Script for May 29, 2006, QMH:
Ferron - More Than That (2005)
This is Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and this is one of those rare editions of QMH where I'm devoting the entire show to one artist. And there's no question that she merits this attention. She's iconic in the genre of women's music, and her name is Ferron. So stay with me to hear an exclusive interview with her, where we'll talk about her music in general and quite a number of her songs in particular.
But for perhaps for my younger listeners, let me give a quick introduction to Ferron. She was born in Toronto and was raised in a small working class community on the West Coast of Canada, near Vancouver. She started writing songs as a teenager and into her 20s had to take a variety of jobs to make ends meet. At age 25, in 1977, she released her first album, called "Ferron," on her own label, and printed up just 1000 copies. It was a two-track acoustic project, and a year later she repeated this effort with 1000 copies of her second release, called "Ferron Backed Up," getting that name since it included some backup musicians. These two releases attracted enough attention that by 1980 she was able to borrow enough to record her first studio album. That album, called "Testimony," paved the way for her real start, with critical acclaim and national touring.
Let's skip ahead a bit. You've heard me talk about Hot Wire Magazine before, and I interviewed its editor on my show last September. It was a magazine about women's music and one I very much respected. In 1992 it featured a reader's poll and Ferron was voted all-time favorite performer, and in 1993, thirteen years after its release, "Testimony" was voted all-time favorite album. Other outstanding albums by her have included "Shadows on a Dime," "Phantom Center," "Still Riot" and "Driver." Her lyrics are personal, poetic and powerful, and the Boston Globe paid her high praise by saying "Some day they will call Dylan the Ferron of the 60s."
I interviewed Ferron just a few months after the release of her first album in nine years, and she tells us about the new album and touches on the journey during these recent years.
The new CD is called "Turning Into Beautiful" and what I love about that CD is that it took about another nine years since the last CD to record and it's just like a soup. It's just more seasoned, more more reflective on what it's like getting older with all its losses, and its gains.
Your new album Turning into Beautiful opens with the song "More Than That," in which you sing "Hello my friends, I feel so happy to be back/To feel so clear and on the track" - it's a beautiful welcoming to your album .can you elaborate on that sentiment?
Yeah, I mean I think that there's a lot of that kind of attitude through the whole CD, which is: what do I mean when I say it's more than that? Well, anybody in the know knows what I mean. You know it's like sometimes it takes a long time to realize that A, where you are is okay and that's where you are; or else it takes you a long time to get back to where you were. And, am I happy to be back? Am I happy? It's everything, like all the losses and all the anxieties and the questions about self or anything, all the way along are there, before I get back to that moment of saying, yeah, I'm happy to be back at work. I'm happy to be back as an artist. I'm happy to be back on earth, or you know, to be back willing to, you know, live my life. It's all that.
Have you found that when you think back on your early works that you perhaps learn something from what you wrote years and years ago?
Yep, and I must be a slow learner, because, I mean, I've had to sing willingly but fascinatingly, sung many of the same songs-and as I add another CD I add some more songs-but people still want to hear right from the very first CD. So even as I was growing older, cause now it's like, I started in '75 performing, to go back and sing a song that I wrote, you know, in 1975, and find that I don't have a problem with it. I mean, it was one of the criteria for me to say, is this a good song? Could I sing it forever? And, I mean, you know, I can. I can, because somewhere the place that I'm writing from it doesn't change. A cave person, you know, if they could have sung would have sung the same song.
Has your relationship to some of those early songs changed?
Some of them I've grown more reverent toward, more respectful. It's like, how did I know that then? And, how come I've forgotten it so many times since? It's like almost when they say, watch a 4 or 5 year old, you know, where they're living is pre-controlled mind and so what they're telling you is really their truth. And I feel that way about some of my early songs, like, I knew something, from an antenna, or a real instinctive place that, you know, years later I had to go back and learn again, because I didn't know I'd lost it, but once I knew I had to go back and get it, and you can't get it the same way
I've had artists tell me that some of their older songs became more true for them, like they grew into it
Yeah, I had that happen with a song called "It Won't Be Long." I dreamt that song. I mean, I dreamt the circumstances of that song, and then when I woke up I didn't want to write the song, because, you know, it's always complicated when art and politics mix. I mean, it means you can be bought and be sold, you can be you know, it's very complicated, and I didn't want to take that kind of stance. But as it turned out I couldn't not do the song, and I wrote it, because I had to write it out of my body. And then I didn't want to sing it, but then I had to sing it out of my body. And the response of the song was very powerful, and the song still has not died. I mean, you know, it had a little bit of a dip through the Reagan years, but then it came back. And it's back and I sang it in November at a show with the band, and the song had a life force that really surprised me, once again. You know sometimes songs, they do go away for a while. I don't know if they're taking a break or I'm taking a break, but they're something that goes on and, I don't know, they go to sleep and then they come back.
