Back to January 2010 QMH Show

Holly Near Interview - The Script

This is Queer Music Heritage with JD Doyle, and Holly Near.

Holly Near Interview: This is a song that says,

I ain't afraid of your Yahweh
I ain't afraid of your Allah
I ain't afraid of your Jesus
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God

And it's kind of saying, yes, religion and culture is fabulous, it's wonderful, it's the glue that holds a lot of people together, but be careful…it's like that Dylan song, "With God On Our Side," if you start committing genocide and raping and pillaging under the name of your God, that's religion run amok.

Holly Near - I Ain't Afraid (2000)

Welcome to Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle, and I can hardly believe it, but this is my tenth anniversary show. I wanted to make it special and I don't think I could have done any better than to bring you an interview with Holly Near. If you know anything at all about the Women's Music Movement, then you know that Holly was one of the leading and earliest pioneers. And this show will just scratch the surface regarding her long career, a career that encompasses her work as a singer, producer, actor, author, activist and teacher.

There's a very interesting quote on her website that I think sums up well her approach to her art. She says, ""I do not separate my music from my heart nor do I separate my ideas from my daily life. I open myself up to learning as much as I can about humanity and this mysterious life experience, but I do not relate to political work as a series of 'causes.' Moment by moment, I integrate what I learn into my personal life, personalizing my politics. It is from this personal place that I write my songs."

Well said. I started the show with a very outspoken song called "I Ain't Afraid." That's from her CD called "Edge," from 2000, and when I asked her what songs she is most known for that's one she mentioned right away.

I want to interject that in ten years I've interviewed a lot of artists and when I was editing this interview I just marveled at how good her comments are. It was an editor's dream; I had to cut almost nothing and it's all so good. I'm delighted to share this with you.

As there was so much, the interview will be presented in two parts, with as always the first hour being presented as a part of Queer Voices on KPFT, and both parts can be heard on my site, at

With such a long career covering so many aspects I decided I would just try to cover a number of her songs, and to let them take us through the years and tell the story, so this will be roughly chronological. She started her own record label, Redwood Records, and released her first album in 1973. But I've got one song to play that precedes what we talked about. And she's probably going to visibly flinch when she finds out I'm playing this next song. It was done about three earlier. Her professional career really started in 1969, when she got acting parts in several television shows and movies, and even on Broadway. That was in the cast of the musical "Hair."

In 1970 she was briefly a member of a comedy troop called First National Nothing. Another well-known member of that cast was Barry Bostwick. To me it's a bit hard to believe that Columbia Records released a soundtrack for that show, called "If You Sit Real Still and Hold My Hand, You Will Hear Absolutely Nothing." On the record Holly sings lead on two of the songs. This is perhaps the first time this song has been heard on the radio, and that's probably a good thing, but I love historical obscurities, so I can't resist sharing just a little bit of what is, as far as I know, her first recorded song. It's called "On the Moon."

Holly Near - On the Moon (1970)

You know what, there are two more verses but I think you have the idea, and I'd rather get to the part where I get to ask Holly to discuss particular songs. The earliest one I asked her to talk about was the title track from her 1976 album "You Can Know All I Am."

HN: When I was first writing songs I had just come back from a trip in the Pacific, to Okinawa, Japan, Hiroshima, Hawaii, where soldiers were resisting war and racism from within the military. It was a huge education for me. I came back from that trip, and I started writing political songs, very outspoken political songs, using words like genocide in a song, no more genocide, talking about what was happening in the U.S. war against Indochina. So, to counterbalance some of that, because I wanted people to know it was, I was not just coming from a rhetorical place, but a personal place, I also tried to write some personal songs, that when I was singing to the audiences, that would invite them into me a little bit. And "You Can Know All I Am" was one of the songs where I tried to step outside of global political issues and sing something that was very personal and intimate.

Holly Near - You Can Know All I Am (1976)

Please tell me about the song "Imagine My Surprise"

HN: When I first started working with women musicians, in California predominately, it was relatively new…we would try to go to this club, the Troubadour in Los Angeles…Cris Williamson and I tried, Wendy Waldman and I tried, to do joint concerts there and they said, oh, two women can't do a show together. It has to be like a male comic or a guitar player. And we said why, and they said it would be competitive, like, who would go first. And we would laugh and say, we'll figure that out, it's not competitive. So eventually Cris Williamson and I finally got them to agree to let us do a joint concert. I mean, it's shocking now looking back at it, it's like a struggle. So, I was working with these women, Meg Christian, and Margie Adam, and Linda Tillery, and it was slowly dawning on me that not only was I falling in love with women in general, cause of the feminist movement, I was falling in love with a particular woman, and this had not been part of my upbringing. I had not identified as a lesbian growing up, even secretly or privately. So "Imagine My Surprise" was kind of a way of not only saying I was in love with one woman but that I was in love with women. Feminism had taken me out of this self-hating journey that so many of us were on, and celebrated that woman-loving, and different versed tried to call on the discovery of who we are as women in both a big universal way as well as personally. And it was true, I was surprised. Imagine my surprise this was happening to me.

