QMH, May 2005, Script
Yes, when you're ten years old it's cute to be a tomboy, but in a couple of years you have to deal with the ways of the world. So says Mary Gauthier and that's the first track from her first album, from 1997. And she's come a long way since then, and you'll hear about it in a special interview later in the show, and I do encourage you to stick around for that, because the way she talks about her songwriting is just fascinating.
You're listening Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and tonight I'm bringing you two very special interviews. In addition to one with Mary Gauthier, I've been able to track down an artist who in 1994 released an album I really love. And the name of the album and the artist is Jesse Hultberg. Jesse moved to Paris about six years ago and pretty much dropped out of the music scene, so those two factors definitely contributed to my difficulty in finding him. And when I started researching his career I found that there was quite a story prior to the 1994 album, and it started back in 1982, when he was in a band called 3 Teens Kill 4. I've seen that band described as sort of a post-punk band, whatever that means.
Jesse Hultberg Interview
What was the first recording that you participated in?
That was with 3 Teens Kill 4.
Can you tell me about that?
There was a single at first, a cover version of "Tell Me Something Good," which was a Stevie Wonder song..oh no, it was a Rufus song, Chaka Khan, but Stevie Wonder wrote it. And we did a version that was kind of experimental, with toys and recordings and people talking, and there was the newscast of the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan that we had floating in and out of the song
3 Teens Kill 4 - Tell Me Something Good (1982)
And the flip side was a song called "Visitation" which was a song I wrote with David Wojnarowicz, who was a painter. I don't know if you know who he is but he died a few years ago and he was quite well known before he died
Yeah, I wanted to ask about the band members
The other band members were Julie Hair, Brian Butterick, who worked in New York at the Mud Club for years, and the Pyramid, and Doug Bressler, who played clarinet
Brian became Hattie Hathaway?
Yeah, Brian did a drag show called Hattie Hathaway, and numerous others, for that matter, as well. Brian and I, we accompanied John Kelly doing Joni Mitchell for years. [Oh, really?] Uh huh, we were his first accompanists before he took that show to other places. [Before Zecca took over] Right, exactly. At Wigstock we did it for years, and in different clubs
How'd you get the name for the band?
3 Teens Kill 4? That comes from the New York Post. The actual title was "3 Teens Kill 4, No Motive." [So it was a headline?] Yes.
The first show the 3 Teens did was Brian, David and I worked as busboys at a club called Danceteria, along with Keith Haring, for that matter, and the club lasted for about eight or nine months before it was closed down for not having a liquor license. And as a benefit for the about 20 of us were arrested and we spent the night in jail, and we did a benefit, I don't know what for, just to glamorize our arrest, I suppose, in a club. And everybody who was involved with any sort of project, music project or anything did a show together. And David, Brian and I, along with, let's see, there was a poet named Max Flag and a couple other people who worked at the club decided to do a rock band, and we called it 3 Teens Kill 4. That was the first show we did, and it was at a club called TR3, in Soho
Are there any songs from the album, besides "Tell Me Something Good" that you'd like to mention?
From that first album? I like all the songs from that first album. I think it's I'm very proud of that album. It was hard to make, we recorded in a studio in the Bronx and it was like a 40- minute subway ride every time we went out to do this recording. Let's see, what other songs were there? There was a song called "Hold Up," which was at the time rap music was big and we just sort of made fun of different things, did a sort of fake rap, white boy rap, at the time, and I like the words in that song. "Visitation" didn't make it to the album, and just stayed on the single, and I always liked that song. [It must be very rare] Yeah, I don't know, I don't know where you'd find that recording, and ah [I have the album in front of me] ah okay, there you go, ah, well can you tell me the names of the songs cause I don't remember ["Hold Up," "Tell Me Something Good," "5/4"] "5/4" that's a great song, too, I like that song, it's one of those songs, it's just a bass line that starts things, and David was, you know, David was a poet and he just sort of rambled on sometimes, or he took stuff from his writings, and it was always interesting, sometimes dark, pretty dark, interesting. [And the other side was "Crime Drama"] "Crime Drama" was me and Julie mostly, Julie sings that, and I had a lot to do with the music. [And "Hut/Bean Song"] That was me and David, too, and those are great songs. I love those songs, I haven't listened to them in so long. "Bean Song" I think is really funny. It's one of those things where you go in the studio and somebody starts recounting clichés, you know, "we must, we must, we must improve our bust, the bigger the better, the tighter the sweater, the boys depend on us" that was one of the lines. [And "Hunger" was the last track.] Eh, yeah, that was kind of a typical 3 Teens Kill 4 song, angry. [Were all the band members gay?] Oh, no, Doug wasn't gay, Julie wasn't gay. [Okay] Just Brian, me and David.
