Script for May 24, 2004, QMH:

Janis Ian - Rate My Music (2001)

Welcome to Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and I'm here on the 4th Monday of each month to bring you an hour devoted to our culture's music. I started the show with a little of the song "Rate My Music" by Janis Ian. It's a song about music censorship. Janis Ian provided one of my three special interviews for tonight's show. Also on tap is a songwriter I think you should know about, named John Calvi, and a new artist from Florida, Steven Franz, who's debut album is one of my favorites of last year.

Janis Ian Interview

Let's start with Janis Ian. She shouldn't need much introduction, as she's been in our consciousness since her first big hit in 1967, "Society's Child." And of course her classic "At Seventeen" was a masterpiece, winning a Grammy award in 1975. Last year she released her first official live album, a double CD-set called "Working Without a Net," and this year she brings us her 18th studio album, "Billie's Bones." Janis was in Houston on March 7th to perform at a wonderful folk venue called McGonigel's Mucky Duck, and I met up with her that afternoon before the show. Now unfortunately, the club was having repair work done on the roof, so my recording conditions were less than ideal, so please bear with me a little on that. I started out asking her about the new album, "Billie's Bones."

"Billie's Bones" is a real labor of love in that it's the first album I went into, well, not counting the live album, "Working Without a Net," it's the first studio album that I went into knowing that I would own it 100% and that I was only going to lease it. So I think it took on a different characteristic. We had lots of time to plan. We had plenty of time to think about the various musicians we were going to use, lots of time to put the team together, and I think that the album reflects that there was a lot of thought put into it.

Tell me about the title track

To me there are two great singers in the generation before mine, and that's Billie Holiday and George Jones. And Billie is just…she's about the best phraser I know of. She's where I go before every album to listen to for a month to make sure my phrasing's on track. She's what I aspire to.

Janis Ian - Billie's Bones (2004)

Can you please tell me about the song "Matthew"?

Well, I think when the Matthew Shepard incident happened obviously we were all shocked, I mean not just within the gay community but the community at large was shocked at the ferocity and the shear senselessness, you know, it's as senseless as a Waco or a 9/11. In fact those make a little more sense, you know, because at least they were politically motiviated. But a Matthew Shepard incident is just the result of two very badly raised young men, who then allowed their upbringing to spill over into violence. You know, somebody had to teach them to hate like that and to have that kind of contempt. And I was bothered because a lot of the songs being written about it glorified him and almost indicated that he would be happy to know the good he'd done. And I just kept thinking about his mother, and thinking I'm sure that all the good he's done isn't worth an extra day with him to her, you know. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. And the angrier I got the more I wanted to write about it, and "Matthew" is the result.

Janis Ian - Matthew (2004)

I've read that the "what makes a man a man" theme is something that you've been considering for a song for years

Um, the idea of what makes a man a man actually comes from a Marcelle Marceau piece that I saw when I was a kid back on The Tonight Show. I think it was called "to be a man" or "what is a man," but Marceau did a brilliant flip between male-female, male-female, so that idea has fascinated me ever since, the idea of what is it that men regard as the manliness, you know

What would you say is your most lyrically gay song, your most Out song?

Oh, I don't know, it runs through, from "Take No Prisoners" where I refer to my lover as she, to "Ride Me Like A Wave," which doesn't refer to a gender but is overtly sexual with female images….to "You Don't Know My Heart," which is I guess overtly gay. I don't actually think about it too much. As a writer I don't think about it. [It's not a goal] No, it's not. I know for some writers it is but for me the goal has always been to hit as much of the universal as I possibly can in each song. [How about the song, "Maria"] Well, yeah I guess for 1975 that was pretty overt. [Did people pick up on it?] I think gay people did. I think straight people weren't looking for it and didn't see it. They would now.

From the album "Miracle Row," released in 1977, here's "Maria"

Janis Ian - Maria (1977)

When did you come out publicly?