Holly Near - Imagine My Surprise (1976)

That other voice you heard on that song was the person she was talking about, Meg Christian, and I also asked about a song they wrote together, called "Nina."

HN: When I began writing outspoken lesbian songs, I tried, because of my global work, because I was a global peace activist, my take on lesbian songs was slightly different than people who had come to their politics through their sexuality. And "Nina" was identifying one, that not all lesbians were white and middle class, and second that there were a group of women who had really struggled early on in the transitioning from totally being in the closet to being out. And women who had done that journey, it had been very painful, very painful to maybe being married, of maybe being in relationships but knowing you were in love with the woman next door, going to the bars, which were oftentimes owned by the mafia, being in the military and being hounded, all these different things…that transitionary generation really had taken some hits. But I wanted to give a nod to that and also allow this mother to feel so much joy that because of the work she did, and her generation did, her daughter was going to be able to love freely. And I actually think that song was very successful in that regard. It's a very sweet song.

Holly Near - Nina (1976)

Up next is another of Holly's most powerful and most known songs, which is I think is a celebratory anthem. It also first appeared in 1976 on the "Imagine My Surprise" album, and is called "Something About the Women."

HN: The women's movement, the feminist movement, which was also very closely linked to the lesbian-feminist movement…we were trying to investigate all the things that affect women's lives, and as a result of that we learned about disability. We learned about alcoholism and drug abuse in our community. We learned about spirituality and religion, and racism. The things that go on in the world on a global level all of course affect women, but first there was this kind of enthusiasm coming out of the predominately white middle class women's movement about this new feminism. But those of us who had worked in world politics very quickly realized that to have a powerful feminist women's movement we would need to expand to be a global movement and have a global consciousness. So that song came out of wanting to create a song where different verses could be added again and again and again about the various things that affect women's lives, always coming back to the refrain, there's something about the women in our lives.

Holly Near - Something About the Women (1976)

I'm going to chime in that if you asked me to suggest just one album by Holly for you to buy, for me, as a champion of women's music, I would have to pick a double CD from 2000 called "Simply Love." It's subtitled "The Women's Music Collection," and includes many of the songs I ask Holly to talk about.

And this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. 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. Again, that's at, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Friday night/Saturday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.

Over the years Holly has sung and recorded frequently with Ronnie Gilbert, and that included an album in 1983 called "Lifeline." Holly captured every element I hoped she would when I asked about the song "Perfect Night."

HN: "Perfect Night" is kind of a nod to the transition of the sort of dark deep secretive gay bar scene that men and women, and women in particular, had to suffer in the 50's and 60's, before there was a lesbian movement, before there was a feminist movement. And there was role playing…you sort of had to pick whether you were going to be butch or femme. There was kind of danger; some of the clubs were owned by the mafia. If women from the military were there oftentimes there were raids, and they had to be snuck out the back. I mean it was quite a traumatic time. So this song was kind of a break out from that to really say we're out, we're in public, we're having a perfect night together and there's not shame attached to it and there's not fear.

Holly Near & Ronnie Gilbert - Perfect Night (1983)
Holly Near & Cris Williamson - Valentine Song (2003)

Please tell me about "Valentine Song," I'm looking at the "Cris & Holly" album in that regard.

HN: Meg Christian wrote a beautiful love song called "Valentine Song," and she was part of the really early women's music…there was a period of time when women were picking, were writing songs, were singing songs that were coded. Like, she might be in a club, a little club in Washington singing "Sherry (baby),"and having to pick songs out of pop and rock music that would suggest that she was woman-identified but wouldn't really come out, because it was still too dangerous. But when that transition happened and she could, with the support of the newly developed women's movement and lesbian movement, could actually start writing love songs to women…I just think this was a spectacular first song out there that she wrote. It's very, very beautiful. In fact I remember when we were doing the California tour, with Meg and Cris and Margie and myself, one of the cities that we did….city, was a women's prison, because we wanted to do one show inside, because those women couldn't come out to the concert. So when Meg sang that I was standing in the wings, and one of the prison guards…a woman, was standing there and I said oh my god, when she sings this, they're going to kick us out. It's going to be the end of it. And instead the guard was sitting there swaying, and she said, "oh the girls are going to love this one." (laughs) Oh, okay. It was just a beautiful moment. So when Cris and I decided to do a recording together, we just couldn't resist singing "Valentine Song."