Y'all performed at Wigstock?
The first couple of years, yes, the first, I don't know, the first three or four years.
I saw three different mentions of you, either with the group or you by yourself at Wigstock.
Oh, I always did both, I always did the first two or three years I performed with the band I always did a drag thing too at Wigstock.
Yeah, I found mention of you doing a Melanie parody of "Lay Down, Lay Down"
Yeah, that was fun, that was one of the first times I did drag.
And doing Peter, Paul and Big Mary's "Poof the Magic Drag Queen."
Yeah, and that became more of a I did that a few times, I think like three times, and that was actually, it was in the film too, but they had to cut it out because Peter, Paul and Mary couldn't give the right to use it. They had sold it to Disney, and so after the film was edited the producers tried to get them to sign a release and they couldn't. They had lost their legal right to the song.
I found references to you being in the movie "Longtime Companion" Tell me about that?
At that time I was doing like a cabaret act with Melora Creager, who later on became the rock band Rasputina, and Lee Kimble who is another Pyramid drag act. And the act was called the Finger Lakes Trio, and we used to do it in different clubs in New York City, where we would dress up like like provincial chamber music musicians, and but instead of doing real chamber music we would do disco 70's hits like "Fly Robin Fly" and, what's the song I sing, oh yeah, "YMCA," in the film "Longtime Companion." And whoever the director was, he I think it's Norman Rene or something like that, he saw us in a night club and he was in the middle of filming the film "Longtime Companion" and he needed, he needed something light and a little more comic at the end, cause it's such a heavy film, so it's very down, so but at the end he decided to have a scene in a nightclub and he'd show us singing "YMCA" and cause it was a comic act, and he felt that it had some sort of connection to the whole story of what was going on at the time, with AIDS. And that's how it ended up being in the film.
And from the movie from 1990 "Longtime Companion" here's that short scene with Jesse Hultberg singing with the Finger Lakes Trio. It takes place in a club, so you'll hear the customers enjoying the song.
Finger Lakes Trio - YMCA (1990)
And that brings us up to the 1994 album that started my admiration for Jesse Hultberg's work. Its first track is the song "My Friend Wants A Baby" and I asked him about that.
Ah, "My Friend Wants a Baby" was me talking about my sister, actually, and it's a song about the numerous women I knew, especially my sister, who motivated me, who wanted to have kids, wanted to have a child in this sort of desperate way, and really for no other reason than to fulfill their own ego, in a way, and the irony of that and the irony of gay men and lesbians not being able to adopt children, I felt was peculiar because here there were people who wanted to have children for really good reasons and that's what that's about, that's what that's about
Jesse Hultberg - My Friend Wants a Baby (1994)
Tell us about "Our Open Eyes."
Ah, that was a song in reaction to New York City and to living in a place that was too fast and inhuman and, it's a combination of different stories because when I was a teenager I went to Provincetown with my best friend and it was the first time that we had exposure to people being openly gay in the street and we just sat down and watched it for so long. We didn't even move, you know, we just watched it, amazed, and it was like it was very nice.
Jesse Hultberg - Our Open Eyes (1994)
I love your version of "If I Can't Have You." How'd you decide to cover that song?