I got outed in '76, in The Village Voice. But I really came out with a vengeance I guess in '92 cause Urvishi Vaid impressed upon me that it was really important to…for gay kids to have a role model, and I had never had a gay role model, but for that book "The Well of Loneliness," and you know when I got done reading that I thought if that's being gay, then I'm not going to be gay

So, you were outed. How did you deal with that?

I think I went to bed for a day, stayed in bed, and then my lover said, "come on, get up, time to get up." And I just dealt with it, you know…I mean to me my family had always known, my friends has always known, the record company had always known. So for me it wasn't that big a shock because I had all of their support.

In one article I read that you were planning on coming out, prior to being outed. Is that true?

No, No, I really didn't want, and remember…remember that the atmosphere in the 70's was very different from the 90's, and I really didn't want to be pigeon-holed into the, nothing wrong with them, but into the Olivia Records group, which was really the only visible group of gay female musicians. It's hard enough being a female musician, you know, without everybody looking at my songs and thinking "oh, she's writing about gay people." So, whereas in the 90's I figured it was an open secret anyway. And in the 90's people had relaxed a little bit about the gender roles and about the roles between gay and straight

And they wouldn't automatically cast gender on a song.

Right, and also by the 90's I had enough of a back catalogue that there was no doubt that I was a good writer, and it's very hard to take somebody who is a good all-around something, and pigeon-hole them like that

I read the interview that Melissa Etheridge did with you in The Advocate…[That was a good interview.] Very good. And she commented that to her, the lines "I learned the truth at seventeen" was I learned I was homosexual at seventeen. Do you get that a lot from that song?

No, No, because…I think because the song is so concentrated on what makes someone different, you know, so whatever it was that made you different, be it a club foot, or open-heart surgery when you're a kid and being in and out of the hospital, or being ugly, or being gay…you know, whatever factor is what I hear. And since my gay audience is not my primary audience, or the bulk of my audience, I don't hear that that much.

When I learned that I would be able to do this interview with you, I emailed a friend of mine named David, who lives in England, and he immediately wrote back that he bought that album when he was 15, because he could identify with thoughts of being a misfit

Oh, what a cool thing, isn't that great. I mean that's…that's the cool thing about a song like "Seventeen" that it really does hit that universal and it really applies across the board to so many different people.

Janis - At Seventeen (1975)

Before we leave Janis Ian I want to mention a couple things. First I want to plug her wonderful website, at www.janisian.com. For one thing, it's a very large and in depth site with lots of information on all her releases, and for those of you who didn't know it, she's written a number of superb columns for The Advocate and Performing Songwriting Magazines. Many of those columns are archived on her site.

Something very special is a new section called "The Making of a CD." It's all about how her latest release, "Billie's Bones" progressed from the early stages through to the finished product. And you can hear her discuss decisions on the project, and you can hear many rough demos of the tracks. This is especially interesting as the CD includes a duet with Dolly Parton, and those early studio takes are also present. It's a fascinating look at how a CD is made, and plan on devoting an hour or so to it to really appreciate the magnitude of what Janis is sharing with her fans.

And, finally, on her site you can buy a number of special CD releases, with songs not available anywhere else. These include tracks like the song "Rate My Music," which I used to open this show, and one of the CDs also included this wonderful quote by her that I cannot pass up sharing with you.

It's an amazing thing to be a songwriter, you know, you pray to write songs like "At Seventeen" or "Stars" or "Jessie" that touch people's hearts. You hope to make some kind of a change in people's lives and also earn a living while you're doing it, and I've been really lucky. I think it just the best…the best job in the world, cause, you know, artists, when we're doing our job, we get to take people's dreams and make something visible out of them, and then, when people forget that they have dreams, and everything looks really dark and horrible, we get to remind you that they exist

John Calvi Interview

You have probably not heard of my next guest. His name is John Calvi, and he lives in Vermont. I want to bring some attention to him because he wrote what I consider to be one of the most beautiful anthems of our gay musical culture. I'm talking about the song "The Ones Who Aren't Here," which you may know from Meg Christian's Carnegie Hall album. I think it's a terrific song because it deals with an area not often found in music. It's sung from the point of view of people who are out of the closet singing to those who have not yet made that journey, who feel they cannot come out, for whatever reasons.

