Meg Christian Tribute
With Interview from 1983 and Live Concert fro 1981
Meg Christian - Lady (1974, 45 only)
That was Meg Christian and this is JD Doyle and Queer Music Heritage. I've been wanting to do a tribute show to Meg for a long time and now I have what I think is some special material to share with you. For those of you who do not know, Meg Christian is one of the pioneers of the Women's Music Movement. She and Cris Williamson were among the founders of the Olivia Records label and the success of releases by both of them could be said to have brought Women's Music into its golden age. The very first recording released by Olivia was a 45 rpm record, with Cris Williamson singing "If It Weren't for the Music" on one side, and the other side being the Gerry Goffin and Carole King song "Lady," sung by Meg. As it turned out neither of those recordings would appear on any Meg or Cris albums, so this is a rare 45. Again, I opened with Meg Christian singing "Lady," from 1974.
And the first album on Olivia was by Meg, also in 1974, and it was called "I Know, You Know," and it would include such fan favorites as "Joanna," "Valentine Song," and the classic "Ode to a Gym Teacher." She would go on to release three other studio albums: "Face the Music" in 1977, "Turning It Over" in 1981, and "From the Heart," in 1984. And of course the beloved live album, "Meg & Cris at Carnegie Hall," was recorded in November of 1982, with that album coming out early the following year.
And that was it for her Olivia Records output. Around 1983 she decided to devote her time to spirituality, and it's been many, many years since she has done a radio interview. I did request one, a few years ago, and got a polite no thank you. So I wasn't sure how I could make a show like this, a much-deserved tribute to Meg's music, without it just being my playing her songs and talking. Until I got the special material I'm going to share with you.
Ah, but I don't like to talk too long without playing some music, so before I tell you what's special about this show, here's one of my favorite Meg songs, from 1977, "Face the Music."
Meg Christian - Face the Music (1977)
My QMH show is aired monthly by the show Queer Voices, on KPFT-FM, in Houston, and Pokey Anderson, a friend I've known for many years was host of the lesbian/feminist show Breakthrough, on that station for eleven years, until 1992. Accordingly she has an extensive collection of women's music, and in fact she was the source of my prized copy of the first Olivia 45. On one of my tours of her collection I noticed a tape of a radio interview she and co-host Cherry Wolf did with Meg Christian, on April 29, 1983, so of course I just had to borrow and copy that tape. And it's excellent. I figure if I can't bring you my own interview with Meg, I'll bring you a historical one, done at the time period when she was about to leave women's music for her spiritual calling. So, she talks about women's music, the "Meg & Cris at Carnegie Hall" concert, her alcoholism and how overcoming that led to her following the teachings of a Siddha Yoga guru. And I tell you, listening to Meg talk is a delight.
And I have a second way to make this segment special. KPFT is a Pacifica Station and accordingly I have access from time to time to material held in the Pacifica Archives in Los Angeles. A few weeks ago I noticed a new addition there, a 1981 concert by Meg Christian, backed up by Diane Lindsay. It's an hour long and I think it is wonderful, and it's of radio quality, something you cannot always count on. The concert was an outdoor one, held in Northern California, in the Bay Area, probably in the early fall of 1981, as she mentions the just released "Turning It Over" album. While I do not know for sure, it may have been recorded by the folks at KPFA in Berkeley. So, I'm going to work in songs from the concert in between the 1983 interview comments. The voices you will hear talking with her will be Pokey Anderson and Cherry Wolf. And we start off talking about the Carnegie Hall Concert.
Pokey/Cherry: You were just in Carnegie Hall a mere six months ago
Meg: God, was it that long? I feel like Carnegie was part of my life, for so long. We were planning it at least a year, probably a year and a half before it happened. Well, the record just came out, the first of April (1983), so it has been a constant presence in my life all that time, even before we did the "Turning It Over" album.
Pokey/Cherry: When the idea came up, were you involved with that, did somebody just laugh and go, "oh, sure, Carnegie Hall."
Meg: Something like that. The woman who produced my "Turning It Over" album, Betty Roland, said to me one day when we were doing some planning stuff about "Turning It Over," "you know what? You all should take Women's Music to Carnegie Hall." And I said, "oh, Betty," and she said, "no, I'm serious." And she had called the Olivia office and given the same notion. And we all just sort of chuckled and said, "oh, Betty, that's cute." And before we knew it Betty had called up Carnegie Hall and said, "when's the first time you've got an opening?" So she was serious about it, and she pushed the idea through even before we were ready to accept the outrageous wonderfulness of the idea. And by the time we had the thing booked, we were all sort of walking around the office saying, "you know, we could really do this, this could really happen, this is the most outrageous idea we ever had." And it was, besides the idea of starting Olivia in the first place, which was fairly outrageous.
