Script for September 2001, QMH:
I'm starting off tonight's show with two old blues songs, both from 1935, both by straight artists, and both make a comment on gay life. The first is by Lucille Bogan. She was born in Mississippi in 1897 and was raised in Alabama, and in 1923 started recording for a variety of blues labels, like Okeh, Paramount and Brunswick, mostly in Chicago. She is best known for writing and recording an x-rated song called "shave 'em dry" and was considered by many to be the toughest female blues singer of the pre-war era. She also recorded under the name Bessie Jackson, and under this name did a song in 1935 called "B.D. Woman's Blues." In those days the listeners knew that "B.D." stood for bull dyker, and it starts out: Comin' a time, B.D. women, they ain't gonna need no men" and there's another line: "They got a head like a sweet angel and they walk like a natural man." Here's Bessie Jackson with "B.D. Woman's Blues."
- B.D. woman's blues (1935)
The song you heard following Bessie Jackson was by Pinewood Tom and was called "sissy man blues," who according to the lyrics "ain't had no woman since my good gal been gone" and he got to the point where he exclaimed "lord, if you can't send me no woman, please, send me some sissy man." Pinewood Tom found a lot more fame under his real name Josh White. He was born in 1914 in South Carolina to a very poor family and as a child joined a minstral show. By the 40s his singing had evolved into folk blues and he got enough attention to even be invited by FDR to play at the White House. He became famous for his protest songs that dealt with social issues of concern to black americans. In the 50s he was one of the first american folk blues artists to tour Europe.
Okay, now I'm going to bring things a little more up to date. See if you recognize the artist singing these two clips:
Janis Ian - society's child / at seventeen
Of course those were two huge hits written and recorded by Janis Ian. "Society's Child" was from 1967, but did not start out as a hit. It was released in 1965 and was banned on many radio stations. They weren't ready for a song about interracial romance, and it wasn't until Leonard Bernstein featured her on a TV special that she received the exposure for the song to become a hit. She was 15 years old. The song "At Seventeen" came along in 1975 with it's stunning lyrics about the pain in high school of those who are not accepted, and many of us could very much identify with it. It's album, "Between The Lines," won two Grammy Awards.
Last year she released her 17th album, called "god and the fbi" and I'm very fortunate to have part of an interview done with Janis. She was interviewed by my AudioFile co-producer Chris Wilson in Los Angeles last month. It will start right after the song from "god and the fbi" called "play like a girl."
Janis Ian - play like a girl (2000)
Janis Ian interview
Well, I got involved in AIDS work back in '82, '83, before it had a name, and have done a lot of the first benefits, you know, the first pediatric benefit, the first one in New York, the first one in Nashville. It really disturbed me when I was writing that song how many people were using religion as an excuse for hatred, and saying things like "it's God's punishment on gay men." You know if that was true really then lesbians, who are the safest risk group really should have been punished as well. I can't imagine that God would hate gay men more than gay women. So it became an important song to me and I like the idea that when we see angels, you know, they're always depicted as these kind of happy figures...you put it on your lapel, and you feel a little protected. To me, to be that close to God would mean that you really saw into the hearts of men and I think there would be a lot of tears involved.
Janis Ian - when angels cry (1995)
I'm the one who encouraged Chris to ask
Janis about the song "when angels cry." It's from her 1995
album "Revenge" and also appeared that same year on the
wonderful various artists CD "Love Worth Fighting For" along
with music by Michael Callen, Holly Near, Cris Williamson, and many
other talented gay & lesbian artists.
Also, be sure to listen to KPFT every
Saturday night at midnight for After Hours with Jimmy Carper. It's
Queer Radio...with attitude. And, Since there will be many obscurities
heard on this show, I thought those of you on the internet would like
to be able to see photos of the artists and recordings, and view the
playlist. You can do that at www.queermusicheritage.com.
- cabin boy (1984)
After Tom Robinson you heard a bit of madness by Cheech & Chong from their "Los Cochinos" album from 1973, followed by Martin Mull, singing one called "men" from his 1977 album called "I'm Everyone I've Ever Loved." And, no, I don't think Cheech & Chong or Martin Mull are gay, but those two selections sure were, and fit right in with the cabin boy theme of Tom Robinson's song.