Now, John these days is a certified massage therapist and a Quaker healer, who works with victims of trauma, so he is not really known as a singer at all, though he did a bit of that early in his career, in the late 70's. I asked him about that.

How did you get started with gay music?

Well, I began…began writing gay songs probably when I was about 18 or so. They were...oh, how to say it, not very outward, but certainly there were love songs that were being written then, and I think my first out songs were written probably when I was about 25 or so. [Did you start performing them around that time?] Yeah, well, I started performing as soon as possible, as soon as anyone would listen to me. But I started playing in gay coffee houses back in, oh, I would say the mid-70's, and, you know, I played at Maxine Feldman's Coffee House in Boston, and some of the MCC Churches that have coffee houses in New England. So, a little bit here and there, not very much.

Tell me about Maxine Feldman's Coffee Houses. She's one of my idols.

Is that right? Well, this is back in the olden days…late 70's, early 80's, and Maxine was I guess still recording, still performing, and I think there was…I think it was at the Unitarian Church on Arlington Street. And you know it was just sort of a little church basement with a couple dozen chairs, and she would have someone come in every week or every other week

I interviewed her on the phone and she struck me as being very, very warm

Absolutely, Yes, she is very warm. She's very…very forthright and very strong and in a fight you'd always want her on your side, absolutely, yeah, she's wonderful

You mentioned in one of our emails that you had an association with Michael Callen.

Yes, yes, I met Michael in the late 80s when he was very interested in my song, and I had gone back stage to offer him some massage. He was at a point where he was…he was still strong, but the touring was exhausting for him, and I went back stage during a Flirts concert to offer him some massage and energy work, and as I was working on him, John Atherton came up to me and said, "You're the one who wrote that song." And I said, "Yes." And John turns to Michael and says, "Michael, he wrote 'The Ones Who Aren't Here.'" And Michael says, you do this AND massage?" So Michael and I got a chance to do massage three or four different times, and I got a chance to work on him after his very last concert in Washington, DC, after the big march there. And that was the last time he appeared with the Flirts

I've often said that for his contributions to gay music and activism, he should be sainted.

{laughs} Well, he was…he was so delighted by irreverence, I think that he would much rather have a rest area named after him than to be sainted. Yes, he was a delight. He was a rabble rouser and a trouble maker, and he was very good at it.

With all the talk of gay marriage in the news lately, I can't help but ask about something I read about you. It involves you and your partner's union having some historical significance other than just your own.

Well, apparently, when Marshall and I were married by our Quaker Meeting, in 1989, in August, Marshall wrote a beautiful wedding announcement, kind of a high-fallutin' kind of a thing, and sent it into the local newspaper here, The Brattleboro Reformer. And they printed it on their wedding page, and apparently it was the first time in the history of American journalism that a gay wedding announcement was put on the wedding page, and not on the police blotter, or not under freak occurrences. And that has been recorded by the American Journal Society.

(Below, Marshall & John's wedding announcement)

Saturday, September 23, 1989 Brattleboro Reformer

Couple’s wedding performed in traditional Quaker ceremony

John Calvi and Marshall Brewer were married Saturday, Aug. 26, under the care of Putney Friends Meeting. The traditional Quaker ceremony was attended by 200 of their friends and families at the Rockingham Meeting House. Consistent with Quaker practice, there were no attendants, although various friends participated in the service. John J. Meyer of Washington, D. C., provided historical context. William Kreidler of Cambridge, Mass., commented briefly on Quaker process and the denomination’s attention to same-sex unions. Ann Stokes of West Chesterfield, N.H., read the couple’s certificate including their vows and the venue. Tom Hoskins and Hattie Reeves-Forsythe, both of Putney, acted as hosts for the event.

