August 2013: The Script
Kate Reid - Queer Across Canada (2013)
This is JD Doyle for Queer Music Heritage and that's one of the queerest songs I've heard in a while. It sounds like that artist doesn't know any straight people. But it's all part of a plan, and the song, and the CD it's from, are called "Queer Across Canada," and it is by Kate Reid. Now, I've been a big fan of hers for a number of years, and every one of her three previous albums is a treat to me, and so is this one. But this one is a special, so I wanted Kate to tell us about it.
JD: Kate, welcome to Queer Music Heritage.
Kate Reid: Thanks for having me on the show, JD, great to talk with you again.
JD: And obviously, that's a perfect show for you to be on. Do you consider yourself a queer music activist?
KR: Yes, I do, yeah, because...initially I didn't start out that way. I was just writing songs for myself, and then it became clear to me that the songs were resonating with other people and there was a sort of activism to whatever I was singing about because it was outside of the quote unquote mainstream, if you will, and sort of the mainstream idea of sexuality and gender and those kinds of things.
JD: The new CD is being billed as a "pioneering collection for queer families." Could you talk about that?
KR: Yes, the new CD is called "Queer Across Canada." Of course your listeners just heard the title track there. And it's sprung out of an idea that I had, well, several ideas. My partner and I were walking through the festival grounds of the Vancouver Folk Fest a number of years ago, in 2009. I had just performed, and we were just a walking through and ran into an old acquaintance of hers pulling two young toddlers in a wagon behind her. So there were talking for a while and then my partner commented about how much the two kids looked alike, and then she asked the woman "are they both yours?" And the woman laughed and said, "no, they're not mine but they have the same donor dad." And so I just started to think about all the possibilities of how we in the queer community create family.
So that started me thinking, and that coupled with conversations with my partner's two young children at the time...now they're a bit older, 10 and 13, but at the time they were quite a bit younger...about sort of their experiences at school because they have lesbian moms and kids not understanding how that works and how it's possible, and how come you don't have a dad, and why do you have two moms and that sort of thing, so where it came from, I wanted to give voice to some kids who are growing up and families who are different from what we expect them to be and what society thinks the norm should be, so that our kids could see themselves reflected in music as well.
JD: Before we get to far, yeah, they just heard the song, but talk about the song "Queer Across Canada," I think it's kind of a "This Land Is Your Land" for queer folks.
KR: Yeah, I just wanted to hit all the provinces and territories in Canada. Thank God I don't live in the states, cause that would have been a really long song, right? So I just wanted to include all of the parts of Canada. Queer people live everywhere. We don't just live in major cities, in queer villages in major cities
JD: I understand you did a number of interviews, across the country, could you explain that?
KR: Yes, I did a lot of interviews. I interviewed about 74 people, many of which were in the same family, so we did one interview with a number of people at the same time. So I started the process of interviewing, and I interviewed kids of queer parents from...the youngest interviewee I had was four years old, which was really awesome, and then all the way up to a 39-year old woman who had a lesbian mom, in the 70s, and every age in between. And then I also interviewed the children's parents, so I got a broad range of people there and perspectives. Most of the songs were written from the perspective of the child, the youth who is living in the queer household.
JD: Do people get that right away that these are not your experiences, that you are singing for other people?
KR: Ah, I'm not sure, I think so. Most of the people who buy the album either know me or they are familiar with the project.
JD: Well, I don't like to go too long without playing some music, so could you tell us about the song "Cool Enough to Be Gay"?
KR: Sure, my partner has a gay male friend who came out...you know, he was married, his kids were in their teenage years. He and his wife separated because he finally realized he couldn't be in the closet anymore, so he came out to his wife, the separated, but they didn't tell the boys till...I'm not sure how many years later...a number of years later, and then they decided to have a family meeting. And so, when I was interviewing the guys, and they're now in their twenties, one of the sons was talking about how...you know, they called a family meeting and he's going over to his mom's house, and he's trying to figure out what's this meeting going to be about, he was going through all these different reasons as to why this meeting was called, and trying to figure it out, and one of the last things he thought about was, what if dad's gay, what if dad's going to tell us he's gay. And then he sort of dismissed it, and thought, no, he's not cool enough to be gay...his exposure to gay men was these young hip dudes on TV, right, trendy looking. And he thought my dad's just like a quote unquote normal person, he knew him as his father. So he couldn't quite imagine that, so that's where the phrase "cool enough to be gay" comes from. I thought that was a really good hook for the song, so that's the title.
Kate Reid - Cool Enough to Be Gay (2013)
JD: Tell us about the song "Not Alone."
KR: Yeah, "Not Alone" is...it's centered around kids getting picked on and teased in school, and harassed because other kids can't understand why their parents would be gay or why their parents would lesbian or transgender or queer, so they target our kids and it's that whole notion about how queerness is so not celebrated and not accepted and not tolerated. And I don't like to use the word tolerated but it really isn't tolerated in lots of schools and it's not talked about and it's not on the table, so it's just sort of a song about that. It's a song about how this kid sort of deals with it and what's happening. And one of my friends when he first heard the song said "why do you have to make it end on a positive note, why can't you just let that song be a tragic song?" And I really thought about that for a while, and thought, that's a good point, and said, well, I really do want to have a sense of hope at the end of each song. But it was really important for me to think about that piece, and think, no, I really want to make this into a song where this kid actually rises up and takes charge of the situation, and isn't a victim, and moves forward.