The next artist you'll hear is one of my favorites, Jamie Anderson. She's released five excellent albums since 1989 and can sing serious as well as humorous songs equally well. This song happens to be one of her humorous songs, from her latest album called "Drive All Night." The song is called "I wanna be a straight guy."
Jamie Anderson - I wanna be a straight guy (1999)
Jamie tells me she has a new CD coming out around November. I'm looking forward to it.
Next up is a very special interview, but I want to start off with two song clips.
Seasons of Love / Rent (1996)
The first clip many of you will recognize
as "Seasons of Love" from the 1996 Broadway hit musical
"Rent" and it was followed by a little bit of the song from
it called "Rent," sung by Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal.
Anthony Rapp has been acting and singing professionally since he was
nine years old. He's best known for originating the role of Mark Cohen
in Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer-Prize winning rock opera, going with
the show from Off-Broadway to Broadway to Chicago, and finishing his
run in London. He shared an OBIE Award with the rest of the original
Rent cast for his performance. I'm very pleased to bring you an interview
Anthony Rapp recorded for me. He's recently released his first solo
CD, called "Look Around," and I think it's excellent.
I would say that my music is pop music but it's guitar-based pop music so it's so it has kind of a rock & roll edge to it sometimes and it's not pop music like bubble gum pop music so it's sort of alternative pop music in a way so I sometimes say alterna-pop, but that's not like an official label that the industry has embraced yet so I don't know if that means anything to people, but the other thing I would say it's influenced by 80s pop and new wave so it's heavily influenced by all that although it doesn't necessarily sound like that music I think I hear it when I listen to my music. I'm very influenced by Elvis Costello and the Beatles and REM I mean it's catchy, edgy pop music I guess is what I would say.
who is your audience?
I think the main number of people that come to see me know me from "Rent" although some of the people know me from some of the films that I've done but it's mostly the younger crowd that seems to know me from "Rent"
you are an openly gay artist, is it important for you to be "out"?
it's really important for me to be out and publicly recognized as a queer artist and at the same time I'd say it's also deeply important that my work can speak for myself and that people can be drawn to it for it's own sake but that part and parcel of my work is sort of my political and outreach and activist work. It's very important for me to be out.
That kind of leads us up nicely to your song "living alive," can you tell us about that song.
when I was filming "Dazed and Confused" in Austin, Texas, there was a queer youth group called Out Youth Austin and I would I would hang out there and sort of see what was going on, I was myself only 21 at the time, but they had this what I felt was like a really wonderful motto, slogan, on there wall which is "there's only one you for all time, fearlessly be yourself." It was unattributed, it was an anonymous quote but I know it's very simple and kind of not the most maybe not the most eloquent motto ever spoken but it really spoke to me. So I was hanging out with Joe, my collaborator, and fellow songwriter and friend and just like I wanted to try to write something in tribute to that and he was totally up for it and so we went set out to write an anthem, and um you know sometimes I wonder if it's you know I I get a little self-conscious about it cause it's hard not you know this is such a cynical time and it's hard for people to be sort of unabashedly positive as that, but people seem to really respond to it which makes me happy. It's the anthem inspired by the slogan at the queer youth group.
Living Alive (2001)
That was a little bit of the song "living alive." In addition to "Rent", you've appeared in a number of movies, including Adventures in Babysitting, Dazed and Confused, and Six Degrees of Separation, and in the Broadway production of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown", and now you have a solo album and are doing live concerts. Tell us how you view the two crafts of acting and singing.
acting and singing are very different in a lot of ways and very similar in a lot of ways and in acting I'm playing a character so I'm so I'm performing I'm almost always performing someone else's words or singing someone else's songs so it's filtered through a lens of another person who is this character even though it's me up there it's like it's filtered whereas performing as a singer I'm mostly singing songs that I've at least has a hand in writing so there's a whole other layer stripped away so it's a little more vulnerable and hopefully authentic and it took me a while to start to feel really comfortable with that and now I'm feeling more and more comfortable with that so I'm letting sort of hopefully letting it all hang out a little more
There are three songs on your CD that, at least lyrically, kind of tie together, the songs "look around", "goodbye" and "now I know" can you tell us about them?
