the music?
Okay, do you have a favorite interview question?
I think my favorite is one of the ones you started with, which how do you write a song. I love being asked that question because I just love doing that, it's one of the things that I love doing, more than anything in the whole world. And when I get asked it, I remember and have to sort of express what it is for me, and it makes me just want to go do it.
I saved one of Dan's most powerful songs to close the show. But, before we hear it, I want to thank you all for tuning in, and of course I want to thank Dan Martin for the wonderful and thoughtful answers to all my questions. And thanks to Grant King and Amy Fix for their comments. And, please visit my website, at www.queermusicheritage.com, because I've recently added the ability to hear my shows on-demand, as they stream into your computer. So, if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write to me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston, and I'll be back on the 4th Monday of next month with another installment of Queer Music Heritage.
Now, my closing song is called "Lay Your Burden Down," and it appears on a various artists compilation from 1995 called "A Love Worth Fighting For." That's a wonderful compilation, and if you asked me the question, "JD, if I could buy only one gay & lesbian compilation CD, what would it be," I'm sure I'd tell you that one without hesitation. So, it contains Dan & Michael's song, which Dan sings with the Lavender Light Gospel Choir. Here is Dan describing it.
"Lay Your Burden Down" was written in the beginning of the AIDS crisis, at least in Michael's and my awareness. And it was really a search to express all of this pain, and do it in way that's hopeful. There was a real need from both of us to express something, create some kind of an anthem that was very positive. We were both going through kind of emotional healing places dealing with healing from people we had lost, and a time of life that seemed to be disappearing. And at the time we were also kind of hanging out and listening, hanging out with and listening to, Lavender Light, the gay and lesbian gospel group. And I think that wanting to do something that captured the spirit that we heard from them of a gospel feeling, was part of what was going on there also.
Here is Dan Martin, with the Lavender Light Gay & Lesbian Gospel Choir, singing "Lay Your Burden Down"
Dan Martin & Lavender Light-lay your burden down (1995)