Holly Near and Cris Williamson, and from their duets album from 2003, called "Cris & Holly," that was "Valentine Song." That song was written and sung by Meg Christian in 1974 on her album "I Know You Know," the first album released on the Olivia Records label.

Another very prominent song of Holly's is "Simply Love." It's been recorded by many gay and lesbian choruses, and it's one of my favorites. She released it on her 1984 album "Singing With You." The song "Simply Love."

HN: When I was travelling around the country and the world I saw how much fear there was around issues of gay and lesbian lifestyle and culture. You see, I was raised in a family that said go for fascination before you go for fear. See if there's a way to go, wow, you live on the planet too. And because of the records…if you remember records…we had so many records at our house and our farm that came from different parts of the world, and it really helped us open our hearts up to all the diversity of this species of animal that we are. But I would see around gay issues, because I worked in the global peace movement, and I would just see fear and misunderstanding and mistrust. And so I wanted to write a song that spoke to people who were still being oppressed by their fear, to say to them, it's simply love, it's simply love. And I used that song to sing in places where the gay and lesbian movement had not yet made inroads, and it was sometimes very frightening to sing the song, but it was a great handle for me. It was a way to talk about this, to sing it to people and hope that the song would invite them through some of their trauma, so that they could move to being more conscious and loving and tolerant people.

Holly Near - Simply Love (1984)

I want to chime in that picking what songs to cover and also which to put in this first hour was very difficult. We're talking about a career starting about 40 years ago, covering 27 albums and appearances on a number of albums by other artists. She was very gracious to allow me to ask her about 25 different songs. Covering many of the highlights on this segment certainly does not take away from the other interesting stories, so I hope you'll also listen to Part 2 on my site.

I had no trouble however, in wanting to include one of her latest recordings, a new song, inspired by recent politics. It's called "When We Meet In The Middle"

HN: Recently in California as many people know there was a huge financial and political attack on gay marriage in San Francisco, which had been such a joyful and wonderful and fun thing. And all of a sudden it was just like they turned all the guns towards California. And in the process the right to marry in California was attacked and ultimately lost. So there will be more legal and electoral responses to this for sure. But while that was happening there was going to be a big march taking place in Fresno. And in California geography Fresno is in the middle of the state, so that people in Los Angeles and San Francisco could converge as well as people from all the other parts of the state. And they decided to have it there and they were calling it "Meet in the Middle" and so I wrote a song for that event. The whole idea was sort of twofold, one, meet in the middle geography for all the activists, and the other is around any subject that is complex, is there a way for progressive communities to come together, and even if they are not in agreement on all things, they can in some way find a way to meet in the middle, around issues of race and gender, sexuality, class, around immigration, all the things that we should be taking to heart. How can we find some common ground, and look at all these issues together rather than as separate…you know there was a time, I think, in the 60s and early 70s where a kind of separatism was important, because…and almost every social change group has it, the deaf community, the African American community, the lesbian community, where you're trying to figure out who you are you sometimes have to separate long enough to get someone's foot off your neck and say, okay, how can I think clearly without feeling so oppressed.

But once that clear thinking comes in, to me, we go back into the middle, we don't stay out in a separatist place, that maturity takes us back into a state of coalition with other people. And if gay people, who are working on gay marriage only stay working on gay marriage, then they're ignoring the fact that there are gay people in the black community, I the Middle East community, in the disabled community, that you have to go and be part of. I mean, gay people are not just in a gay movement, we are everywhere around the world. So it leads me to feel like the gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, queer community will do much better if we can have a global perspective, and invite people from all walks of life into our movement. And when I say "our" I mean, the fact is I'm not a lesbian in my life right now, but I think of it as "our" because I think of anti-racism as "our" and I'm a white person. I think of stopping abuses against disabled people as "our" and I'm not disabled. I have joined a global community that is "ours" so "Meet in the Middle" was trying to speak to that.

Holly Near - When We Meet In The Middle (2009)

Again, that was "When We Meet In The Middle," which you can download for free on her website,

And, while this next question was the last one I asked Holly, I loved her reply so wanted to share it with you in this first segment.

Is there any question I should have asked you that I haven't?