Kate Reid - Not Alone (2013)
JD: Well, this is not just a CD. This is going into an education resource.
KR: Yeah, I was a teacher before I became a musician, and so I have a teaching degree, etc, and it dawned on me about, I guess it was the winter of last year, that I should make a teaching resource kit to go along with the album that teachers can use in school, to touch on some of these issues, and issues of diverse families and issues of gender and sexual identity and things like that in the classroom. So I've been developing this resource kit to accompany the CD that uses the songs as a starting point for discussions, activities, exercises in the classrooms.
JD: So therefore if there are teachers who want to deal with the topics and don't really know how to approach it, this will get them started.
KR: The great thing about this kit is I'm designing it so they can do a whole bunch of activities around a song, that starts from very basic to more project-style things. Or they can just...here's a song...what do you think about it. What do you think about the content and the story in the song, and how can we talk about it in the classrooms.
JD: Have you been performing these songs yet, and if so, is there a song from the new CD that gets the biggest reaction?
KR: In terms of response...I don't know, I think people like different songs for different reasons, so I don't notice a one bigger reaction to a song than another, people just have their own tastes.
JD: Well, I have some favorites I want to ask about. My very favorite is "Boys Who Wear Dresses."
KR: I'm glad you like it. It's a song that I wrote about a young boy...a former partner of mine from many years ago, she had this little nephew, who came from this sort of tough dad and mom family, and lived out in the country...and he was built like a little tank, he was just really strong, sturdy, solid little guy. I think he was about five at the time. And he used to come over to our house and loved dressing up in, sort of our girly clothes, dresses, he just loved to do that. And it was a real struggle for his parents, because of course it really challenged his father with this idea of what a boy should be like, and what he expected his son to be like. So it's sort of a tribute to him and his fascination and his desire to want to be more like what he thought a girl should be like; and he loved the clothes, he loved dressing up in all of that stuff, so it's sort of a tribute to him.
Kate Reid - Boys Who Wear Dresses (2013)
JD: Another unusual topic is covered in "My Radical Donor Dad."
KR: Yes, and that is a song about, was written specifically about my partner's son. He told me that some boys when they found out he didn't have a father, and that he had two moms, they couldn't quite wrap their heads around it, and they said, how can you have two moms, how come you don't have a dad. And his response was, I do have a dad, I have a donor dad. And the boys, of course they started teasing him, and started calling it donut dad, you know, donut dad, donut dad. Which is of course very traumatic for a person in grade three, so Ben was quite traumatized by this when he was quite young, and I wanted to write a song for him.
Kate Reid - My Radical Donor Dad (2013)
JD: The song "Altona, Manitoba" could have been written about just about just anywhere in North America.
KR: Yes, it could, yeah, and that's also a true story. That was not an interview. I saw that in the paper while I recording the project, and wanted to write a song about it because it is, like you said, it could be any school in any district, in any part of North America, where a couple of teachers are trying to be forward-thinking and inclusive and supportive of their students, potentially queer students, queer families in their schools, and there's a huge backlash about it. So that was sort of my sarcastic little bent on it.
Kate Reid - Altona, Manitoba (2013)
JD: Another topic you seldom hear about is covered in the song "Straighter Than an Arrow"
KR: Yes, so "Straighter Than an Arrow" was the story about this young woman who grows up with a lesbian mom, who is a lesbian feminist, and as she's growing up, there's all this...she's surrounded by feminism, lesbianism, all these...it talks about it in the song, there's rainbow stickers everywhere, and she talks about going to the Michigan Womyn's Festival, and there's all this lesbian lifestyle, feminist lifestyle stuff happening around her, and she struggles with her own sexuality, and she eventually realizes that, wait a second, "I'm actually straight," thinking that she would be lesbian like her mother. So the song is about her coming out to her mother about being straight, and being worried about that, because thinking her mother's not going to accept her, because she's not a lesbian like her mother. So it's the typical story of a gay person coming out to a parent, but it's a flip on that.
Kate Reid -
Straighter Than an Arrow (2013)
I made that a triple play, and after "Straighter Than an Arrow," you heard "I Am a Tomboy" and "That's So Gay."
JD: Are there any songs that we haven't talked about yet that would be really important for you to discuss?
KR: I'm really a fan of "The Mothers' Day / Fathers' Day Conundrum" because...two reasons...I just like the fact that it's sort of a hip-hoppy spoken word piece, but also, that song was written for my partner's daughter, and she talked about that whole idea about how when Mother's Day and Father's Day comes around, it's confusing for her, when she was younger I'm sure it was, because she had two moms that she had to make Mother's Day cards for in school, and no father, so it was always a bit of an issue for her. And that whole idea about teachers needing to be more sensitive around those types of things, about kids that potentially don't have a mother, don't have a father, or have two moms or two dads or those kinds of things. The other piece about that is of course that my partner's daughter Jessica is singing on that song as well, which is cool.