Brewer wore a suit of ivory linen, and a gold and plum tie. Calvi wore a long white jacket and white trousers. Both grooms accessorized their antique tuxedo shirts with dark mother of pearl, Brewer in gold, Calvi in silver. There was no presiding cleric and the ceremony was conducted in silence punctuated with the couple’s recitation of their vows, the reading of the certificate, and spiritually-inspired, spontaneous statements by witnesses.
Following the 90-minute event, witnesses signed the certificate and a lawn tea was held in the adjacent churchyard. Later that evening guests gathered for continued celebrations in Putney.

Calvi, composer of the popular “The Ones Who Aren’t Here,” and other songs, will continue his practice of massage therapy for those healing from trauma and in training those who work in crisis situations. In November, he will present a workshop in Costa Rica for individuals concerned with the care of victims of organized violence. Brewer, formerly of The Experiment in International Living, will continue his work designing educational programs for international professionals for the Delphi International Group of Washington, D.C.

That's terrific. Can you tell me about your current projects.

Well my current project is I'm home, working on a book. I have been traveling the country for the last, oh, 22 years teaching about healing from trauma. And I am writing a book to talk about how it is I see, when in my work with inmates, women who have had sexual assault, refugees who have been tortured, people with AIDS, how it is that people get well following trauma. And part of that book will have some of my songs in it, because I have really found music to be a strong healing part of my own healing, and for a lot of people I work with.

Okay, now I want to talk about the whole reason for this segment. Tell me about the writing of the song "The Ones Who Aren't Here"

Well, I wrote "The Ones Who Aren't Here" in the Spring of 1981. The Fall of the year before, I had been thrown out of my family for being gay. And I was about 30 years old and told never to come home again, and I went into a start depression, and I began to get some massage, and I began to get some psychotherapy. And by the time Spring came around that depression lifted, and it really did lift with the writing of that song. So, I wrote that in the Spring, and I just…I was thinking about how sad it was that there were men and women sitting at home afraid to let anyone know, or even to tell themselves, that they were gay. And how sad that was, and it was really a song to speak to how blessed we were to be able to get together with community, and how we had to keep an eye out for these people who hadn't yet gotten there, and we really did need to bring them to the fire because they were really hurting without us. And the day that I wrote that song…I remember I wrote it with a stubby pencil. It was on brown paper, like a paper bag paper, and I couldn't stop singing it. I just kept singing it over and over and over. And I just…I just loved it and I knew it was a good piece of work

Some writers say the song just poured through them, and others have to work at it like a craft

Well, it very much poured through me. It felt like a light went on and it felt almost like I had to learn it from inside myself, and there was no pulling or pushing. There was no re-writing. It was almost like I was learning it from the inside.

How did the song get to Meg Christian?

Well, Meg was doing a concert down at Northampton, Massachusetts, which was about…oh, it's about 40 miles away from Putney, Vermont, where I live. And so I drove down…see, Meg is one of my absolute favorite singers ever, and I drove down to see this concert and I put this song on a tape and I went to walk back stage and two very large women said, "And where do you think you're going?" But I sent the tape back to her, and maybe half a year later I got a postcard from her thanking me for the song, saying she thought it was very beautiful, and that she was using it in concert. And then later that year in the Fall she used it at Carnegie Hall. And I didn't know that she had recorded it. I didn't know she performed it at Carnegie Hall. And a friend of mine came and said, "My God, I heard your song at Carnegie Hall. Meg was singing it and she mentioned your name." And I was shocked.

There are two other beautiful recordings I know about. Do you have any thoughts or reminiscences about those?

Well, I was living in Washington, DC, when Suede was making her first album. I had moved there from Los Angeles. We had talked when I was out there about her wanting to record "Ones" and I was happy to have her do it. She has such a beautiful voice and I thought she just did a wonderful job with it

Some people use that song as a tribute to people who have passed away.

Yes, it's used at many, many memorials. Yes, it is.

How do you feel about it being used that way. I don't think that was really the original thought.

Well, you know, when you…when you make a song it's sort of like having a child. It really goes out into the world and has a life of its own. And I've had many straight people come to me and say, "You know, this song has such universal meaning, that it really cannot be for just one thing alone." And so it's used at weddings for people who can't come to the wedding, and it's used at memorials, for the beloved who has passed. And it's lovely to get a postcard or a phone call, and find out it's being used in another way and another place some time.