HN: Oh probably. When one has worked as long as I have in this movement, I mean, I started singing when I was eight years old and then I went to UCLA, and I got into film and television, and then I started doing social change activist work, so I would say I've been singing in public for 52 years. I'm 60 now, and one accumulates so many experiences over that time, that in any interview there's always lots that will get left out. But that's okay, it's been an extraordinary life and I would say to any of the young people listening that activism needs to be demystified. One doesn't have to chain oneself to the gate at the White House to be called an activist. It is the way that we get up every morning, the way we treat our loved ones, the way that we look at the people in our workplace. Do we honor them and respect them. How do we respond if we're at a party and if we hear a racist joke? Do we do intervention? Walking down the street and we see a sad teenager, do we look them in the eye and say hello? Activism is how we get up every morning. And the music that I am part of, and that hundreds of social change artists around the world are part of, is trying to identify what is unique and special about our lives, as well as what is universally applied, so that we can document this extraordinary experiment of being on this planet. It's the only planet that we know of that has life on it like this and we get to be here, and to be an artist in this time is a great honor as well as a huge challenge.

We're down to the last song for this part, and I want to thank you all for listening, and helping me to celebrate my 10th anniversary show, and of course I especially want to thank Holly Near for making this month's show extra special. Again, there's much more to the interview on my site, at And as always if you have questions or comments please write me. And also check out my new show, called OutRadio, celebrating new music by GLBT artists. That's at This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston.

The last song is called "Singing For Our Lives" and it's one of Holly's most loved songs, and it's taken on anthem qualities. She's recorded it a number of times but I chose a version taken from her 1983 album "Lifelines," which captured a concert she did with Ronnie Gilbert.

HN: I wrote "Singing for Our Lives" after Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated in San Francisco, and I can remember it being sung at many events but the thing that always moved me so was that people would put up their lighters, their candles, and there were people in the streets singing this song, the first verse is that "we are gay and lesbian people"…were saying those names about themselves for the first time. They were being very brave in coming forward and trying to take the rage and the hurt of the city as a result of Harvey being killed, trying to take that anger and direct it toward the social change movement so that something can be built rather than something destroyed.

And the song flew out around the world. People kept adding verses. The Irish and English women sang it when they were trying to work for peace in Ireland and England, and it was sung in a prison in Latin America…I keep hearing all these stories of where the song had travelled. So allies began to change the verse to "we are gay and straight together" and eventually the song made it into the Unitarian Hymnal, so it's become kind of a peace anthem, a gay and lesbian anthem, and an anthem that allies and gay people can sing together. In fact oftentimes in the concerts when I start to sing that song people stand, and take hands, and sing it together as a real glue in their community, which is very moving to me. Eventually we learned a lot more about sexuality, so now I can't fit all the different identities that we have into the meter of the song. It's impossible…transgender and queer and questioning, so now I've added a verse that says that we are all in this together singing for our lives.

Holly Near & Ronnie Gilbert - Singing For Our Lives (1983)

This is JD Doyle and Queer Music Heritage and welcome to Part 2 of my interview with Holly Near.

Holly Near - Kids Are Gonna Love (2000)

Please tell me about that song.

HN: "Kids Are Gonna Love" is a song that came out of hearing a story about an organization in New England that would bring young people over from the Middle East, Palestinian children, various Arab students, young people who weren't necessarily from Palestine, Jews, both from Israel and other countries, and they would bring them over to a summer camp. And at first, you know, the first two hours a lot of tension, cause these are kids whose families as adults are out there on the battlefield killing each other. But pretty soon the summer camp mood took over, and they're playing volleyball and they're swimming and they're riding horses and they're…they got to know each other and the devil's horns that they had imagined were on each other's heads just went away, and they fell in love with other as human beings. It must have been very hard for them to go back to their home countries and be thrown back into war zones, but for a moment in time they got to be together. So it was that story that inspired the first verse, and then other verses came up after that, about young people's choices that go against the grain of perhaps some of their conservative elders.

The song "Kids Are Gonna Love" came from Holly's album from 2000 called "Edge," as did her beautiful version of the song "Love Don't Need a Reason."

HN: Michael Callen was one of the founders and singers in a gay men's group called The Flirtations, and one of the songs that Michael loved and sang, he had written with two other writers…[Peter Allen and Marsha Malamet] Thank you, I was having a brain pause there. And when Michael was dying…he had AIDS and had been surviving for quite a long time, but when he knew he was on his way out he decided he wanted to do a recording of all of the songs that he could imagine doing if he had a longer lifetime. So he called in all his friends to help him with this recording, and I loved his version of "Love Don't Need a Reason," so kind of to honor him after his death we did a version of it and on the recording it started out with Michael's voice singing, and then I pick up the song, after the first phrase or two. [I think that was a stunning touch and his voice just makes me melt.] It's really something, isn't it.