Kate Reid - The Mothers' Day / Fathers' Day Conundrum (2013)
This is JD Doyle for Queer Music Heritage and it's always a treat to interview Kate Reid, especially this time for such an innovative project. I had such a good time talking with her and I also got to ask her about some of the music from her first three CDs, and no, that won't fit into this hour segment, but my philosophy when interviewing is that I'm capturing history and it needs preserved and shared. So on my site there's an interview, Kate Reid, Part 2. And again, that's at queermusicheritage.com. You can also find out a lot more about her at www.KateReid.net, and Reid is spelled r-e-i-d. And I've got just a little more to talk with her about in this part, and to get to the closing song.
JD: I think this CD's important.
KR: Thank you, I think so too, but I'm really excited to see where it's going to go. I'm excited to see where it's going to...how it's going to end up in classrooms up here. I am going to contact GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) and see if they're interested in looking at it or putting it out there.
JD: You picked "We Are Family" as the new CD's closing track, and it fits, but I am wondering if you considered making the lyrics more queer?
KR: I didn't. I just wanted to keep it the way it was. I wanted to keep it familiar to people, and have it be a sing-along for people, and pay homage, I guess, to Sister Sledge, the band that brought that song out into the open for all of us. What I did do was to add the queer youth choir, our kids, of a bunch of kids from our friends' families, and just had lots of fun with it.
Kate Reid - We Are Family (2013)
This is JD Doyle and that song is called "Hot Dog." It's from the 2011 CD by Kate Reid, and welcome to Part 2 of my interview with her. In this hour we'll cover the music from her first three recordings, spanning 2006 through 2011.
JD: I interviewed you a few years ago and you described your music as "dyke folk, with a bit of a kick," do you go by that?
KR: (laughs) Yeah, I would say so, yeah, sure. Definitely has a kick to it, I think
JD: From all of your albums, prior albums, is there a song that's the overall crowd favorite, one that you dare not leave out of a show?
KR: That's a good question cause I play such different audiences, so I would have to say that "Co-Op Girls," from my first album is definitely a lesbian favorite. "My Baby's in the Beer Tent" is also a live favorite. And "Captain Cupcake & the Cambie Hotel" has definitely become a requested song, so there's a few.
JD: Well, I planned to ask about "Captain Cupcake," so could you talk about it?
KR: Yes, the song "Captain Cupcake & the Cambie Hotel" comes from an actual man I met at bar gig that I did a few years ago. I was on tour for my second album. And I pulled up to this bar. It was really dive-y, sort of a trashy bar in sort of not a nice, not a clean part of town. And I was a little worried about the gig, because I thought, well, I'm a lesbian singer going into this bar. There's potential for some weirdness to happen, so I was a little leery of that, and I got in there and there was this band sound-checking, cause I was the first act and they were coming after me, and the band was called Suzy Wedge & The Waves, and they were sort of a punk rock surfer kind of band and Suzy Wedge just happened to be a transgender woman, and I thought, "right on, this is going to be okay.
So I set up, did my sound check and then played my set, and the whole time I was playing my set there was this guy in the audience, sort of dead center from me, and just really loving my music, and as I was playing my songs I kept watching him, he was just carrying on and clapping, super excited and enthusiastic. And I just kept thinking, wow, what's the deal with this guy, there's something going on here, cause on the outside, he just looks like your average sort of quote unquote normal guy, and came off the street and was having a good time drinking in the bar. And then when I was done with my set he came up and was very excited and he told me the story about how he was a tugboat driver. But the interesting part of that is that he was a cross-dressing tugboat driver. So he was more than excited to hear my music about gender bending and different kinds of identities and things like that, so it quite resonated with him.
JD: And here's "Captain Cupcake & the Cambie Hotel."
Kate Reid - Captain Cupcake & the Cambie Hotel (2011)
In that last answer you heard Kate mention two other crowd favorites, so I'm going to let you hear those as well. From her first album, "Comin' Alive" is "Co-Op Girlz," and from "Doing It For the Chicks" is "My Baby's in the Beer Tent Again."
Kate Reid -
Co-Op Girlz (2006)
JD: Well, that song is from your third CD. I want to back up a bit. The first song I played by you was from your first album, "Comin' Alive," from 2006, and I loved, right from the first track you are out of the closet. Was it a hard decision to decide to start your recording career as an out artist?
KR: No, not at all, and it's hard for me to explain that. I didn't even think about it. Of course I've thought about it over the years. I think, why do I sing all these songs about gender and sexual identity, my own outing, and my own healing and discovery process, but I didn't think about it at the beginning, I just did it. It was sort of like, these are the song about me and who I am and here's what I'm singing about, and this is the lens that I write through and I just put them out there.
JD: Well, that song was called "Starving Artist," could you talk just a moment about it.
