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The alchemy evoked a buried self I had not yet met, the future songwriter in me, entombed in a personal Pompeii, frozen under layers of active addiction. Women who did not (or could not) abide the compulsory rules of gender — the sexualized female appearance tailored to the male gaze — didn’t stand a chance in the real music business, right? Made peace with 1 Corinthians : “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. I went to Tower Records and bought the record, Soon after, I went to see them perform at the Paradise, a Boston rock club. I was a few months clean and sober, and what I saw that night made me dizzy, weak, and queasy.When the song ended, I turned off the radio, clenched the steering wheel, laid my head down, closed my eyes, and cried. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” I was a restaurateur now, a businesswoman, and a CEO. The mostly female audience was screaming the singers’ names, while crying and shouting the words to the songs, as the two women on stage sang smiling, delighting in the raucous, carnival-like excitement. Gone was the upset in my gut, the confusing angst, even though the heightened emotions in the women in the audience at Fort Adams State Park was like the Paradise Rock Club times 10,000.For the first time ever, I saw women jumping up and down and screaming at the top of their voices for women. No here, this was a grand public display of woman-loving-woman energy, a giant wave of out-ness that rode the waves of the music being played on stage, blasting through the house speakers. I’d been out for years, so it wasn’t the queerness that freaked me out; it was something else. I wasn’t even sure I saw what I had just witnessed. As a gift to myself, I bought a ticket to the festival. Song after song, women running up to the stage in tears reaching for them, while security had to push back the surge, while beautiful young girls threw themselves and their passionate, hysterical love at the women on stage. I was witnessing a seismic shift in American culture, and in myself.
the art and the activism, the influences and the inspirations.
Imagine my surprise when I moved to Boston in my early 20s and heard the Indigo Girls for the first time on WUMB college radio. Though I did not know it consciously, a part of me understood: Those voices were gay women from the South, like me. The harmonies peeled back layers of scar tissue at my center, exposing a longing in me that I could not name. I’d spent the last decade subconsciously flirting with death. I was hoping to succeed my way out of the feeling of being lost.
There was SOMETHING THERE for me, personally — a brand new, yet deeply familiar sound. I parked my black Toyota restaurant truck in the driveway, turned the radio up loud, sat there stunned, and listened as the song played out. What was this, some kind of cosmic lesbian musical sorcery? The song coming out of the radio was called “Strange Fire.” Hearing it for the first time in my truck that evening literally hurt. I lived with a gaping hole in the center of my being that I poured booze and dope and romance and success and any other thing I could jam in there to deaden the pain, the sadness of an unlived life. Somehow, the sound of that song on the radio saw me and called to me, but I couldn’t understand what it was telling me about myself.
To do so, we reached out to artists who have walked the trail they blazed, starting with singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier, who penned this wonderful recollection that speaks for so many.
(Keep an eye out all month for more artists paying tribute through stories and songs.) Lesbian icons.
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Meanwhile, Ray and her partner, screenwriter/director and teacher Carrie Schrader, had a daughter, Ozilline Graydon, in November 2013, shortly after Ray lost her father; and in January 2014, Ray released a country album, "Goodnight Tender." But running tandem to these changes, additions, projects, and losses, Indigo Girls continue to thrive -- after three decades together -- and make gorgeous, harmony-laden folk music.