Holly Near - Love Don't Need a Reason (2000)
Holly Near - If It Were Up To Me (2000)

And I didn't happen to ask Holly about that song, and she didn't write it. Cheryl Wheeler did, but I'm glad Holly recorded it. Also from the CD called "Edge," the name of that song was "If It Were Up To Me."

Tell me about "Mountain Song"

HN: "Mountain Song" was inspired by a newspaper article that I saw about an old woman in the Appalachian Mountains. She was trying to stop strip mining, which is where they go in and completely take out incredible amounts of ore and leave the land just devastated. So she had tried all the legal means, and nothing had worked so when the equipment was coming towards her mountain apparently she stood in front of it and said, if you're going to take my mountain you're going to have to take me first. And they lifted this old woman up by the wrists and the ankles and they threw her in jail. And that courage of facing these machines is what really inspired the song. But I have to say that in addition to the story what was very inspirational to me was that she did not go willingly. They had to lift this woman up, and carry her off the mountain, and I think it's so exciting to think that in our lives just one time we have an opportunity to know exactly where we stand, as Dr Bernice Johnson Reagon says, well then it becomes someone else's job to remove you, but don't do their work for them. Figure out where we stand and then see what happens, so that was very inspirational to me and it was out of watching that courage that I wrote "Mountain Song." I went on to use that song when I was traveling around the world. It was a very easy song to pull out of the box, just to perform with musicians, cause it was an easy learn. I sang it with Palestinian artists. I did it with Native American artists. I've sung it with reggae bands. I've sung it with Appalachian guitar, fiddle groups. I've sung it a cappella, in fact I just recently did another version of it with Emma's Resolution, whom I've been touring with. So it's a song that just continues to have life for me.

Holly's recorded that song several times but I want to share with you the duet version she did with Cris Williamson on their 2003 album "Cris & Holly"

Holly Near & Cris Williamson - Mountain Song (2003)

In 1990 Holly published her autobiography, and it was named after two of her songs, "Fire in the Rain…Singer in the Storm."

HN: "Fire in the Rain" is an image that I had as a child. I was standing…I grew up on a little farm…and I was standing outside with my parents on the porch. It was pouring rain, but they'd been a lightning storm and down in the valley from our front porch, our little farm, a house and barn had been hit and it was all in aflame. And I remember as a child thinking how can there be a fire if it's raining so hard. I thought water put out fire. But it was one of those phenomenons where the water just wasn't as strong as the fire. And that image stayed with me for a long time. I ended up writing my biography; it was called "Fire in the Rain…Singer in the Storm." The idea that even if all information tells you that the water should put out the fire, don't always believe it. Sometimes our spirit, our flame is going to be stronger than that which is trying to put us out.

And the song "Singer in the Storm"?

HN: Well, the singer in the storm, fire in the rain theme kept coming back around again and again and we were in the process of trying to integrate…well, I guess more like have a song, a theme song on a recording that we had that would talk about a social change activist being out there in the world singing the hard stuff, and so that fire in the rain, singer in the storm theme just kept coming round and round. And I think the verses try to say that it's a very tough road. All over the world there are songwriters, singers, actors, artists who are challenging their countries, challenging the status quo, challenging repression, challenging human rights offenses. It's very tough work, and trying to keep the art high, to keep the music intact, to keep one's health together, one's hands if you're a guitar player, one's voice if you're a singer. And yet at the same time being asked to sing out in the rain on the back of a truck with a megaphone of some kind, and to keep articulating where the movement is at any given time, to keep ahead of it, so that the songs inspire and challenge and educate and heal and all of those things. It's a job that…I didn't realize what a tough job it was when I first started, and there are very few places that one can go to study, to find out…you really just learn by doing, and falling down and getting battered by the difficulty of the job. But at the end of the day there is nothing more rewarding and more spectacular to me than artists that tell the story of everyday people and hold dear our humanity.

Here are the songs "Fire in the Rain," from 1982 and from 1990 "Singer in the Storm."

Holly Near - Fire in the Rain (1982)
Holly Near - Singer in the Storm (1990)

Is there any one song you think you're most known for?