On your new album, I love the country sound on some of the songs, with the steel guitar. Did you have those arrangements in mind when you finished writing them?
Yeah, I had gone to my producer and basically, I mean, one of the things was, you know, you only have so much money when you're making your own CDs, and basically what I said is, you know, we're a band plus one, is what I felt I could afford. It required all my players to be as talented as they could be in the bed track sessions, and then we were going to add one more one more tone. And I decided, and Johnny and I decided, that the pedal steel was the tone because it has so much longing and so much heart. And so that is the instrument that is running throughout
I've listened to it several times in a row and my reaction is that the CD is very comforting.
Thank you, that's exactly what I want to hear. I mean, you know, I think when you're young you can write, and you're supposed to, to write the upset the upset and the anger and the this and the that, and it can be full of questions, and everybody's thrilled that the questions are there. But I find it kind of awkward for me as I get older to continue on that vein. I don't really feel it. I feel like, you know, I've seen the ball bounce quite a few times. I know how high it bounces. I can't ask the question how high bounces the ball. That's not my job now; I don't think that's my job. That's somebody else's job, you know, I want to talk about something else.
My favorite song of yours is "Ain't Life a Brook"...can you tell us about that song?
Well, you know, "Ain't Life a Brook" was actually more mature than I am, or than I was when I wrote it. And sometimes I write where I'm at, and sometimes I write where I'm going. And "Ain't Life a Brook" is like that. It had an understanding of you know, for a minute when I was in that song I had an understanding of the bittersweet trade, exchange between freedom and love and possession and love, I saw what had to happen in order for me to grow. And I actually think that that song is nurtured by this one belief that I have that which is that people are instinctively intelligent, and emotionally alert, and desiring to be kind.
Ferron - Ain't Life a Brook (1983)
And that was her classic song "Ain't Life a Brook."
Why do you think that song is so very popular with your fans?
You know, I had a friend tell me that you couldn't really know love until you had loved someone and left them, and first of all that they had loved you and left, but then when you had loved and left, and at that point you're in a realm of love because it has to have forgiveness on both parts. And I remember at the time not really knowing what she was talking about completely, but as time went on and when I look at the song "Ain't Life a Brook" that's what that song is talking about, just like, you know, to try to find a way, and I've tried to do it for years, to try to find a way to write where there are no villains. It's a wonderful place to be
It's not she left me, it's what happened, not something inflicted.
Yeah, yeah, I suppose it's in a more general way to say if you have lemons you make lemonade. I mean, what is there in the moment and in the pain that I mean it's a map, too I've heard that from people, you know, "Ain't Life a Brook" ended up being a map for a way out of the grieving, or a way through the grieving, and you know, I have grieved. I have loved and I have lost and I know the terrain
In the introduction to this show I talked about your breakthrough album, "Testimony," from 1980. Could you tell me about the title track?
"Testimony," the song, was written in Toronto and what had happened was in a nutshell, I had been asked to write a song for a film called "This Film Is About Rape." And I had been gang raped when I was younger and I went back to the police and tried to get some information. I didn't exactly know how to write this song, and in the process, you know, I could barely find the information, or whatever, and was young enough to not realize the effect that this was going to have on me. Consequently, you know, in the ensuing months I really went on a tear. I mean, I just wanted to run away from me so bad, that I ended up in Toronto, when I lived in Vancouver.
And when I was there, I just was living really. I knew I had to have the song by September 14th, and now it's the day before, and I still don't have the song and it was thing that I was running from and the thing that I was running toward. And that night I ended up I think it's almost like a tramp I mean I ended up taking a walk with this very weird kind of man. I mean, I'm sure he was real, but sometimes I wonder, on a bicycle, had a conversation with me and then I went back home and I wrote I wrote that song, and I got up in the morning and took another look at it and thought, well, I guess that's the song cause this is the day. And I called them and said that I had it, and you know, and so they used it, and I ended up calling is "Testimony" because it was like a testimonial.