Bill McKinley recorded it. [Yes] Any connection or thoughts about that recording?

Well, I had moved back here to Vermont when Bill called, asking to record it, and he has such a lovely voice and he did a wonderful job with it

Of the three…I'm calling them main versions…do you have a pet?

[laughs] A singer does your song, it's a little bit like having an in-law, you know, it's like the daughter-in-law comes home. It was such a thrill for me to hear Meg Christian do it at Carnegie Hall. The song was sort of suddenly revealed to the world, and deeply appreciated. Every time the album is reviewed that song is mentioned. So that has a favorite place in my heart. I really love the arrangement that Suede gave to it [She adores that song. I've talked to her about it] Yes, she really, really does a wonderful job with it. So, it's just such a blessing for me that there are these wonderful singers getting the song around

Okay, we've been talking for a few minutes now about the song "The Ones Who Aren't Here." My listeners are probably thinking, when on earth are we going to hear it. Well, right now, but I have three favorite versions of it. It was originally sung by Meg Christian on her 1982 album "Meg & Cris at Carnegie Hall." And Suede did it on her 1988 debut album, "Easily Suede." In 2000 Bill McKinley included it on his CD "Everything Possible." I couldn't pick just one, so I played with my editing program and put them together, giving each artist a verse. First you'll hear Suede, then Bill and then Meg. And I want to dedicate the song to a friend of mine named Patrick. Here's John Calvi's song "The Ones Who Aren't Here"

Suede / Bill McKinley / Meg Christian - The Ones Who Aren't Here

That was Suede, Bill McKinley and Meg Christian. Besides those three excellent versions, the song has been sung by gay choruses around the world, and I felt it important to capture its story. This is a good time to invite you to visit my website, at www.queermusicheritage.com, where you can view the play list, and see photos of the artists and recordings, and listen to the show anytime. And also, be sure to listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Saturday night from midnight to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.

Steven Franz Interview

For the last segment on tonight's Queer Music Heritage, I'm featuring a new artist, who lives in Florida. I just love his album because the music on it is very out. It's his first and is called "The One You Choose." His name is Steven Franz.

Tell me about how you came to record your album.

The project took approximately a year to complete. I originally started just doing a four-song demo of some old songs I had in my back pocket, that I really wanted to kind of explore as a solo artist. Over the years I've worked in different bands, and kind of worked that angle, but I really thought it was time for me to go out on my own, and to, you know, explore my own music, and push it to the limits, and do what I want to do, rather than what four other people want to do or whatever. And as a gay singer/songwriter that was really difficult for me sometimes. In some of the other bands I worked with, while they certainly were accepting of me being gay, it was always about creating the pop hit, or something that was going to be acceptable to a wide audience, rather than just making a statement of who I was or what I felt in the music that I was performing.

Anyway, at that time I decided to make a four-song demo, and really as I started the process my goal was just to create something very musical, very reflective of my style, my influences. And as I kind of got into the studio and got my groove going with that, I was just really pleased with the sound coming out on the four songs I originally started with, and so I had a few other songs, a older songs or songs I was still just finishing up. And then I had a couple new songs, that kind of came out of the process of just being in the studio, and being into that whole environment and being open to new ideas and experiences

The song "Seven Years" is kind of your coming out story, can you tell us about it?

I wrote that the day after I had gone back to the bar, where I had originally kind of come out, on New Year's Eve, and that's one of the lines in the second verse…"New Year's Eve, 4am, in West End Bar." There was an old bar; it's no longer there. It was a gay bar in South Beach, on Lincoln Road, called West End Bar. It was kind of a rough bar, but for some reason I decided to go there on New Year's Eve. You know, at 3:30, 4 in the morning, and I was just…my mind was going, and I was like, "This is the night, this is the night I'm going to just go explore the gay side of me and just let it all out there. So, I was pulled back to the beach, and I ended up at West End Bar, sat down at the bar, and had a Heineken. It was really late, so there was hardly anybody there, but I just remember this beautiful Christmas tree. You know, the beauty of the lights just kind of glimmering in the room, just kind of mesmerized me into it.