HN: Well, I think "Singing for Our Lives" because it became an anthem, I'm probably known for that, "The Great Peace March," because of its association with the march across the country. I sing a song that I've become quite known for, even though I didn't write it, which is called "Sky Dances." And I've sung it before and just re-recorded it with Emma's Revolution. It's a song written by Jimmy Durham, a Native American poet, and Roy Brown, a Puerto Rican writer, but I think it's become associated with me. I don't even know if Roy or Jimmy do the song anymore.

Holly Near - Sky dances (1989)

That was the title track from Holly's 1989 album "Sky Dances." Another song favorite is called "Singing With You," and it was tailor made for the two women who would sing it.

HN: I began working with Ronnie Gilbert, who was the female voice in The Weavers, with Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert, and I grew up listening to Ronnie's voice, cause The Weavers were a big part of my childhood music experience. And ultimately I got to meet her and to sing with her, and we began a collaboration and toured together. It was called The Lifeline Tour. And we recorded several recordings. And it was just great singing with her, because she had a huge voice. Lots of female folk singers had very tender voices, but I came out of a musical theatre tradition, and belting, and it was great to run into Ronnie and have this huge belting voice. So we loved collaborating together. And while we were working together Jeff Langley, who was our pianist at the time and I decided to write a song that would be very particularly for Ronnie and I to sing, because we were having such a good time singing together, and so we created sort of our signature song, that Jeff and I wrote. It would honor the thrill of what it is like for artists to work together.

Holly Near & Ronnie Gilbert - Singing With You (1987)

Holly and Ronnie Gilbert and "Singing With You," and that version happened to be from the album by that name, from 1987.

Holly recorded a song called "Crushed" on her 1987 album "Don't Hold Back," but as I found out, while that project didn't really work as planned, the song later became the title track for a 2002 CD collection.

HN: I did a recording of more pop type songs. It was my only attempt to leave Redwood Records, which was the record company that I had founded. I went to a company in Los Angeles, a small growing company called Chameleon, and spent quite a bit of money to see if we can break across the barrier that was keeping most social change artists out of the mainstream, see if we could do a recording that would help us reach a larger more mainstream audience. So it's love songs predominately, but with enough political perspective on them that there wasn't a single song that was "I can't live without you baby, baby." They tried to all be songs that had a certain kind of intelligence about them. And "Crushed" was the only one on there that was just kind of big guitars and big drums and big singing about how I've been crushed, and a double entendre both having a crush on you and also being crushed that you're not paying any attention to me.

So in hindsight I guess I wish I hadn't done the recording. It ended up being I think kind of the wrong use of money and energy and time, but we had to try it, we had to find out whether it made sense. And I realized at the end of it that I really not the kind of person that wanted to go out and do the kind of compromising that's required in order to be in the mainstream, and that I worked much better being a social change activist artist and staying in the alternative communities. So it was an experiment and that song came out of the writing that we were doing in order to try to come up with songs that could be in a less political recording. Now, I have a lot of friends who absolutely love that recording. It's been reissued. The love songs have been reissued on a recording called "Crushed," cause "Don't Hold Back" was the original name and we. I took "Don't Hold Back" (the album) plus a lot of other love songs and put them on…it's 19 songs, called "Crushed," and I have friends who some of their favorite songs are on that recording. So what can I tell you? (laughs) I have one friend that just loves the song "Bony Jaw Baby" that's on there, and it's a just very kind of sexy song. So I'm not putting it down, some people just love that recording. It just wasn't my style.

You had some great backup help on that album.

I did, Bonnie Raitt came in played the guitar and sang. She just happened to be in town and she came over and sang. And then on another song that's on there Kenny Loggins came in and sang on it. He was a friend of mine from way back. He lived in a house where he and Jimmy Messina were practicing when they first were becoming Loggins & Messina. And I sang at Jimmy Messina's wedding. He married a friend of mine, Jenny Sullivan. So I had a long-standing rapport with them and Kenny came in and did some great singing on one of the songs.

Holly Near - Crushed (1987)

There's a Peter, Paul & Mary album called "Lifelines" that has a gorgeous song on it called "Home Is Where the Heart Is."

HN: Sally Fingerett wrote the song "Home Is Where the Heart Is" and I had…gosh, I can't remember the order of things…I think I had learned that song earlier and had sung it with Ronnie Gilbert, and then Mary called and said they were doing a recording of collaborations and she wanted to do that song and would I be willing to sing it with her, and I said, of course, I would love that. And we so miss her, having just lost her in this world [on 9/16/09], in fact we lost a lot of singers this year, Mary Travers and Odetta and Mercedes Sosa from Argentina. So I look back at that as a really wonderful moment, but I have to say we did it in the oddest way, because of technology. I couldn't fly east to be where they were going to be recording it, so they rigged up this system where I went to a recording studio, out in the West Coast, and they were on the East Coast. Mary had already done the main track. The producer in New York kind of directed me through the recording and I sang my part live to Mary's tracks while I was on the West Coast. It was a really kind of phenomenal use of technology, and I really felt like she was in the room, I had headsets on, but we were three thousand miles away.