Meg: It was an amazing experience. You know, the Carnegie people were just as nice and supportive as could be the whole time. There was never a question in their minds about whether we should be there. They heard the music you know, what you have to do when you apply to perform at Carnegie, you have to submit the music, an idea of the music, so that they can get an idea if it's consistent with their quality standards. And they were totally supportive, from the word go. And as a matter of fact, I have to tell you this cause it's so wonderful, the stage people, the union people who run the Carnegie house, have been in that job for four hundred years. It's one of those things, it's like the monarchy, it gets passed down from of course father to son, basically. And these old guys have seen everybody, they've seen it come and go and nothing phases them. And after the Carnegie concert, they were so excited, they were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, telling us what a wonderful show it was. And I thought that was pretty impressive, because they were the kind that wouldn't have been easily moved by anything. Fortunately it's all captured on this album, and I think the album is a real treasure. It's a photographic and aural history of the evening, and it was a real special event.
Let's hear some music from the album "Meg & Cris at Carnegie Hall." I picked the opening track "Anniversary."
Meg & Cris - Anniversary (1982)
Pokey/Cherry: Just how was it working with Cris Williamson? When it first came up I thought their voices are so different, how will it really work?
Meg: They blend pretty well, don't they? Well, you know, Cris and I used to do concerts together in 1973 and '74, in D.C. Cris was the first woman that I ever heard perform music that I just knew was coming from the same place my music was. In her deepest heart, I knew it was woman-identified music and I knew it was coming from a very deep, common place. Also when I first heard Cris in '72, her voice just killed me what can I tell you I'd never heard a voice that I had liked more in my life, and I just fell in love with her music and her voice, and knew that I wanted to make music with her. So we did, and it's interesting because our voices are quite different and yet we do blend, and amazingly well. So I hadn't worked with Cris in a long time; she had done the "Turning It Over" album with me, so it was very wonderful. When we get together and do music, whatever's different in our personalities and our styles and anything, just kind of disappears, and I think we both find great delight in performing together.
Pokey/Cherry: What does Olivia and Meg & Cris do after they do Carnegie Hall?
Meg: You rest a lot. Well, Cris and I are going on tour, in another couple of weeks. There's no way to try to top it, it was a thing in itself. So what's going to happen with me this year is that we do this tour, and then I'm going to take the summer and finish working on some songs and working on some preparations for a solo album. I'll tour in the Fall and then I'll do my next solo album probably in November or December.
And that album would be "From the Heart," the last album of original material Meg would release for Olivia, in 1984.
And, I would not dare do a show on Meg Christian without her classic song "Ode to a Gym Teacher."
Meg Christian - Ode to a Gym Teacher (1974)
Pokey/Cherry: I'm sure there must be one person out there listening who doesn't know what Olivia records is and all that stuff. Why don't you give them the 25-word spiel.
Meg: Olivia Records is a national women's recording company that was founded in 1973, and our aims were create good jobs that women could feel that they had some comfort and control in, and training in areas that it's hard to get training in, and put out a product that was really useful to women's lives. We had the idea of a business long before we had the idea of what the product was going to be. And music seemed to be the obvious answer, because in our at that point limited experience with women's music, we had seen how starved we were for music that told us the truth about our lives, for music that we didn't have to change the words, or wish the second verse wasn't there, or feel like what songs were saying were somehow giving us a limited picture of ourselves, or a stereotype picture that didn't really fit who we were.
Meg: Anyone who has listened to popular music has probably felt like, "eh, I'm more interesting than that, I'm more whole and well-rounded than that." And for me women's music has been an attempt to fill in the gaps, to give us a fuller, more complete, more complex picture of what women feel and think, and how we connect with one another particularly.
Meg: So, that 's what Olivia has been up to, and for the past ten years we have had our ups and downs and tried to learn how to do it right, to make a stable business, and a successful business, and take care of ourselves at the same time. And it's been quite a journey, nearly killed us sometimes. That's another thing that I wanted to say about Carnegie, which was exciting to me, was that it turned out not to be just a celebration, I think, of Olivia's ten years, but I feel like that every woman was there got a sit and think about what she has done, in the last ten years. And what women have accomplished has been unbelievable and very profound and I think more important than any of us realize. I think we've done remarkable, courageous, exciting things in the past ten years, and we all deserve to sit back and congratulate ourselves tremendously for that.