Ferron / Sweet Honey in the Rock - Testimony (1980 / 1983)
Very Nice. That was a little of the title track from "Testimony." And I gave you an extra treat there. I went from Ferron singing the first verse of her song to the last verse as sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock, from 1983. They adored Ferron's song and made a staple of their concerts around the world.
And I need to mention that in order to cover as many songs as possible on this show I can only feature clips of the songs. And I'm going to try to cover her music in roughly chronological order.
Also from the "Testimony" album, I've found that when I hear the song "Misty Mountain," the song stays with me. I find that the next day I notice the chorus going through my head.
"Misty Mountain" I was living in a friend's basement. I had a small room and there was a couple of years there where I was really impoverished spiritually. I just didn't know what to do and was so full of questions and everything and at one point (they said) well, what do you need? I couldn't get out of bed at one period for three weeks. I was living with friends and they said, "what do you need?" And I said, "I need a room, a dark room where I can rest, something with cedar in it where I can play the guitar. I like to play the guitar in the dark. And so, they put a bathroom down there, it was made out of cedar and I went in there and closed the door and just started I felt alone, so I felt like I could really sing loud, and I just belted out those lyrics. And so then I went running to the typewriter and typed them up.
Ferron - Misty Mountain (1980)
And the song "Who Loses" was on "Testimony" but it was also on your first album, from 1977.
Yeah, that was probably the first song that I saved. I had the idea that I would just live in the now and when I'd write a song I'd sing it and as soon as I forgot it, it was gone and I didn't care. But at some point someone said to me, you know, you should really be saving so "Who Loses" was written in 1970. I started saving them. I wrote it down.
Ferron - Who Loses (1977 and 1980)
In 1984 you released "Shadows on a Dime" please tell me about the title track.
"Shadows on a Dime," I was on a train. I had flown from Santa Cruz where I had done two sold out shows, and then I was going to New York for the first time, and I was on a train and fell into a sleep, and I had already had the music. You know, sometimes you pick up the guitar and you're playing it, going over the same licks over and over, and I had this music when I woke up. The dream that I'd been dreaming I knew fit right on, right on that guitar pattern, and so I put them together, and it was true. I hardly had to alter anything. They just the words and the guitar found each other and it became in a sense the title track for the next CD, cause the next CD was "Shadows on a Dime" the CD itself was about the price of the price of your emotional life and your physical life and your professional life, and understanding that life was a lesson, and what everything cost. So "Shadows in a Dime" was written in a dream and it just had that feeling of the desperation of the soul, the soul that wants the soul wants something and the earth and the businesses (?) want us to do something else, and so that's what that whole CD is about.
What does the title actually mean?
Where it comes from is when I was a kid we were very poor and I would always scour the streets for money, and you could only see a dime if the sun happened to shine on it, it would glint. Otherwise you'd just kind of walk right past it. And that's what I'm making a reference to, but of course there's another it's about the lesson, the fortunes and the light on our souls that can happen but we can't see our goodness, we can't see our greatness and fortunes unless there's a light shining on them
Ferron - Shadows on a Dime (1984)
Is it possible to answer the question, of what song that you've written are you the most proud?
The song that I'm I wouldn't say the most proud, but that I am continually fascinated by is "Proud Crowd, Pride Cried." And the other song that I'm that I feel soulful for, that I'm proud of is "Phantom Center." I think it was a completely overlooked song and sentiment, and maybe it was before its time
Which of your songs is your favorite to perform?