Well, that was born out of Finger Lakes Trio, because it was one of the disco hits we did like a chamber music version of, the group that performs in "Longtime Companion." It was just one of the songs that we did in our repertoire and after every time we did it people reacted very well to it, and I started to sing it seriously with a guitar, and just liked singing it, so that's the only reason, just liked it.
Jesse Hultberg - If I Can't Have You (1994)
That was released as a CD single.
Oh, you know, when you do releases as an independent you know it doesn't really mean much of anything. I never released it commercially as a single. I never tried to sell it to stores as a single. but it was given out to radio stations [Right, it says "For Radio Use Only."] There ya go, well. [And there's "The Priest Song" and "Raquel Welch," those three songs] Oh, that's how it was? Yup, that sounds familiar. [And there's a guy on eBay selling these] Oh, good for him. I hope he's making a mint. [Well, he has this constant ad; it's like he has endless supply or something.] Of that single? [Yeah, it's always there, you go on eBay and do a search and you'll find it.] Yes, it was a CD single but never for sale [Right, it says not for sale, and it has the same picture as the album, only it's all red] Right, red, I don't remember how many copies were made but I remember mailing them putting them in envelopes and mailing them to the radio stations
My favorite song on the album is "Constant Thing (I Was Raised a Straight Boy)"
Really? That's interesting. Oh, I used to sing that a cappella without any instrumentation on stage and it's just one of those it's very anthemic, it's an anthem. But it's not a song that talks to me too much any more. I mean, there are aspects of it that I like and other ones that sort of make me feel, oh, you know, you're just sort of blowing your horn a little bit there. But there is one aspect of it that I like which is when people think of their of homophobia or anti-gay behavior they don't recognize the fact that the presumption of heterosexuality from when you're born is the base of your own homophobia and other people's, cause you have to come to an understanding yourself later on without much help around you, and it's that presumption that I think is the cornerstone of what keeps things hard for us so that's what I tried to make that song about
Jesse Hultberg - Constant Thing (I Was Raised a Straight Boy) (1994)
The use of the other voices was interesting on that song, you didn't hear, well, you don't hear that done much
Oh, that's left over from years before, with 3 Teens Kill 4, oh a lot of people did that kind of stuff, that was nothing too original there. Those voices are mine, and it was my neighbor, Sylvie, who did the girl's voice
Please tell me about "Slipping Quickly Into Oblivion"
That's written for a man named Gregory Portley, who was my first lover when I was very young, 15, and he was the editor of the Fire Island newspaper, the Fire Island...in Ocean Beach. We kept in touch. We weren't lovers, like boyfriends, but we just stayed together for years and years and years, and he eventually became ill and died, and after he died I received $20, 000 in the mail as a surprise heritage, and it's with that money that I made that album. So I dedicated the album to him and the story is us meeting at Fire Island, at Ocean Beach, cause I used to go to Fire Island when I was a child, with my grandparents and I didn't even know the gay area until much later, until I was 30 years old. And Gregory was a wonderful person who taught me a lot, and then also actually made it possible for me to make the album.
Jesse Hultberg - Slipping Quickly Into Oblivion (1994)
I read that, let's see, this was late 90's, you and Chris Cochrane and Dudley Saunders organized the New Tribe
Yeah, Songs of the New Tribe, gosh, you really have your you got your information. Yeah that was fun, that was at PS122 and that was just, you know, there were more and more people who were openly gay and writing material that was gay and there was a guy named David Clement whose album I helped put out on my little label.
And Dudley Saunders, who had a beautiful voice, and Chris who was a great musician, and still is I'm sure, I don't know if he does it still. There were a lot of people who performed, Toshi Reagan, is she still around? [Yes] and, who else, I can't name other people at the moment, but it was about five or six different concert nights. It was an attempt to just gather the different people who were you know, a little like Outmusic but not as musician oriented, but just to get it out more, on a more concert professional level.
Were you involved with Outmusic as well?