Mary Travers & Holly Near - Home Is Where the Heart Is (1995)

I love that song, and that version, and you can find it on the Peter, Paul & Mary album from 1995 called "Lifelines."

I wanted to bring up the album "With a Song in My Heart" to also show that you can sing beautiful ballads.

HN: I loved doing that recording. "With a Song in My Heart" is all sort of 30s and 40s songs. I didn't have much time, we had a short window of opportunity. John Bucchino is a pianist I've worked with for 25 years now, he and I just went into the studio. We has about, I would say, three or four days to do it. And I contemplated bring in bass players and maybe a gentle kind of drums and said, you know, let's just do this with piano, voice and do the most simple versions of these songs, cause all of these songs have already been recorded by people like Ella Fitzgerald, and once she's sung a song, that song's been sung, as far as I'm concerned. So it was like a gift wanting to do a record for my mom, and also for the parents of so many of our friends, who might not have related to the more political or out music. It was a bridge to do these songs, and I actually had one woman come up and tell me she took that record home, and her father has Alzheimer's, and he had not recognized her in years but she keeps visiting him, and she went there and she put that recording on and he got up and asked her to dance. It just touched me so, so it's been a lovely recording just to have in the repertoire, and John Bucchino and I when we travel we always pick one or two songs from there to do.

[Note: there was a second part to that question that I had to cut due to time constraints, but at least wanted to provide the text here]

I interviewed him a few months ago and he's just an extraordinary artist.

HN: Yes, he's a fine, fine artist and it's interesting because he never really thought of himself as a pianist. He always thinks of himself as a songwriter and here he was playing for me all these years and I kept saying, John, you really should do an album, a piano album, you are a pianist whether you think so or not. And he had been doing a job where he had to play the piano a lot every day and his chops were getting really good, and finally he decided that he came upon a sort of handle for him to do it. He decided to do Richard Rogers songs, and because he knew Richard Rogers' grandson he did the recording on Richard Rogers' piano. So he finally found a way of doing a piano record but he's an extraordinary pianist, and he's been a very reliable accompanist for all these years.

Holly Near - With a Song In My Heart (1997)

Holly Near, with John Bucchino on piano, that was the title track from their 1997 album "With a Song In My Heart." And I've played this next song on Queer Music Heritage before, by Eric Schwartz, who wrote it, and I was very pleased to see Holly record it. It appeared on her 2006 CD "Show Up."

HN: Eric Schwartz wrote a very cute song called "Hattie & Mattie" and I heard it when I was up at the Oregon Country Fair, and I just thought it was so sweet. His version is a little more sexy than mine, and on my recordings I pretty much make an effort to make sure they're all family acceptable, so I asked him if I could clean it up a little bit (laughs), if you want to hear the more raunchy version you can go hear his. But I think it's such a cute song, and I've been touring that song with Emma's Revolution when we've been touring and the audiences just love it. It takes a look at two elder lesbians, who were probably in the works of building the movement back in the 50s and 60s, before there really was a lesbian movement. It's a great tribute to that era of women, and I know a lot of people think of Lyon and Martin, who were the two mama lions of the lesbian movement in San Francisco, but I'm sure that there were such women all over the country. I don't actually know who Eric wrote this song about but it's just sweet as can be. [I think it wrote it about some neighbors] yes, I just don't know which neighbors and what neighborhood, yeah, they were real people in his life, I'm pretty sure [yes, I have talked to Eric about the song].

Holly Near - Hattie & Mattie (2006)

I wanted to make a comment. I love the way you very often take the songs by independent artists and give them more legs.