Depends on if I'm alone or with the band, depends on the instrumentation that's around me, it depends on where I'm at. Like right now from my own feeling the song that has been the most powerful for me on the stage has been "In the Meantime," from "Turning Into Beautiful." And in the past of course it has been "Shadows on a Dime," if I've got cello player it's just a completely evocative song, cello player and guitar player together. You know, it just kind of comes and goes. For a long time it was "Inside Track, My My" very beautiful, peaceful space that we could get together when we were the band, just like, God, you just wanted the song to never end
From "Phantom Center," from 1990 is the song "My My" and it contains the line "I remember that time I told you about your love and the polished stone." This seems to be a direct reference to a line in "Ain't Life a Brook"
Ferron - My My (1990)
Yeah, yeah, and I think that was probably the first time that it occurred to me that I was only telling one story, that me as an artist, or they say an artist only has one story. So it didn't seem preposterous for me to go back and acknowledge that I had an intimacy with an audience, and also make reference to something from the past
Also from "Phantom Center," please tell me about the song "Harmless Love"
"Harmless Love" I had won a green card and I was now going to go live in the United States and I had written, oh, I don't know, some ten-page poem, something like a kin to "Paradise Lost" trying to find out my feelings about going to live in a country that was also, you know, doing things in Nicaragua and Argentina and I'm a Canadian, I'm not American and I had a great turmoil over that over that move, and how I ended up resolving it was by saying that I was going to go and share my turmoil with more people if I sang in the United States, and the night before I was leaving I was walking down the street in Vancouver and it was raining I started whistling this little melody and I don't know why it was just that was the question, what's the matter with harmless. And I bumped into a friend and we had a talk for a minute and I went home. And that night I stayed up and wrote that whole song and I think that "Harmless Love" and "Phantom Center" on the same CD was the dilemma of "Phantom Center," was the whole question of it. On one hand there's this vulgar greed and violence and disrespect for other people that is just all the time. And also, just why can't we be harmless? You know, why isn't that an aspiration? So that's how that song came out
Ferron - Harmless Love (1990)
Please tell me about "Stand Up"
There were some very hard times in there. I guess that was where I tried to explain how I felt about choosing a dark room and mirrors and all the disco bars and being gay as an illicit affair, and the shame it's almost like something was built on shame. I think homophobia is internalized in all of us. It certainly was in me and I think I was trying to talk about that, like there's no time now, there were various musicians and artists around who, their MO was they were going to wait until they had I suppose an amount of financial clout so that then they thought they could have political clout. And I was talking about that. It's like you take the space you're in and then it's yours. No one can take your space from you, so I guess I was telling me about it
Ferron - Stand Up (1990)
From your album "Driver," from 1994, there's line in your song "Girl on the Road," from "Driver" that says "I wanted to turn beautiful and serve eternity" ..and the title of your new album is "Turning Into Beautiful." Is there a connection to those messages?
You know what, it was totally unconscious but later, what happened was, after I had written "Turning Into Beautiful" and then I was back on stage doing a show you know, I'm singing "Girl on the Road" and I got to that line and I about stopped singing. I just was, inside of my head, was "huh, wow."
Good, I didn't want to think I was imagining it.
Yup, boy, you've noticed is all I mean, I actually hadn't thought about it at the time but I did later, when I was, like I said, right in the middle of singing and, oh my God.
Can you tell me about the song itself?
"Girl on the Road." I was in Chicago at the folk music, school of folk music, we were touring, the Canadian festival tour, I was the headliner and a bunch of Canadians, we were doing this thing through the states. It was kind of laughable, I mean, it didn't go over very well. And the sound checks were forever, cause there was like five acts or something, and I was always last, and I went into this back room. And there was an old school desk, the kind with the inkwell. And when I was young, at home, in my family life, I would hide down in the basement and there was an old school desk and I would write. And so I went and put myself in that desk and, you know, it's like the desk was holding the song and when I sat down it just ended up being the story of my life, and I think that all was in 1989 or '90 or something like that and I wasn't sure about continuing doing music and it was a hard tour.
And I think with that song it was myself telling me that there really was no other cross to carry or there was nothing else to do. This was the thing to do, and that writing and singing it had been the thing that freed me from all the other all the other things that were in the other verses. You know, the darkness in my family life and the idea of love affairs that didn't work out, the sense of freedom that I thought I had and couldn't find, and you know, all of it's in there, and a forgiveness and a compassion that I ultimately only got from doing music and writing the songs, and so that's what "Girl on the Road" was about.
Ferron - Girl on the Road (1994)
The song "Love Loves Me" has kind of a Cajun feel to it
Yeah, I know, very sardonic. It's like understanding what love does. It just puts you through the wringer and that's how we learn, that's what it is, cause you're not going to go on the Ferris wheel and think you're not going to spin around
Ferron - Love Loves Me (1994)
Another very popular album for you came from 1996 and was called "Still Riot." Would you please tell me about the song "Still Riot" and what it means.