Sure, yeah, I went to Outmusic, but not as regularly as some others but every now and then I would go. I was always embarrassed at Outmusic, and I don't know why, not about myself or them but for some reason I only performed like four or five times at Outmusic, and every time I had a bad performance, I don't know why. I figured after a while it was something psychological going on and I should stop. [It's a very supportive group] Yes, it always was, it's true, and I don't know why you know, in general performing was not something I liked doing and I guess, I guess at Outmusic it just I felt more at ease to feel as uncomfortable as I was at performing. I really don't know why, but it never worked for me. Outmusic was a nice group of people though, very nice, very supportive.
There was a song circle, you mentioned it in your email. That was much more helpful to me than the actual Outmusic nights, but the song circle I did with Grant King and Amy Fix, that was really nice. We were very cause we were more focused, you know, and there was room for conversation, too, in addition to just performing. In a sense it's not really, it's not really sometimes you analyze too much and you should just go up and do it and that way Outmusic was good, people took chances.
[Note: I encourage you to visit the sites of the wonderful artists Jesse mentioned, just click on their names]
You're in Paris now, how did you get there?
I lived here in 1990 for a year, with different friends from New York and at the end of that year I met Serge Lipski, who is, who helped me on the album, too. And I was already planning to go back to New York but we stayed together and we ended up staying together for 13 years. After a period of time when I actually wanted to leave New York his apartment was large enough for me to live in so I came to Paris to live here, about six years ago, but it was something that I had planned to do more or less for a while. [Well, you were already a couple long before you left the United States.] Right, that's right.
Are there any other aspects of your music career I should have asked about?
Well, other aspects I think for a while there I was interested in being an independent I was very inspired by Ani Difranco when she came out, and tried my hand at being an independent record company, and realized that, you know, that takes a whole different set of muscles than writing songs and singing them. And I had my hands in that for a while and I really didn't like it and I was glad to leave the selling of music completely. And performing was never something I liked so much either, so really I got a lot of pleasure out of singing and writing, but you know, at home, alone. And that doesn't help you too much when you're trying to sell music. So, I don't know. There were times on stage that I had a great time but usually when I was playing a character, someone else, but when you're playing yourself and trying to sing intimate ballads about your inner feelings it's not so easy to get across. And I suppose if I had more of a love of stage and performance then I would have stuck with it more, but, you know, I'm happy not doing it, quite frankly.
KPFT is in pledge drive this week, so I had to trim this edition of Queer Music Heritage down a bit, to allow more time for a little ever-important pitching. So if you enjoy this kind of programming, please consider calling in with a pledge. But my internet listeners can hear the complete original show, plus several additional minutes of the interviews, as I do not have the same time constraints when I upload shows to my website. And this is a good time to invite you to check out my site, at www.queermusicheritage.com. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, now in its new time every Friday night/Saturday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
Mary Gauthier Interview
Mary Gauthier - Different Kind of Gone (1999)
For the rest of the show I'm very pleased to bring you an interview with Mary Gauthier. Now, she was raised in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and Gauthier's a very Louisiana name. It's spelled g-a-u-t-h-i-e-r, and her album covers are quick to give the pronunciation. She's released four albums since 1997 and has been charming the critics ever since she turned to music. And she took up music much later than most, at age 35, but the road to get there was a rough one and you can hear the pain and heartache she waded through in her songs.
A quick bio makes her sound the subject for a Lifetime Movie of the Week: she grew up a wild child, raised by adoptive parents in Louisiana. She stole their car at age 15 and ran away from home. She spent her 18th birthday in jail, moved away again and stayed with some drag queen friends for about a year, dealing with life with the help of booze and pills. Through all that she studied philosophy at LSU, then attended the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and founded Boston's first Cajun restaurant, still drinking all the way. She started the restaurant in 1990 and ran it for about ten years, and during that time she sobered up and started writing songs, and then performing at open mics, and in 1997 she released her first album, "Dixie Kitchen." Gradually she wanted to write more than she wanted to cook, so she got her business partners to buy her out, and used the money to make her second album, "Drag Queens in Limousines," released in 1999. At the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards, the GLAMAs, that album won for Best Country Recording, and that was when I first became aware of her music, and I've been a fan ever since.