And…so, I had the drink and actually moved on to another bar in the area called Twist, which was actually a very famous bar, on South Beach. And got in there, and the music was pumpin', the crowd…the guys were all shirtless. It was like, ah, I found home. And within a few minutes, ah, well especially at that hour, it was very late at this point, and you know, people were, if they weren't already hooked up, they were about to get hooked up. So, made eye contact with a guy across the bar, and next thing you know I'm walking down the street with him, saying "Oh, let's have some coffee." Yeah, right, we're going to go have coffee. And so I end up in his hotel room, and pretty much the rest is history, I guess as they say. But it was quite a wild night, and kind of went right into morning, and…scary time, but a wonderfully invigorating time at the same time. So, that's what really "Seven Years" is about. A lot of people think it's a love song, or something, I guess the opening lines "Seven years since you first walked through these doors" is really about coming out. It's really since you first walked through these doors to this bar into this new world, coming out of your closet, etc, all that image, so…so, that's "Seven Years."

Steven Franz - Seven Years (2003)

That was a little bit of the song "Seven Years." By far my favorite track on the album, and actually one of my favorite gay songs of last year, was "Double My Wardrobe." What's the story behind that song?

That's really a special gift to me from the songwriting fairies, as I call them. Literally I was sitting in the same seat I'm sitting in here in my living room, and just got on my guitar and just started playing a few chords, while I was waiting for some friends to go out. I think it was like a Friday night or something. And the first line just came to me, the "This is my story and I'm stickin' too it." And then the chorus just flowed into it as well, you know, "I want to double my wardrobe, leave the seat up late at night, sing Madonna with an attitude." [I'm] real happy with that. It's received a lot of nice response from different, different audiences, both gay and straight. It's funny, a lot of my straight friends will come up and say, "oh, that song has just stuck in my head." And a good friend of mine was actually with her boyfriend doing dished one night. And I guess one was washing and the other was drying, and her boyfriend is very straight and kind of turned to her and gave her this strange look and she said, "What?" And he acknowledged to her that he was actually…had that song stuck in his head, and didn't know what to do, you know, "Does this mean I'm gay?" And so I just thought that was kind of cute.

Steven Franz - Double My Wardrobe (2003)

Ah, this is especially for JD. He has a request for me to, ah, to go through what my…the third verse on the song really was. I decided not to put the third verse that I had originally written on the record because I thought it was a little too raunchy, and I didn't want to keep it from being played on the radio, or finding some homes. So I'm going to try to record this, the third verse:

Got myself a boyfriend,
And it's nice never running out of socks,
Two suits, two pairs of loafers,
Hell, we've even got two cocks,
And, I want to double my wardrobe...

So, there you have it, the unofficial second ending to the "Double My Wardrobe," second third verse.

Thanks, Steven, for indulging me with that. I've got one more song, but before I get to it I want to thank you all for listening, and to thank Janis Ian, John Calvi and Steven Franz for the very special interviews. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. And I wish you would. My website, logically enough, is at www.queermusicheritage.com and now also at www.queermusicheritage.org. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston, and I'll be back on the fourth Monday of next month with the next installment of Queer Music Heritage.

Steven, can you tell us a little about the song, "Inside My Head"?

The song was written on my first guitar, inside my head, and it really just…ah, I wrote it at a time when I had just graduated from college, I was living at home, not really sure what I wanted to do, still had a girlfriend at the time, or had just broken up with her. So the song is really, you know, about just that feeling of being overwhelmed, and wanting to find a place, you know, where you're free to be who you are. And I guess at the time I really hadn't come out yet, but I guess I was drawn to the Dorothy in me and the connection to "Wizard of Oz," and I had the line, "gonna find a place where I can free my mind, and the bluebird sings," so that was kind of neat experience, my first real song on a guitar, and I was real proud of that.

Here's Steven Franz with "Inside My Head" from the album "The One You Choose"

Steven Franz - Inside My Head (2003)