It was the beginning of my elder perspective in the sense that all of us got older, we ended up with kids or mortgages or decisions that we thought we'd never make. And we did, because we had to, and you just couldn't know when you were twenty how life would put you in such a jam. At the same time there's a certain grief and meditation to life and what I wanted to say, and hoped I said, was is to change the world sometimes is to stand still, and sometimes even when you're meditating you're changing the world with a fury. And so that it was two things, "still riot" meaning please continue and also that the change that we get as we get older happens on the inside
Ferron - Still Riot (1996)
Also from "Still Riot" please tell me about "Alice Says Yes"
I actually had a friend inside of Warner Brothers who didn't know how to be in a relationship, and it was something that when we spoke about it, he really wanted he just wanted to be in a couple, and we had a nickname for each other, that was Alice. I was Alice and he was Alice. And so, we'd had a talk and I said, "it's just all about being willing, Alice." So I wrote that song, for him. I mean, I wrote it for him, but also, that's how I think it is. Sometimes you have to make a choice and weigh out whether you're lonely enough? Are you empty enough? Have you finally learned enough that you're willing to, you know, give to another person? And, when you get that down, then you can stop being the person who's driving around on the road peering into other people's lives. You know, when I was a kid, that was like a night out with the family, driving around looking at everybody else's house
Ferron - Alice Says Yes (1996)
The production of the song "The Chosen Ones" captures a certain mood and then evolves.
Yeah, "The Chosen Ones," again is the commitment or re-commitment to realize that there's only .you're living and you're witnessing. And that song opens up "Still Riot" from a fade in, and you hear all this chatter and laughing and everybody's happy, and I have so many times been in rooms like that and felt just completely alone. And so I said to Johnny, how do we how do we get that feeling, cause the whole direction of "Still Riot" is you cannot have a life if you don't participate. If you don't participate you're not there. Therefore the end of the CD is this incredible hundred-people choir, and the beginning is the chatter and this person having their own kind of quiet nervous breakdown about being on the outside and not knowing how to get in. And the chosen ones are, in a sense, is the person who if you're envious you look out and say, "They're lucky, they're the chosen ones" and on the other hand, to go through the process is to be the chosen ones. So I hope that makes sense to you.
Ferron - The Chosen Ones (1996)
One more from "Still Riot." The song "Venus as Appearances" has a very different feel for you.
Yeah, and what had happened for that song was that years before, in Canada, I live on an island and we have a mountain, and on the top of the mountain, for July 4th, or 1st, that weekend, you go up there and sleep in sleeping bags and actually stay up half the night. And when we were up there one time one of the gals that was part of the party said that Venus was only in the sky half the year. The other half the time it only seemed to be there. I mean, I have no idea what's the truth in that, but I just thought that was a very interesting concept, and so the song "Venus as Appearances" is really about that, about how things seem like they're something when they're really something else. And the lessons come from the evidence, not what you thought they were.
Ferron - Venus as Appearances (1996)
pics below courtesty of Diane Litke, taken at he 2002 Houston Women's Festival
Have your feelings changed about your songwriting over the years?
I respect it more. I see now when I put it all out, like when I have to type up something, like I have to type up "Still Riot" for the webpage, or you know, have everything together for a minute because I was doing an anthology of all the songs for a book, of all the lyrics. And I started looking at it and, you know, it is a whole and searching spiritual life that I put on paper
And how has your audience changed?
The audience is the same. I mean, we started out together. We grew older together. They don't go out as much our age group. I think that there's younger people, but they come to us the same way, if they're that kind of person who is interested in putting poetry to music, and the soul searching together. I have a feeling that in years to come there's going to be some kind of I don't know how to say it an exposure of the kind of music that I did that will come up again. I understand I'm now in the encyclopedia, which someone just told me the other night. That stunned me. And, you know, I get used for people doing their dissertations and stuff, very interesting.
an Out musician for many years. has your image of that changed over
It's always important. I mean, the kind of an honest presentation, to have the ability to live with yourself is always important. I don't think it becomes any less. It certainly had more of a price tag on it when I decided that I wouldn't be in the closet. But it just depended on what you thought you were paying. I mean, I grew up surrounded by deception and secrets, and I just couldn't stand it, and I couldn't perpetrate it in my own life. I would have rather have died, actually. And so, you know, there was more at stake for me to lie about myself than there was to tell the truth, so I wouldn't be able to live
On the lighter side, how did you get the name Ferron?