The song we're listening to in the background, "A Different Kind of Gone," comes from that album. In 2002 came her third CD "Filth & Fire" and more acclaim, including it being named by the New York Times as one of the best of the year. And this spring came another album, called "Mercy Now," and I think she just gets better and better. We're going to start the interview talking about her songwriting, and then cover several older songs and finally the new album.
Let's start out with, how do you describe your musical style?
Oh, I don't, I let journalists do that. I just write songs and bring them to the producer in Austin, Texas, and he helps build them into what the sound like. What I am is a word person and primarily and most importantly what I do is put words together with the melody. My focus is the words and always has been. So, I'm a southerner, born and raised in Baton Rouge, and so when I start to sing it sounds country although I'm not sure I would describe it as country. You know, a lot of people have a different idea of what it is that I do. I really don't know how to tell people what to think about it. I just sort of do it and people think what think. It's hard to describe what I do
Well the instrumentation is certainly mostly country
Kinda, but if I had to stretch it, it would be also folk, because the base of it is the words, so there's not really a genre to put it in, somewhere in there, between country and folk, I'm not sure what it is. You know, American roots music, or just plain old American music.
Tell about the new CD.
Ah, "Mercy Now" came out February 15th and it's on Lost Highway Records, which is my first major label record deal, and it's doing pretty good and I'm real proud of it. I put my heart into it; I did the very best I could do, I hope people like it, I'm proud of it, I know beyond the doubt it's the best I can do right now, so I know I can live with it for the rest of my life, which I'll have to do, which is why they call it a record, it's permanent, so, I don't know what to tell you about it, except that I did my best
How is it different musically from your previous CDs?
I'm not sure that it is, you know, there's a progression when you're a songwriter and you develop your own style and you move with the muse, you know, the muse, the source of all this creativity is really in charge and you're just trying to keep up with her half the time. So I think it may be a little darker than some of the other records, which is a stretch since the other ones are pretty dark. And there's some spoken word pieces which I hadn't done before, but I think it's recognizable as a Mary Gauthier record. I don't think it's a big huge leap in another direction.
I think it's a touch more intimate
Yeah, I'm singing softer, which lends itself toward that word intimate and I think I'm digging a little deeper. It's a little more personal, I guess, which is also another weird thing to say since my other records are so personal already
Do you ever regret putting so much of yourself into a song?
I wish I had more of myself to put into my songs. No, absolutely not. I think that's what an artist's job is, and quite frankly the most personal things about me, or any artist, are the most universal. You know, the universal part of us is the deepest part. You got to dig into it to get to it. You got to get past navel gazing to into something that's deeper than that's universality, and that's what I think an artist's job is to find that, and to deliver that, and that's what I try to do. I wish there were more of me to access so I can give away more of it.
How do you think starting your music career at an older age than most has affected your writing?
You know, I'm glad I did. I wrote my first song when I was 35 and I think I'm, you know, I hope I'm mature. I try to be mature. Sometimes I'm more successful than others. I do have a certain perspective and I think that being a more mature songwriter gives me a broader palate, more to write about. I've lived more
Has your relationship to any of your earlier songs changed since you recorded them I mean, I've had artists tell me that some songs have become more true for them, like they grew into them
Yeah, you know, it's a strange thing. As human beings we hopefully every year grow a little, and change a little and then a bunch of years go by and if you look back on the you that existed ten years ago, a lot of us will wonder who the heck is that. I don't even recognize that person anymore, that's not me, that's someone else. And so when you're a songwriter you're documenting your life, and you're singing these songs over and over again and as the years go by you you sing the same words but they take a different meaning, because the person singing them has changed. So I think over the years you do relate to your songs differently. I know that I do. Fortunately for me they've held up enough for me to still continue to want to sing them and feel as though they ring true, but in different ways. It's an interesting relationship between a songwriter and a song
I've heard it's not usual for you to do three or four hundred rewrites on a song.