KR: Yes, it's a true story, yeah, just sort of me laughing about myself and some of the places in my life that probably weren't very successful like then my love life and at that time my music career, as I was just starting...you know, not having any money, being the starving artist as it were, and incidents like these sort of trip ups in love and that kind of thing, so it's sort of about all of those things.
Kate Reid - Starving Artist (2006)
JD: Well, your second CD was a natural for me, it was called "I'm Just Warming Up" and two songs were perfect for my shows, the first one being, of course, "The Only Dyke at the Open Mic."
KR: Again, another true story, which of course I embellish. The crux of that story was of course the guy at the end who was at the open mic that night and when I was done singing he approached me and said, "wow, I sure wish I was a lesbian"...which was the hook of the song. That was where wrote the song, where I got the...oh, my gosh, I have to write a song about this, this is so hilarious.
Kate Reid - The Only Dyke at the Open Mic (2009)
I want to slip in a treat, a song about Kate Reid, done by a friend of hers, Tim Readman, and Kate backs him up on guitar and vocals. It's called "The Only Man."
Tim Readman - The Only Man (2010)
JD: The second song I love, among many, from that CD is "Emergency Dyke Project."
KR: And again, it was based on a true story where my partner and I were driving beside the Chilliwack River, and we were going camping and we saw along the river, I think it was late Spring, early Summer and there was a lot of run-off and the Chilliwack River gets quite high, and there was all the sandbags and sort of this emergency dyke project built around the sides of the river, and there was this big sign and of course I saw that and I thought, there's a lot of parallels between that and my life, as a songwriter and as a lesbian, and so I just sort of started to write the song right there. So it was a good inspiration moment.
Kate Reid - Emergency Dyke Project (2009)
JD: Well, 2011 came your third album, "Doing It for the Chicks," I tend to pick your upbeat political songs, but I want to ask about a slower one, what was behind "When I Was a Little Boy."
KR: Yeah, "When I Was a Little Boy" was...that song was interesting cause it took me a long time to write that song. It was based on a dream that I had many years ago, and whenI just basically figured out what the dream was about it was clear to me it was about a little soul part of mine, of course a little boy part of mine that I had left behind as I grew into an adult woman. Because as a young child I was more tomboy-esque and I sort of played that part of being a boy a lot of the times in my play with my friends. So it's sort of a song about coming of age into that and moving beyond that and going into the whole girlhood, and realizing that as a teenager I had to conform to all these standards to be a girl and be a woman. And then, realizing in the end I can still reclaim that part of myself that...like a boy.
Kate Reid - When I Was a Little Boy (2011)
JD: How true is the song "Closet Femme"?
KR: Ah, it's very true, you know, JD, a lot of my songs are based in a very large kernel or a whole piece of corn of truth, you know, yeah, it's true, I don't know how to describe it. I struggle with to this day...like if, I'm going out with my partner in public, and we go on a date, I definitely want to wear something more girly. She tends...she doesn't tend, she is more butchy, she's butchy...but if there's a chance that I'll run into somebody who knows me as "Kate Reid the musician," I don't dress like that, I won't...I don't want anyone to see me in those clothes, so, it's a really odd and interesting and funny sort of dichotomy or something.
JD: Sounds like a closet princess.
JD: When you perform that, do you have people come up to you and say, I feel that too?
KR: Yeah, lots of gay guys like that (laughs)...it appeals to the gay boys, which is cute.
Kate Reid - Closet Femme (2011)
Again, that was "Closet Femme" from the CD "Doing It For the Chicks," from 2011. If you got this far I want to thank you for indulging me in checking out this two hour segment on Kate Reid. And I have one more question for her.
JD: The title track for "Doing It For the Chicks," is there a story behind the story?
KR: What do you mean, behind the story?
JD: Ah, has the song worked?
KR: Ah....oh, I see...no. It's totally...no, it's...I wrote that song when I was feeling quite frustrated and angry, even though you can't tell...well, you kind of can, it's quite sarcastic and of course, tongue in cheek, but it's meant to really poke fun at all of those stereotypes that we have about...that people have about lesbians in particular.
Kate Reid - Doing It For the Chicks (2011)
Eric Himan - Red Hot Tears (2013)
This is JD Doyle and welcome to Queer Music Heritage, you just heard the song "Red Hot Tears," from the new album by Eric Himan, called "Gracefully," I've been a fan of his for many years, and I'm honored to share with you an interview with him, starting right now.
Eric, I just opened the segment with the opening track from your CD, and while it's still fresh, could you talk about that song.
EH: First of all, thanks for having me on. The opening track is called "Red Hot Tears," I wrote "Red Hot Tears" because I have a visual of that after hearing the word 'red hot' for a bunch of things, just a lot of advertising. But then when I thought of red hot tears...I just had that title, and I ended up thinking of, how can I flesh this out, the idea of being hurt so much that it causes you physical pain, you know, what would that be, and I feel it would be something like you would just be pining over somebody who just kept breaking your heart. So that's kind of what that song is about....and has the horn section on it and my backup girls on it, just a whole different sound and a different style, so I wanted to kick off the CD as different as I ever have.