My name Ferron was given to me by a couple of friends, who I don't know, somebody had a dream. And at a certain part of my life I was called Rusty. I mean, no one even knew what to call me, so they said, "this is your name, Ferron." And I went, "what is that?" "I don't know, but that's what it is." And in the dream there was three of us and that was my name. And so, that would be back in the early, very early 70s. And first time I went somewhere to try to sing, the guy was very gruff and said, "what's, what's your name." So, I said, "Ferron."
In the year 2000 Ferron released a double CD retrospective album called "Impressionistic," and it includes 28 songs covering all of her career.
In the ad for your CD "Impressionistic," Ladyslipper Music said "Neither she nor we would suggest that anyone ought to listen to a double Ferron CD all at one sitting". Do you agree with that comment?
[laughs] Actually, that's what I said, because of course I had to listen to it, to get it ready, and it was just like, oh my God, you know, all the different images and feelings, and then there's some kind of cohesion because it was the same voice through the whole thing that it just seemed like almost too much. I actually thought that was going to be my last CD. You know, after the Warner Brothers thing, then the band, we just kind of split up, and actually other than Shelly, my guitar player, I never saw anybody anymore. My producer and I ended up in a conversation, and I just felt spiritually and emotionally just in the same sort of bland place that, you know, maybe it's time to take a stab at this again
In 1999 Ferron recorded a unique album for her, at June Millington's Institute for the Musical Arts, or, IMA. The album is called "Inside Out." It's an album of cover songs, and I love that album, for some of the same reasons you'll hear her talk about.
Out" actually was about the songs that I'd grown up with, that,
you know, listening on my transistor as I walked in junior high and
being completely fascinated with the music, and I don't really know
music theory. I couldn't tell you anything about music. And we went
back and just reclaimed those songs. For me it was a thrill to see
how simple some of the them were musically, and some of them were
Well, I picked the songs because they were the songs that I loved growing up. "Town Without Pity" I heard from the movie, and I was completely mesmerized by that; I would have been kind of young, but as time went on, I pulled it back. All of those songs were just songs that I think the only thing I would have added to it was "Society's Child" because, you know, that was the other song that really mattered
Which track is your favorite from it?
"What Becomes of the Broken Hearted," the Ruffin song. And, man, was it hard to sing. I mean, he must have huge lungs, and for me, I mean, I ended up feeling bruised by the time, cause if you really, really noticed the lines there's no place to breathe
Right, it just carries the thought and carries it and carries it
And, man, I just I wanted to own that song and I really had to practice
Ferron - What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (1999)
"Town Without Pity," I think is a fascinating song. It also was a real you had to sing it, and "Walk Away, Renee" you know, I'm telling you my favorites on that in terms of me being completely connected and getting it. From the inside out, "Walk Away Renee" was a tearjerker, and "Don't Worry Baby" really fascinated me
There's like a who's who of women's music helping you on that recording June & Jean, Millington, Adrienne Torf, Mary Watkins, Teresa Trull, Barbara Higbie, Rhiannon, Gwen Avery, Cris Williamson, Tret Fure
Yeah, that was when we lived at IMA, when I lived at IMA and we had a studio, recording studio off the kitchen
What are the hardest lessons you have learned from your over 30 years of writing and performing music?
Well, quite often you're only as good as your last song. [laughs] And you have to keep, you have to keep some sense of yourself together. It's hard to learn about how fickle a media culture is. I mean, I've had some absolutely loyal followers all of my life, and when we brought out "Turning Into Beautiful" and put it on the web, and I had a webpage and everything, there was a way for people to communicate with me. I couldn't believe some of the letters that I got. But at the same time every time there's a decade, and I don't mean it by the years, but by the birth of people, you have to figure out how you're going to jump the decade into the next generation of persons. And if you're not in the system it's really tricky. It's really tricky. So that was a hard thing to learn. By the same token it was hard for me to accept my worth to other people, because sometimes left alone it's a really small dark room and I don't have a way out. And yet there's a whole bunch of people, thousands of people, who hold me in this incredible esteem, and I am not able to match it. Like that's been the hardest thing for me to learn
The pressures of being almost a cult figure?
Maybe that's what it I don't know what it would be called. It's about learning, realizing at a certain point in your life that other people possibly love you more than you do. That's a sad lesson, and also kind of curious, so, you know
Maybe appreciate is a better word.