Yeah, I'm a perfectionist and I want to get it as strong as it can possibly be and I'm trying to get down deeper and get down deeper and get down deeper and deeper into what I perceive as the truth. Which doesn't mean necessarily that it actually happened, but it gets down to a spiritual truth, and I want the song to have a reason to exist. There has to be a reason. I mean, I'm not just writing pop songs. I'm trying to write songs that are there for a purpose, and the purpose is not entertainment so much as it is, ah, what would the purpose be? I'm not sure. It's looking for the truth, I guess. And so that's a long journey and process of discovery. So I'll just keep writing until I know that I've done it, and until I've nailed that particular song. And I'm not quick. And I live in Nashville and some of these guys here are so quick and they're so good, and I'm just amazed by some of the minds here, but mine moves a lot slower, so I just have to work a lot harder
Does the art get ahead of the craft, or vice versa?
Sometimes. Sometimes. I always like to look at it like the art is the part that the muse delivers, that's it's outside of me, and the craft is the sweat that I put into it. The craft is the perspiration part, and the two have got to work hand in hand. So the muse ain't going to give you the whole thing, not usually. You know, the inspiration part is the flash, and then you have to build it, which is the craft, and so you go from art to craft and art to craft and art to craft in the process of writing, and for me it's sort of a back and forth sort of relationship
Do you enjoy it?
Oh, it's a love-hate
How do gay issues figure into your writing?
Oh, you know, I approach the gay thing as just a matter of fact, so the gay issue to me is as much a matter of fact as my family issues or the issues I've had with addiction, or the issues I've had with relationships. There's just a long litany of matter of facts that are there. It's not a special category for me, so I just throw that in with everything else.
That's what I would say, it's part of the fabric
Yeah, it's part of the fabric. I'm unapologetic but I don't make a big deal about it. So, and the reason is it's just one of those things. It's not more important than the other things I just mentioned, or less important. So like, when I'm writing I have this song that was the title track of my second CD called "Drag Queens In Limousines," and you know, it's a song about a gay kid growing up. But I don't have to say, this is a song about a gay kid growing up. It's obvious. But I wanted it to read in a way that other people who have struggles growing up can relate to it. And interestingly there's a huge amount of straight people, cowboys in particular, believe it or not, that relate to that. I love it that cowboys, straight cowboys can relate to a song called "Drag Queens In Limousines." And want to feel like, and do feel like a part of that.
I think it's exactly what an artist should do, and I'm so proud and thrilled I've been blessed to be able to do that, cause the truth of the matter is, me being gay, that doesn't make me any different than a lonely cowboy, you know, whose had trouble with women. I'm like a 42-year old woman whose had more than her share of trouble with women. And who can relate to that? Well, maybe a 42-year old cowboy whose had more than his share of trouble with women. And we're experiencing a lot of the same things, and we relate to each other. And the gay think doesn't need to be a block or a wall or a way of making distinctions. It just is. It doesn't make me different, I don't think it makes me different. It's just another issue, you know. And because I don't think it makes me different, they don't see me or the characters as different, and so we're kind of in it together, and I know that this sounds like an ideal thing but it really does seem to be happening.
Mary Gauthier - Drag Queens in Limousines (1999)
There's a lot of her story in that song, "Drag Queens In Limousines," the title track from her 1999 album.
Mary, of what song that you've written are you the most proud?
Ah, hard to say, hard to say, I do love "Drag Queens In Limousines" cause it does that bridge-building thing that I really want to do, to build bridges from things that people think make us different to show how they don't make us different at all, that we're all the same, we're all made from the same blood and guts. The same emotional material goes into all of us
Okay, then what song gets the most audience reaction?