JD: I love the horns on the album.
EH: Ah, thank you.
JD: I've been following your career for quite a while now, you know that. [Thank you] How many CDs and EPs have you released so far?
EH: Oh my God, you know, I probably should be counting, but I think I'm scared to count...that just means I've been doing this for way too long, but I've said that this is like my ninth studio album.
JD: I counted, and I didn't go by studio album, but in total I've got 13, including the DVD.
EH: Oh, wow, geez...
JD: Okay, so tell us about the new CD.
EH: The new CD is...it feels like the most complete solid album I think I've ever done, in where all the songs kind of evolved around the same time, and they all seem to be compatible with each other. You know, on my other CDs I feel like..."Resonate" seemed compatible with all the songs, but sometimes I like to write in different genres, sometimes my music has a very country-sounding song, next to a very singer-songwriter song, and then a very hard-rock song. You know, I bounce around genres and that's just because I have this love of so many different styles. But to have an album like "Gracefully" where I feel like all my influences are in there...they seem to have a little bit of all of those things.
JD: What was the inspiration for the title track?
EH: My grandmother raised me. My mom passed away when I was four, so my grandmother was my mother figure, and she was an artist, she could draw, she could paint, she could needlepoint, she was a colorist for DC Comics in the 30's, and she was a photographer's assistant...she was just an amazing, amazing artist woman, and she passed away at 97 last August, while I was figuring out how I was going to do this album. And I ended up writing "Gracefully" about her because...you know, I couldn't call her. There were so many times that things happened in my life after she passed away, so that song was my phone call to her.
Eric Himan - Gracefully (2013)
JD: What inspired the song "Call Me Up"?
EH: I've met a few friends in my life who I've worried about...you know, where I thought they were being a little self-destructive, or they've made mention to me like...I've had one friend who said, "what's it even matter, I'm never going to find anybody"...they just take you down these roads, and then you walk away, thinking, "God..." and you don't know what to say to them..."you know, no, you'll find somebody, no, everything's going well, no, you're just going through a rough patch"...I felt like so many people were saying that to me in different parts of my life that I just wanted to write this song that was like..."I'm worried about you, and I just want you to know, before you do anything, just call me...give me a chance to get in the way of you and something horrible happening to you.
Eric Himan - Call Me Up (2013)
Again, that was the song "Call Me Up," and due to time constraints regretfully I had to shorten many of the songs on this show.
JD: Who have been your musical influences?
EH: Oh my God, I feel like I jump genres, again with the genre thing...they change, every time I get asked that I feel like I name different people. When I started out I was very highly influenced by Ani Difranco, and I'm still influenced by all these people, but some more at different times in my life than others...ah, Ani Difranco, Tracy Chapman, Patty Griffin, Dar Williams, Lori McKenna...like, all of my singer-songwriter women...that style of music really influenced me in the beginning. And then I found Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Big Mama Thornton, and Diana Krall, at one point...I just went through this phase of listening to jazz and listening to blues and listening to soul. And then, I don't know, I feel like I found my way on my last CD so that I'm back to the singer-songwriter thing. I'm highly influenced by a friend of mine, who I was lucky to be friends with, and that's Namoli Brennet. Not only was I influenced by her, but I got to make this CD with her ("Supposed Unknown"). And this time there's something about going back to soul music and folk music and it kind of merges with people like Bill Withers, who's a little bit of both. So...Bill Withers, Bonnie Raitt, these tried and true people who aren't flashy, who aren't gimmicky, who just write good songs and let their work speak for themselves. They don't do anything to be anything more than consistently great.
JD: Another song I like from the new one is called "The Only Way," could you talk about it?
EH: It's weird, there's always this song that you're more proud of than other ones, I have to say, you know, when you put them all next to each other...a lot of people say, oh, my songs are my children and I can't pick one...to me it's art, some things you feel more proud of than other ones, they're all so good to me and they're all worthy of being on this album. But there's songs that you want people to compliment you on, and that took maybe more time and didn't come as easy...and "The Only Way" is that song for me. That's actually one of the first songs that I wrote for this album, because I thought, you know, I compare myself sometimes to other artists and their careers, especially when there's a flash in the pan kind of artist that comes out...you know, like what am I doing wrong...how do I get attention, when you're doing everything on your own, you're juggling so many different plates...to see someone doing really well quickly...and fleetingly, in the end, you get a little jealous of them and you want that for yourself. So every time I felt like this can't be the only way to do things, and that resonated into a lot of things in my life, this can't be it. And there's a few lines in that song where I felt like I really hammered at it, and ended up with...you know...thinking about religion, one of the lines is, that religion has doubt built in, cause everyone can sink, not everyone can swim. And I'm really proud of lines like that, because when I hear other artists, like Ani, they always seem to have that one line in it, that really strikes you, that really says that they're not just writing words to fill spaces, there's a poetry to it.
JD: There's some thought behind it.
EH: Oh, yeah, and that song I think has more thought behind it than any of them.