HN: Well, yeah, I like to write and I'm a pretty prolific writer, but every once in a while when another writer writes a great song, it seems to me that it's a perfect opportunity not only to benefit from their talent, but also to give some visibility to other writers. You know, I grew up being an interpreter of music before I became a writer. I didn't start writing seriously until '71-'72; I'd written a few songs in high school. But mainly because of my training as a…in anticipation of becoming a Broadway artist, I learned to sing the standards and I learned to sing the show tunes. And the whole job of a singer to do other material is to interpret it, is to find out not only what did the songwriter intend, but as it comes through one's own body, how does it change when each singer sings it differently. So that was really something I was trained to do, and I love to find…I don't really like people to solicit me, you know, I don't like people to send me songs. I know that sounds rude but it's too complicated. I just have to wait until I'm travelling around the world and I hear a song I like and then I pick it. [Let the inspiration grab you] yeah, and a lot of people have wanted me to critique their songs, and I'm willing to do that but only now in a formal workshop environment, because when people send tapes and you answer back by email or a letter it can be hurtful, because you're not there to look the person in the eye, and tell them, you know, you're okay, and I think that these are the things that could be done to improve the song. So I just stopped doing it; it's all too complicated. But when I do workshops out in the world, then people come to those workshops and I'm very happy to work with them.

Well, touring with Emma's Revolution gave you a perfect chance to sing "Swimming to the Other Side."

HN: Well, Pat Humphries, bless her heart, she wrote this beautiful song that's been quite well received and well known. It's been played on NPR and she's gotten a great amount of attention for it. And I asked her, can I sing it, I'm going to mess with it a little bit, and it's going to sound different than your version, and she was very gracious and she said, sure, let's give it a try. So I did a somewhat jazzier version of it, and I actually when all is said and done I think her version is the ultimate version…the very tender version that she does is just beautiful, but I had a great time turning it into a little jazz swing piece.

Holly Near & Emma's Revolution - Swimming to the Other Side (2009)

That was "Swimming to the Other Side," written by Pat Humphries, and Pat is now part of the duo Emma's Revolution. Holly's latest album, from 2009, is called "We Came to Sing!" and is a collaboration between them and Holly. It's a wonderful album and I asked about one more song from it, the song "1000 Grandmothers."

HN: I can't remember why I wrote "1000 Grandmothers," it kind of came out as a piece, and then after I had written it I started hearing from various elder women telling me what kind of peace work they were doing, so in some ways it ended up being an invitation for visibility of these women. Some of them are going into recruiting offices and trying to enlist, and of course they're refused and they say, why are you refusing me, you shouldn't take our children, they haven't had their lives yet, send the old people, if war is so important to you, let's get the elder people out there and see how it goes. Obviously the military is not going to take the older people, but isn't it odd, I mean, our animals, we're the only animal I know that sends its young out as the first line of defense. You see quail and some danger comes along and the female and the male go out and create a diversion, and the little ones run away, but why we send our children out to war I just will never know. So it was kind of in response to that of, what would happen if we sent several thousand elder women to Iraq or Afghanistan, what the hell would happen, and I don't imagine we'd ever get to see it, certainly in my lifetime, but I think it's a curious and much more diplomatic way to go.

Holly Near & Emma's Revolution - 1000 grandmothers (2009)

Well, it's time to close down Part 2 of my Holly Near interview, and it became an extended segment, but I don't see how I could have cut anything. I thought it was just all so, so good. And there were a number of wonderful songs I didn't even get a chance to ask about. I recommend you visit Holly's website for much more, at This is JD Doyle again thanking you for checking out Queer Music Heritage, and I'm closing with another of her standards.

Holly recorded this one several times, but it appeared for the first time on her 1987 album "Singing With You." The song was called "Great Peace March." The version of the song I'm using with is Holly singing with the Seattle Men's Chorus, from their 1996 CD called "The Pink Album" Here's Holly talking about the inspiration for her song "Great Peace March."

HN: The Great Peace March was a project put together by Tori Osborne and David Mixner and various other organizers to walk across the country and really talk to middle America about peace, to talk about nuclear war, to talk about war as a problem solver, cause people kept referring to…you know, people in power, kept referring to this silent majority out there that really, suggesting that these people really did want the United States to be a military might and a nuclear power. So, people walked across the United States, stopping in communities, staying in people's homes, talking in churches and temples, and really discussing these issues with the so-called middle America.

And before they left Tori Osborne asked me if I would write an anthem for the march. So the first couple times I gave it a try it was a terrible song, but fortunately as the date got closer somehow the muse came in and I think it actually is a very beautiful song and it was sung all across the country. I sang it in Los Angeles when they left. I met up with them in Colorado, and then I was in Washington DC when they arrived. There was also a book put out, a children's book or kind of a coffee table book. The artwork was done by Lisa Desamini, and it's a very lovely book and lots of children bring it to me at concerts and ask me to sign it, so I know it's getting out there to the little ones, so that they can grow up with a different sense of how we can solve problems in this world.

Holly Near & Seattle Men's Chorus - Great Peace March (1996)

[ Instrumental background music under some of the interview parts
taken from the wonderful "Naked Keys" album, by Margie Adam ]