"Look Around" is about time after a breakup when you kind of wonder where the person you broke up with is in their life, and you kind of wonder if you'll ever see them again, and that was very specifically what that song was about
"Goodbye" is a, "Goodbye" "Goodbye" is also it's sort of the other the the earlier moment of the breakup song in which all there is is anger (laughs) so "Goodbye" is the angry get-out-of-my-life song and "Look Around" is the okay-you're-out-of-my-life-I-kind-of-want-you back.
and "Now I Know" we're actually back together and I am sorry for the things that happened and now I know that we should have also been together. The people who know, the people who know my life know that the CD does document a period of time in my life in which I as you can imagine has a little affair, broke up, wanted to get back together, and got back together.
Let's hear a quick collage of those three songs.
Goodbye / Look Around / Now I Know (2001)
Anthony, please tell us about your live show
the live shows I do pretty much all the songs on my record usually and I like to throw in some fun covers like I guess it's not a surprise anymore ah when I first did it I think it was something of a surprise, when I did "miss world" by Hole. I like to you know sort of shake it up a little bit and so I guess that's where I approach irony, is doing those kinds of things um and I've done like Alanis Morrisette's "you oughta know" but you know not changing the gender of the song um but then I also do songs by Radiohead cause I like to do songs that are in tribute to some of my favorite artists, like Radiohead and REM and Elvis Costello and I do almost every show I do "Seasons of Love" from "Rent" and in a couple shows I've also sung "Without You" from "Rent" cause I like to honor that part of my history as well.
Can you sum up for us your experience of being in "Rent"
"Rent" was the most intense and wonderful and incredible and fulfilling experience that I could ever wish on any artist of any stripe. And all the material success that came along with it was just gravy, icing because well before that happened there was incredible artistic success that we were having with all of my friends and collaborators on it. So it was it was just the epitome when people come together who all share a common vision, who all love what they do, and do their best work, and then it's recognized on top of that
how has being in "Rent" influenced the direction of your music?
I think if "Rent" has influenced my style of songwriting it's just like most of the music that I love it's incredibly melodic and catchy and I aspire to the kind of relationship to hooks and melody that Jonathan Larson had in spades and the kind of energy that I felt as a performer in "Rent" I I tend to write in that vein too I sort of you know the big sort of epic emotional music rather than sort of I don't know more heady music so in that sense I guess I guess it influenced me cause I got so I got so much pleasure and fulfillment out of performing that kind of music night after night in "Rent" so now I like to write music that's of that vein as well.
I've saved my favorite song from your album for my last question. I'm just love this song, please tell us about "just some guy"
"Just Some Guy" was written because I wanted to write a very specific boy-boy love song and it was written in honor of a very sweet affair that I had, that was like the song said very tender and sweet and I wanted to sort of capture that essence of young, not necessarily young in age but young in time, a young relationship in which those sweet feelings of love were just beginning to bubble up; but I very specifically wanted it to be a boy singing to a boy
Just Some Guy (2001)
I want to thank you all for tuning in to the show, and I especially want to thank Chris Wilson for allowing me to use part of her interview with Janis Ian, and a special thanks to Anthony Rapp for my feature interview. If you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please email me. This is JD Doyle for Lesbian & Gay Voices on KPFT in Houston, and I'll be back on the 4th Monday of next month with another installment of Queer Music Heritage.
I'm closing the show tonight with a music style you've never heard me play on this show, because I have almost no hip hop or rap music in my collection, but this one I had to get. It came out in 1992 on a CD-single with four remixes, this is the hip hop mix. Now, a friend of mine has a pressing of this CD and on his copy it says the group's name is Brothers About Living, Loving & Sensuality. On my copy they are just known by their initials, BALLS. They do a remake of the O'Kaysions big hit from 1968, "Girl Watcher" with the appropriate queer changes. Here is BALLS with "boy watcher."
BALLS - boy watcher (1992)