Eric Himan - The Only Way (2013)
JD: The song "Symmetry" seems like an especially personal one.
EH: Yeah, more personal than I'd like to be, but the story of "Symmetry" was just too important to me that I really wanted to put it out there. A friend of mine was one of those people that didn't get what gay people are about, and I felt like I was tolerated, and not necessarily accepted. And I in turn accepted that tolerance, and I just thought, "well, they'll come around" and like what a lot of gay people do with people that are close to them, you know..."give 'em time, I don't want to push it"...and you make a lot of excuses for yourself and not standing up for yourself. And then I also have a trainer who I've been working with, a personal trainer who I've become friends with, and he went to a Bible college. And he was the same way, where he was "I don't agree with your life, but I think you're nice and we can be friends"...and I accepted that for a while, thinking he'll come around, or maybe we agree to disagree is not such a bad thing. But then the more situations that came up in my life...getting married, things like that I was happy to talk about, I thought, you know what, I'm going to stop making excuses for people and take people as they are, and just accept that "maybe you and me aren't the same at all, between you and me there's no symmetry."
And that's where that line came from. And the very personal part is I invited that trainer to my wedding, cause I've been working with him for a long time, and he said no. And he said no because God...funny, he said it in a nice way, and he sat me down, and he said he was very happy that he was invited, but he said he had spoke with God that morning, and that God had told him that coming to the wedding wouldn't be such a good idea, and he had to listen to his father. That's when I went home and thought about it....I kind of said "oh, okay, whatever" and just tried to get out of there as quickly as possible, cause I didn't know what to say. And then when I found the words, that's how they ended up in the song, with words like "I know you mean well, but this comes as a slap, cause I've spoken with God too and he's never said that." A lot of religious people assume that...especially if they are anti-gay religious people...assume that we don't have God in our life either. For me, for you to tell me God told you not to come to my wedding, and I'm also a believer in God...God just told you and he didn't tell me? You know, it just seemed presumptuous, so that's where that song comes from.
Eric Himan - Symmetry (2013)
JD: Reflecting on that last song, now that you have a husband, how has that changed or colored your creative process?
EH: I feel a little like everyone will assume that everything I write about in terms of relationships is always going to be him...you know, whether it's not him or whether I'm talking about a friend or a family member. I feel like when you deliver it in a certain way it will end up being like..."oh, are you guys on the rocks?"...you know what I mean, like any creative writing I do is in turn, even though a lot of it comes from my real life, is just going to always be about him. And he's great about it and he accepts that and he's never once affected my writing style or influenced it in any way to be less about him, or more about him. He just accepts me and my music for what it is, and he doesn't get in my process whatsoever.
JD: I want to talk, just for a couple moments, about the article for The Advocate. I cheered when you wrote that op-ed article about Pride, and Pride festivities, and in full disclosure for my listeners, Eric contacted me when he was working on the piece and we discussed the various issues, and he even quoted me. But, Eric, it was definitely your article and I thought it was wonderful. Talk a little about what prompted it and what message you were trying to get across.
EH: The message I was trying to get across was I just had this idea that, after playing a bunch of Prides and seeing the kinds of acts that ended up getting the most exposure, I thought more and more it became more about being a dance party, and to me throughout the article and after I wrote the article, the reaction to it, I felt like everybody has a different idea what Pride is. That's the great think about it and that's also the hard thing about marketing it or booking bands for it or anything...is that everyone has a completely different idea about what Pride parades and festivals should represent.
To some people it's a giant party and it's just a celebration in general. Other people like me think back to the 60s and it's like a protest, like a peaceful protest, where you're talking about the issues at hand and you're gathering for a big reason to show your numbers and strength. Sometimes I just felt like it was swinging so much to being just a big dance party that...I would look at some of these stages that I was maybe the only gay performer on, and everybody else was, you know, make their money and do their performance and a lot of them just had no relationship to the gay community.
My article was about, you know, where are the transgender artists, where are the gay artists, where is our community, cause to me Pride used to be about going and seeing people on a stage that were out and gay and successful and had something to say, and were empowering. And then I look up there now and it's just somebody singing a pop song from some other time period and dancing around...which has its place but to me I don't see myself on that stage anymore in terms of that.
And I thought we're lacking that and there's this conversation somebody just posted on Facebook about talking about Dan Savage, where he said, our young people don't know anything about the gay rights movement, and they don't even care to know about it. So to me it's even more important to have successful gay artists, with the majority of them being a representation of our community and its pride. So, I wrote about it, I wrote this article about it and the reaction was tremendously positive, but I thought...I first thought, all these Prides are going to think "don't book Eric Himan."
JD: Well, I much admire you for writing that piece.
Eric: Ah, thank you, I mean, those are the moments where I feel you really put yourself out there, and you're willing to accept the consequences of it. For me, I wanted to see that change, and I wasn't going to wait for anybody else to bring it up.
And that kind of signals a change in the segment. Up to now we've been talking about the music from Eric's new CD, "Gracefully." But as I've said, I've admired his work for many years, so cannot pass up asking him about some of the songs from past releases.