And as promised, here's a track from that live concert from 1981, and it's a song you won't find on any Meg Christian album, called "You Bet," but it's okay that she sings it, as she co-wrote it with Holly Near, and the song can be found on Holly's album "Imagine My Surprise."
Meg Christian - You Bet (1981, Live)
In this next section of the interview Meg talks about her alcoholism.
Meg: Many people think that you are born with a tendency towards it, that can mean that you can't ever really drink without losing control of your drinking. But what's important for me to share is that for years and years I drank because I thought that for any woman who had her eyes open and saw what was going on in the world, had to be crazy to go through this world sober. I use it as: I drank at the world, and I drank at my pain and my oppression and I used it as an excuse to kill myself. It was so ironic, and I know so many women who have done this, that we spend all our time going out there fighting forces that are trying to kill us, out in the world, and then we just go home and do it ourselves. You know, "don't y'all bother, I'll take care of it." It wasn't entirely consistent with my idea of a revolution that would include us all.
Meg: And the other think that I drank about was that the women's movement, when I first got involved, gave me a political analysis of my oppression, which was real important because I never understood it before. I never understood why I felt so terrible and so out of it and alienated. And women told me, "okay Meg, now you can be strong, you can be free, you can be powerful, you can be whole. And you can get rid of all that self-hate, and all that guilt that you never knew where it came from, cause you weren't Barbie. And you can get rid of that feeling of passivity, of helplessness." And I said, thank you very much, and went out into the world absolutely determined to be all those things that I always wanted to be.
Meg: But I couldn't do it. I couldn't fit this new model that I had for myself, of the strong independent Amazon. I could partially I don't want to paint a distorted picture. I experienced a feeling of wholeness and power and freedom that I had never had before. I mean, it's like when you have gone from feeling all your life like you are alone, to suddenly having a huge support group telling you you're okay, and that you can live out your life choices.
Meg: it was exhilarating, to say the least, and it changed my life. But there was still a very large part of me that felt like I was faking it out there, when I stood up on stage and said, "hey, you can be strong " and inside I still felt weak and self-hating, like I wasn't living up to what I was preaching. That kind of tension, that happened inside when I felt like I wasn't being what now there was no excuse not to be increased my self-hate and increased my drinking. I almost drank myself to death, which was really ironic because at the time that I finally realized what a dangerous situation I was in, Olivia was healthy and strong. I was getting the tremendous amount of support from my music. I was at a very enviable place, and I just hated myself, and I used that as an excuse to just keep drinking. Mostly though, it was that my body couldn't control alcohol. Once I started drinking I couldn't really control my drinking. And I didn't realize this, I didn't understand it.
Meg: One belief that I had was that any woman who was working really responsibly and politically did not have time or had no right to take vacation, to take the weekend off, to get therapy. God forbid anybody should try spirituality. I mean, to me that was the worst waste of time. To me spirituality was women running up and around on a mountain having orgies and getting drunk. I was absolutely intolerant of any kind of self-help, self-healing process. So the idea of getting help for my drinking was not an option. I mean, forget it. I had to do it myself. I had to somehow figure out how to stop, and I couldn't do it. It's a disease, you know, you don't somehow figure out how to not have cancer, or diabetes. So finally, when I hit bottom, it was a few months before we did the "Face the Music" album, in 1977, and thank God there was a women's alcoholism recovery program, in Los Angeles, and I went, and I found out that I not only did I not have to stop drinking alone, I couldn't, and I needed help, and this was the place I got it.
Meg: And they told me that I had to change my life, it's very simple yes, you can stay sober, and you can stay alive, as long as you are willing to change your entire life, and change your attitudes. You've got to get well physically and you've got to get well emotionally, and you've got to get well spiritually, which really freaked me out...I said, "you mean, G-O-D, do you?" And they said, "just think fo something that makes sense to you, something bigger than you, if you want to call it the great Goddess, if you want to call it cosmic energy, if you want to call it the universe try to develop some kind of relationship with a power greater than yourself." And immediately it started changing my life. I realized that I was developing a way to go through the world that didn't need to drink, that didn't need to run to the bottle whenever things got scary. That was the turning point for me. It sounds so simple but I didn't get it, for a long time.
Sounds like a good time for another song from the live concert, called "Turning It Over."
Meg Christian - Turning It Over (1981, live)
Pokey/Cherry: While your song was playing we were talking a little bit about spirituality. You're staying at the Houston Ashram and last night you played them a few songs. How did it go?