Yeah, it's a more distant word, but if you saw some of the letters "appreciate" is not strong enough. I mean, there are people who I think use some of the songs to actually make it from point A to point B without offing themselves. You know, in some ways so did I. I had to make meaning out of a meaningless life
I want to slip in a couple clips of songs by Ferron that you may not know about, as they do not appear on her albums. In 1998 a various artists tribute album was released, called "Remembering Kate Wolf." She was a very respected artist who died in 1987. It's rare for Ferron to do a duet, but on this album she and singer songwriter Greg Brown sing Kate Wolf's song "Tequila and Me."
Ferron & Greg Brown - Tequila and Me (1998)
That was Ferron and Greg Brown. And in 2002 Greg Brown got his own tribute album. Ferron has long been one of the influences in Greg's work so she was a natural to contribute her version of his song "Where Is Maria?"
Ferron - Where Is Maria? (2002)
From the album "Going Driftless: An Artist's Tribute to Greg Brown" was a little of "Where Is Maria?" The album also includes songs done by Lucinda Williams, Ani Difranco, Shawn Colvin, Mary Chapin Carpenter and many others. As a side note, it happens that all of the artists contributing to this tribute album were women, and the effect of them singing his songs make many of them appear to have lesbian lyrics, which is a nice side benefit.
I started the show with Ferron's latest album, "Turning Into Beautiful," released late last year. It's her first album of original material in nine years.
Did some of your fans express an impatience because it was 9 years since the last album of original material, like, where have you been, I needed you
Not impatience, but definitely that they were sort of happy that my voice was back, and I never got the sense of impatience. I mean, it's like when I think about me waiting for Ricki Lee (Jones) to come back, after she you know had her fame and everybody knew that she was somewhere hurting herself. You'd just play, before "Magazine" came out, I felt bad that I'd have to live out the rest of my life without hearing her voice. And then she came back, and it was true. She was really gone, you know, she was hurting herself
From "Turning Into Beautiful" please talk about the song "In the Meantime"
"In the Meantime" is I was at a writing retreat and we had to have 24 hours of silence, and we had to go up a mountain, and we had to look for something or ask for something. And I wanted a sign about a father that I didn't ever meet. And by the time I came down from the mountain, what I realized and I was very disappointed up at the top, because there was no clear sign that got but by the time I came down I understood that everything I am is because of what I got and didn't get. And so, in the sense that the wound from his abandonment is also what gave me the understanding about abandonment, and how to treat people. So that's what that song is about, and "In the Meantime," meaning here on earth time, that is the story of living, is that you're going to learn from what you get and from what you don't get
Ferron - In the Meantime (2005)
Tell me about the title track for "Turning Into Beautiful"
I guess it's the same message that I've always been trying to get across, in yet another way. It's we can't love somebody until we can love ourselves. Sometimes we are easier on other people than we are on ourselves, and so there's this whole thing of turning into beautiful and in the sense that, I've had it happen that when people look at me they think that I'm I don't even mean that in the lover sense, I just mean, they value me more than I'm able to value myself, and sometimes I think that the whole thing about, you know, stopping and the disrespect we have for our children, and just all the ways that we treat each other could be it requires that we feel better about ourselves. So that's what "Turning Into Beautiful" is about.
Ferron - Turning Into Beautiful (2005)
That was the song "Turning Into Beautiful," and I'm down to the last song on the show, but before I get to it I want to thank you all for listening, and I want to especially thank Ferron for the wonderful interview. She's an artist I've been wanting to interview for quite some time and the release of her new album proved the perfect opportunity. And as I knew would happen, the interview was so good that I could not fit all of into the radio version this show, so my internet listeners can hear an extended version with a lot more comments and additional music. That of course can be found at www.queermusicheritage.com. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT Houston.
For my closing song I can't resist grabbing another track from the 1999 album "Inside Out." That's the album with all the delicious cover versions of songs from the 60s. So here's my last question for Ferron.
Since I love songs that are lyrically gay, I just love how that worked out with "My Girl"
[laughs] I know, well that was the other part of "Inside Out," was that growing up a teenager I didn't know that I was gay. I mean, I wasn't sexual in any way, but there was something that wasn't working out, lyrically, and so it was really great all those years later, like I said on the jacket, to be able to go back and, you know, sing the songs without changing the lyrics and have them be true
Ferron - My Girl (1999)