JD: Do you have any idea, on the websites like iTunes and Amazon, what song seems to be your biggest seller?
EH: One of the biggest sellers of my songs...are the songs that end up getting put in rotation more on Coffee House (a show on Sirius Satellite Radio). You know, that to me was a big break having them like my music and putting it in rotation, because satellite radio is new and it's kind of different and a little bit off the beaten path of regular radio. They have a little more opportunity to provide more up and coming artists. I'd never thought of that, but when they started playing "Save the Afternoon" as much as they did it made a real impact. And then they asked me to come and do Live Sessions, and that was amazing. And then with this album I did a special version of "Everything to You" where I pulled out the drums and pulled out the horns and made it a little more suitable for their station. So I think the songs that they end up playing are the ones that end up getting at the top of my most purchased songs, which are "Save the Afternoon," now "Everything To You," and they play a cover I did of Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years," and that's up there as well.
JD: I looked at iTunes and you can sort an artist's mp3 list and you can ask it to do "most popular" and I'm not sure how valid their mechanisms are but "Save the Afternoon" was number one. Could you talk about that song?
EH: For "Save the Afternoon" I think I had the idea that when you have these stupid little fights, with the person that you're with, based on...you're cranky, somebody's cranky, somebody didn't get enough sleep, somebody didn't eat anything that day, and then you're fighting over, you know, who didn't take out the garbage, who didn't feed the dog...it's these little things that every once in a while something will put fuel on the fire, and it ends up being an escalated thing where you're like "I don't know if I can do this anymore"...very dramatic, probably not anything to do with your relationship, just more to do with tension and tempers. But I had this idea of just saying, can we both....which is funny cause me and my husband are like that...there's a point where we just end up laughing, when it's something stupid and silly, one of us will get over-dramatic and someone will laugh, and then it's over. And to me that was the idea of "Save the Afternoon," was just like, can one of us just laugh, and not let this go from the morning all the way to the end of the day.
Eric Himan - Save the Afternoon (2011)
JD: Considering songs you've written a number of years ago, can you think of any where your relationship to the song has changed?
EH: Ah, yes, I had written a song for my partner's mom who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had it for over the course of five years, but I met my partner like three years into her having breast cancer, where it went away and it came back, and then it went away again and then it came back, and I was there towards the tail end where it really came back and it came back very strong. And I lost my mom when I was so young so to have this second mom, that kind of showed up with my partner, I mean, I got very attached to her very quickly. And I wrote this song for her, called "What I Can Give" because in those moments when somebody is going through something so horrible and so life-threatening, no consoling words ever feel enough. It almost seems like insulting to be like "get well" or "feel better"...
JD: Or "have a nice day"...
EH: Or "have a nice day" and I loved her and I didn't want to say that to her and have it come off sounding trite. So I wrote her this song, and basically it was just saying, all I can give you is a song...this is what I can give you, to let you know that I care about you and I love you and I want to see you make it through this. And she heard the song, before she really got sick, and she cried and she said she loved it, and that to me was an amazing moment. And then when she passed away my partner's family had asked, since it was so specific to her, if they could play it during her slide show at her funeral. And boy, I have never cried in my life as loud as I cried the minute I saw the photos, the minute we were in the church, and the slide shows going and my song comes on. You know, I didn't intend for it to be like that, and it seemed very sad to me, that it was at the end of her life that the song kind of came back.
But...maybe six months later I was playing in Jackson, Mississippi, and these two women, two awesome women came up to me and said, "oh my God, we love your music, we've been listening to you for a long time, one of your songs is our song, please can we request that you play it at the end of your set, and we're going to dance." And I thought that was just really the coolest thing and I was smiling and talking to them and I said, "oh, that's awesome, what's the song?" And they said, "What I Can Give." And I was like, wait a minute...in my mind I thought, that can't be about you, that can't be about your positive relationship and how can that be about it? And I was sitting there while they were talking and thinking about the words to the song, and I realized that...I had to stop myself from feeling that I had to inform them as to what the intention of that song was. And I played it, and as I was playing it I was listening to my own words come back to me and I realized that it could be interpreted as something very positive and basically saying, you know, I love you and care about you and basically all I can do is give you this song just to let you know that I care about you. And it applied. So now when I play that song those two amazing women really helped me cope with never feeling that I wanted to play that song again.
Eric Himan - What I Can Give (2006)
From the 2006 CD "Everywhere All at Once," that was "What I Can Give."
JD: Is there an overall message you hope your music gets across?
EH: I think overall I want there to be...I don't know...the same genuine honesty, heartfelt, thoughtful feelings that I get listening to the artists that I look up to and I love, like a lot of the people that I've named, like Natalie Merchant, different people like that.
JD: I asked you that same question back in 2005. I asked what the overall message you hoped to get across, and you said, same answer, honesty.
EH: (laughs) That's good, consistency, that should be part of that whole statement right there.
JD: Eric, I want to cover some of my personal favorites from your earlier CDs. One of them is "Little Boy Blue." Would you talk about it?