I think the song that people are drawn to so far that I've written is called "I Drink," which is a song in first person being sung by a character who's an alcoholic, and it starts out as kind of a sparse ballad and people think it's funny and then as it goes on people realize, oh man, this isn't funny at all, this character's in tough shape. Because it's so sparse I think people are taken aback by it when they really hear it. It's one of those songs where I removed every single word except the words that I couldn't take out. There's just not that many words in that song and it hits people pretty it hits them between the eyes. So that's the one that people react to the strongest, I think
I heard an interview where you said when you first started singing it people laughed and you were kind of taken aback by that.
Yeah, cause I didn't think it was funny when I wrote it. I don't think alcoholism is funny. But I think people don't realize it's about alcoholism until I get deeper into it, so they think it's a funny drunk song of which there's a million and one of those. They're along for the fun, drinking, ha ha, ain't this great sort of thing and then they realize, oh boy, this ain't great. And so at first I didn't realize it was going to strike people as funny, and now I do know that it's going to happen, and it happens every time I play it. It's a very strange reaction but I've come to understand where people are coming from with their laughter.
And there's an element of, I guess, catchiness about that song
Yeah, there is, kids like it. I think it's the minimalism
How would you compare your two recordings of the song "I Drink"
Well, I wouldn't actually have recorded it again, but the record label wanted me to, and they wanted me to because they thought it was a very strong song and they wanted people to hear it. And the previous recording was on a record that I owned, and never got very much distribution, and so they wanted me to cut it again on their major label release, so that more people could hear it, and how could I argue with that. You know, I think it was probably a good idea, although I wouldn't have come up with it, cause I don't like to revisit songs, I like to move forward. But I do, I do think it was a good idea, so I think on the new version I'm probably singing a little better, although the original version to me would be the one that I resonate with because it was so raw, at that time. I like the rawness of it
Think it was more mournful?
Yeah, and I think the guy singing behind me on the backup vocal was there were a lot of reasons I picked him sing, and he resonated with me so strongly. He was singing his heart out, and in a lot of ways that song was about him, and he knew it, and so that just kills me. It strikes me and I get emotional reaction when I hear it because I know the story behind it
Mary Gauthier - I Drink (2005 version)
"I Drink" first appeared on the album "Drag Queens In Limousines" and you just heard part of the re-recorded version, from her new album.
From your first album, please tell me about "Goddam HIV"
I wrote that song. It was one of the first songs I've written. It's about a friend of mine. It's sort of a composite about several friends of mine who died of AIDS. One of my best buddies in Baton Rouge got sick. He was the first person that we all knew that had the virus, and it was '84, '85, something like that. And he's in there; trying to remember what he went through I wrote that, and then there were other friends who were sick but hadn't died yet, and they're in there. And I tried to write it, I tried to you know, it was before the movie "Philadelphia" but I was still thinking, how would Bruce Springsteen do this, and how would Woody Guthrie do this, how would the write this song, and that's who I was trying to channel when I wrote that. And so my thoughts were to write it in first person, like I'm the guy and you just have him walking on the train tracks at the end of the song, into the darkness
It's probably the best song from your first album.
I think it is the best song from my first album.
Mary Gauthier - Goddamn HIV (1997)
Please tell me about "Evangeline"
Oh, that is I call it one of my Baton Rouge songs. That's the story of me dating a stripper, sort of falling in love with a no-win situation, of which I have a long history of doing, and just the loneliness of that, just the absolute loneliness of being a young, gay kid who doesn't realize it's not a great idea to do that, that that's going to cause a whole lot of pain
I read where you were trying to save her and really you were the one who needed saving
Yeah, isn't it funny though, when you need saving, you don't know it sometimes and you think you're the savior. I was guilty of that for a long time.
Mary Gauthier - Evangeline (1999)
For your "Filth & Fire" album, you wrote the song "Sugar Cane" with another artist I respect very much, Catie Curtis, can you tell us about that?