Meg: Oh, it was wonderful. It was great. There were some women who came who had never been to the Ashram before. Basically it's a meditation center. It teaches a form of meditation that I've been doing myself for a little over a year. And I was very pleased that there were women who came there to hear the concert because it's such a delight for me to be able to share my experiences with this technique that has made such a tremendous difference in my life over the past year. There are a jillion ways to meditate, and I've tried a bunch of them. This one, which is called SYDA, SYDA yoga, SYDA meditation, is the one that happens to work for me. Don't ask me why, it's a there are so many different kinds, and basically the point of meditation is to still your mind, is to give your mind a rest, and to get in touch with something that's deeper inside you, that goes beyond thoughts and words and emotions, which to me is like getting in touch with the part of me that is part of this larger consciousness.
Meg: And somehow the more often I get in touch with that part of me, that deeper part of me, the more peaceful I feel, the less prone to getting upset, the clearer, the happier, the more loving I feel. That's why I think, for me learning to meditate, which always had kind of weird connotations it was one of those things that I never considered was an option for me. It was just too, too politically incorrect. It was to me like joining the Elks Club it was like, not an option for me, no.
Meg: But when I tried it, it works so instantly, that I couldn't really quibble with it. I really do have an investment now in feeling more peaceful and feeling more centered. My work goes better. I feel like I can relate to people more out of love than out of anger. And to me work that comes out of love rather than anger is much more effective work. That's why I think that, for example, feminism is going to save the world, because the old political ways of doing things, or the old sort of patriarchal models were based on, you know, who's got the bigger stick, and can bam who over the head sooner. You're coming out of anger and fear and distrust. And to me feminism has always been this kind of politic that said, wait, first of all we have to look inside, we have to change ourselves, we have to change who we are, and how we feel about ourselves, we have to honor and respect and love ourselves. And then we have to extend that honor and respect and love to others around us. And eventually it includes the world. It includes our feelings towards the planet, towards a compassionate, nurturing sense of not being one up and one down. And that to me is what is going to save this planet.
Meg: You know, I was all nervous that it was some kind of weird religion, in that I was going to go in and have to start worshipping something with 23 arms and 42 legs, and snakes coming out of their ears. It's not that at all. It's a way to teach you to get in touch with what you've already got inside. It's all yours and it's just a matter of learning to open the door and see what's there more.
Again, from the 1981 concert, here's a song that Meg must have been singing in concert for a while, but it won't appear on an LP for another year after this performance, when she sings it at Carnegie Hall. It's called "Train Song."
Meg Christian - Train Song (1981, Live)
Back to the interview, and Meg next responded to a question about the future of women's music companies.
Meg: I think once again it's going to be an individual thing, as it has been true for the past umpteen years, there have been some women in women's music, well, as you said earlier don't even call their music women's music, but they have been within the women's music network. There are some women who only want to share their music specifically with other women, or even with other lesbians. There are some women who would like to take their music anyplace in the universe that will listen to it. I used to have some real intolerant attitudes toward anyone who didn't want to do it exactly the same way I did. But I've come to understand that music is this powerful tool that can go out there and make change on all kinds of levels. So I feel like that what women's music wants to do is get more stable and more strong, and what Olivia wants to do is to figure out more creative ways to get out women's music to express women's artistic visions.
Meg: And you bet we want to get stable and that we want to make more money, and that we want to figure out better ways of getting the music out there. For me what it's not going to mean is changing my music. Now that's a given for me. That's why I got involved with this in the first place, so that I could put out my music honestly. I have a lot yet to find out about what's me musically. And my experimentation has nothing to do with what someone else wants to hear from me. It has to do with me opening up to what might feel good, what might make my music feel more interesting to me. I feel like that I have a long way to go, there are a lot of more possibilities that I can't even imagine.
I've got one song to take us home in this segment of Queer Music Heritage. This is JD Doyle and thank you for joining me in my salute to the music of Meg Christian. I also thank Pokey Anderson for providing the interview tape and the Pacifica Archives for the concert recording. And as I described it as an hour-long concert and I only played four of the ten songs from it, you may feel a bit short-changed. Don't' worry, you can hear the entire concert at my website, queermusicheritage.com.
And as this show's material was all from 1981 and 1983, what has been happened to Meg since? Well, as part of her spiritual life she's changed her first name to Shambhavi, and under that name, through the Siddha Yoga website, she's released three recordings, of a more spiritual nature. She has resurfaced in recent years to take place in some Olivia events. Most of you probably know that Olivia is now a cruise lines, and Meg has participated in several of those, and is scheduled, along with many former Olivia artists, for the 40th anniversary cruise in February of 2013. That surely will be a stellar event.
I saved for last, again from the 1981 concert, one of Meg's most loved songs, "Sweet Darlin' Woman."
- Sweet Darlin' Woman (1981, live)