EH: "Little Boy Blue" I wrote about a transgender boy. I did a tour of LGBT youth centers, back in 2006, and, you know, I think I went in with r4eally the wrong attitude. I went in there thinking, oh, I've been in all these things, I'm a lot older, I've been out for so long, and I'm going to meet a lot of these kids and hopefully they'll get my message and they'll get what I'm about immediately. And I kind of just walked in there with a chip on my shoulder. And what happened though was they were like, who the hell are you? What are you doing here? They didn't know the media, they didn't know who you are, you're just this guy showing up with a guitar wanting to talk with them. It was my responsibility to kind of preface who I was and my music by talking and having conversations. And there was one boy there, who was transgender...that's the one thing I didn't expect, was that at a lot of these LGBT centers it wasn't just filled with young gay men and women. It was a lot of transgendered men and women, and I just didn't have that much experience with transgendered. So, he didn't really take a good liking to me at the beginning. He didn't really understand why I was there. I wasn't there to speak to him directly. But by the end of the day, once he let his guard down, and I knocked the chip off my shoulder, or he did, I felt like we connected. And it was really amazing and we kept in touch and I kind of wanted to tell that story of going in and thinking I was going to reach out my hand, and everybody was going to be like, "oh, we're so glad you're here"...you know, I had to earn his respect, and that song is about that.
Eric Himan - Little Boy Blue (2008)
JD: Another song I love is "Protest Song," and I think it's your most political work.
EH: I think it is, too. It's funny, me and my aunt were sitting down...we were talking about politics and stuff, and she was like, "well, do you consider yourself an activist?" And I was like, "well, I don't really feel like...when I think of activists I think of, you know, Million Men March, and people who are out there, and here I am and my activism is writing a song and singing it at my gigs. And she had mentioned all the songs that I had mentioned politics in. Like, I wrote "You First" about Gabriel Giffords being shot, and that whole experience of feeling safe, when you really put yourself out there. So I've written a lot about politics, but I feel like I've never directly addressed them like I did in "Protest Song," because it's so personal, and it was not only in marriage, but in religion and in the military. There were just so many different places that were bigoted toward gay people. When back in 2008 when Prop 8 was getting a lot of steam, that's when I wrote that song, because I was fed up. And for a long time everybody around me was asking, like, "ah, you need to write a song about being gay, you need to write a song about gay rights, you have to do it, you have to do it." You know, back in 2000...that song didn't come out until 2008, cause I just didn't want to do it for its own sake, like, I didn't want it to come off disingenuous, I didn't want to sit down and force it. I wanted to feel it and have it come out honestly. And then when Prop 8 happened, it triggered me and that song got written real fast. And that's why I think it's powerful, because it came in its own time.
JD: Well, as that's your only political GLBT song, how did people react to it?
EH: Oh, people reacted very strongly. It put me in a place where I felt like I couldn't wait to get in front of a Pride crowd and sing it. I also felt a little nervous because people would ask me to play that song in very conservative places, you know, I'm playing like a bar, one of those bar gigs where you're playing mostly covers, from ten pm to one. And then somebody would say, "Protest Song," and then I'm thinking, I'm looking around and I know this is not a gay bar, this is not the people who are going to agree with me. And then I realize this is the place I have to be playing it. This is where people need to hear it. I don't need everybody agreeing with me. This song needs to be heard by those who don't expect it.
Eric Himan - Protest Song (2008)
This is JD Doyle finishing up my interview with Eric Himan. You can find a whole lot more about him at his site, logically at EricHiman.com, and I admit I do have a favorite of his songs, thank you for asking. And it's from his 2006 album "Everywhere All At Once," and we'll hear about that song to close the show.
JD: From your albums before the new one, is there a song that seems to be the over-whelming crowd favorite?
EH: Ah, "Bartender" seems to be a crowd favorite. Wherever I play I feel like it's well recognized, and I'm very lucky at that, that you can have songs that seem to stick with people that when they show up they expect you to play that. That one gets requested quite often.
JD: Well, "Bartender" is my favorite, and I think it's the most commercial song. Have you thought of shopping it around Nashville to get some young country guy to sing it?
EH: Ah, there's a bunch of my songs that I think would be interesting to be heard from country music, and be covered. I hope somebody hears that someday and thinks, "you know, that's a great song and I think I could cover it and do a really great job." That's the biggest honor, that anybody would want to sing your song, whether they were the person down the street, or your friend, who just likes you, or some big country act.
JD: Let me get you to introduce the song "Bartender."
EH: "Bartender" is this song that I wrote with my friend Cass (Cassandra Bunsie), my best friend, which makes it even more one of my favorites of mine. I wrote it with her when the lights went out in Pittsburgh, and we had nothing to do, and an acoustic guitar, and we were making fun of the idea of hitting on bartenders and how we both mutual interest in them.
Eric Himan - Bartender (2006)
Above, photo I took of Eric in March 2005, and below, March 2006
also March 2006, with Levi Kreis & myself.
and below, Eric toured to Houston with Tom Goss in April 2008