Yeah, Catie's my good buddy in Boston and when I lived over there she said, let's try to write a song together, so I went over to her house and we wrote that song. It's about the sugar cane fields in Louisiana. The way that they burn the sugar cane it creates a giant toxic mess down there, and I thought, let's try to put this story together, and she helped me out a lot with that, and I think it was a successful co-wrote. I don't co-write a lot. Although I live in Nashville I'm not a great co-writer because like we said earlier, I'm such a perfectionist I drive people crazy. You know, people want the song to be done and I'm thinking we're like 20% there. So I drive people nuts. I'm, I'm not the people's first choice as a co-writer
That's a nice Neil Young opening on that song.
Isn't it Neil Youngish? I think it is Neil Youngish. I definitely am a huge Neil Young fan and always have been and I love the way he plays the harmonica and I just sort of tried to steel his style there, to hold those long notes, and for some reason those particular chords just sound like Neil Young. They go E minor, A, E minor A, and the whole world thinks, Neil Young. He owns those chords. You know, there's only so many to work with, but he owns those for sure
He could be on your duets album
Wouldn't that be nice. You got his number?
Mary Gauthier - Sugar Cane (2002)
Now we're up to the new album, "Mercy Now." Please tell me about "Empty Spaces'
A buddy of mine here in Nashville came over with that song, and there were some real big problems with it he couldn't solve, and there was I kept his melody and I put some lines in there that fixed it. And I loved it when he brought it over, and I thought, oh man, this could make a biker cry. There's stuff in here that's just so strong, I can see a guy named Grizzly wiping tears off his face
Gauthier - Empty Spaces (2005)
How about "It Ain't the Wind, It's the Rain"?
That song's about anger. That's an angry little song. That's telling my ex, you know, you may be sitting in high cotton right now, but one day it's going to start raining, and it's going to rain and rain and rain, and you know, God help you then.
I just love the way you talk about your writing
Ah, thank you, writing is the one relationship I've managed to stay in. [It kept true to you] Yeah, you know the mistress is my one true love, I guess, and if she lets me down I don't know where I'll go or what I'll do
QMH drop: Hey Y'all, this is Queer Music Heritage you're listening to and this is Mary Gauthier
Now, I've got one more song to share with you, but before I get to it I want to thank you all for listening, and to thank Jesse Hultberg and Mary Gauthier for the wonderful interviews. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. And I wish you would. My website, of course is at www.queermusicheritage.com. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston.
I saved the title track for last, tell me about the song "Mercy Now"
Oh, I think that that's one of those songs that was delivered to me. I think that was handed to me, I'm not sure how I ended up being the lucky one to get that song, but it's an amazing journey. That song starts out very personal, about my own father, whose got Alzheimer's and is getting sicker by the day, about my own brother, who has his own struggles, and it's very personal, specific to my family. And then somehow the lens, the camera lens pulls back, and then I'm talking about the Church and I'm talking about America. And then the camera lens pulls back again, and I'm talking about the entire human race, and then, in the end, somehow the lens goes into a completely different frame, and it's all of us. It's all of us. And it's something that was incredibly exciting to write, because I didn't know what I was doing, and then in the end it looked like I knew what I was doing. It was a real mysterious thing that happened, and I've never written anything like that before and it felt like a discovery, like I was panning for gold and I pulled the pan up, and I had a pan full of gold
So you didn't really conceive the progression
No, no, it happened on its own. [Wow] No, there was no forethought in that. I'm not that smart. I'm creating out of nothing. I don't have the ability to see the end. I'm panning, I'm panning, I'm panning, and then it looks like it's coming into focus and then as it started to come into focus I started to get really excited because I saw that it was making a lot of sense. But no, I didn't know where it was going or what it was trying to say
I think years from people will say, "Mercy Now," that's one of Mary's masterpieces.
Well, thank you for saying that. I appreciate that. Gosh, I hope you're right. I know I'm real proud of it and I know I can't explain how it happened, that it just happened
Mary Gauthier - Mercy Now (2005)
Total Time: 78:51