Script for September 2006 QMH
Nedra Johnson - So Good So Far (2005)
This is Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and this will be an all women's music show. But you'll quickly see that all women's music is not of the stereotypical folksinger in the coffeehouse variety. The artist starting the show is a great example. That was Nedra Johnson with the song "So Good So Far," from her latest album. I've got a special interview with her later in the show.
But next is an artist I've played several times on QMH, but I've not gotten around to playing this track, which I really like. It's from 2000 and is the title track from the album "30 Second Kiss" by Robin Flower & Libby McLaren.
Robin Flower & Libby McLaren - 30 second kiss (2000)
I've also played this next act on my show a number of times, but it's always been music from their classic Christmas album, "I'll Be a Homo for Christmas." Of course I'm talking about the group Venus Envy. Their Christmas album came out in 1995, and actually was their second release. They had a six-song cassette in 1990, the source of this next song, "Beaver Cleaver Fever."
Venus Envy - Beaver Cleaver Fever (1990)
The group Venus Envy was comprised of Linda Schierman, Linda Severt, Laura Love and Lisa Koch, and Laura and Lisa have gone on to record a number of excellent solo albums.
In the late 80s there was a duo called Labrys. I'm sure they got their name because the labrys is a lesbian symbol. Visually it's a double headed axe and was used to denote strength and self-sufficiency. The duo Labrys was Elena Jordan and Patricia Lyons and they released two albums, in 1985 and 1987. From their second album, "Sisterlove," here's the title track.
- Sisterlove (1987)
I followed Labrys and "Sisterlove" with Carol Steinel and a track from her 1991 cassette. The song was called "Dying for Love" and the cassette was called "I'm Dangerous."
Now the rest of Carol's recording is a bit different from the ballad you just heard. She's very irreverant and has some monologues between songs that set them up. And her material is very gay, and sometimes her language is FCC challenged. So for my internet listeners I'm sharing three songs in a row by her, as they just flow together. You'll hear "Dangerous," "God Is Love," and "Leviticus."
Carol Steinel - Dangerous / God Is Love / Leviticus (1991)
Again, that was Carol Steinel. And as long as we're in sort of a more humorous mode. I've got a short comedy routing for you by Ivy Bottini. In addition to doing comedy, Ivy Bottini is long time activist, with work spanning five decades. I encourage you to do an internet search on this amazing woman, but for just a sampling, in 1966 she founded the first chapter of the National Organization of Woman and in 1969 she designed their logo. She founded the first AIDS organization in Los Angeles and has been active in many other community services. There's a theatre in L.A. named after her and last month they had a celebration commerating both the 86th anniversary of Women's Right to Vote and Ivy's 80th birthday. The comedy bit I have to share with you is from a 1976 45 called "Women's Lip," and the two sketches are called "Lesbians" and "The WLM," with WLM standing for Women's Liberation Movement.
Ivy Bottini - Lesbians / The WLM (1976)
Another artist who has been at it for decades is Penny Lang. She's considered a Canadian folk legend and first started singing folk music in the 60s. At age 63 she's just released her eighth album, called "Stone Sand Sea & Sky," and I was very taken with her voice and the calming effect this album has. I chose to share with you the song "It's Not Easy."
Penny Lang - It's Not Easy (2006)
From Canada, Penny Lang and "It's Not Easy."
Next up is a trio called Rosy's Bar & Grill. They were a Kansas City area group and my Audiofile co-producer, Chris Wilson, tells me that she remembers seeing them at an early West Coast Music Festival, and just loved them. The trio was comprised of Martha Haehl, Carol Smith and Joyce Constant, and while researching this show I googled their names and located Martha, and emailed her. I got a very nice reply that while she left the group in 1980, the other two are still performing under the name Rosy's. She says the band was one-third lesbian and other two were straight but definitely not narrow. Martha has been in several bands since and currently plays in one called Checkered Past. The original group Rosy's Bar & Grill had only one release, in 1979, and from it here are "Hello Stranger," and a second song. That song uses the words of women's movement hero Sojourner Truth, taken from her famous speech from 1851 called "Ain't I a Woman,"
Rosy's Bar & Grill - Hello Stranger / Ain't I a Woman (1979)
Again, that was Rosy's Bar & Grill from their self-titled album.
I'm not sure if I've done this before on QMH, but I'm about to play the same song twice in a row, but the versions are quite different. The song is "Old Woman," written by Michelle Brody. It comes from the various artists compilation from 1980 called "Gay & Straight Together." I've featured that recording before on my show, but not this song. Here's Michelle Brody's own version of her song "Old Woman."
Michelle Brody - Old Woman (1980)
Now you'll hear a very different take on the song. It's from 1978 and comes from a very expensive album. I say that because every time I run into it on eBay it goes for big bucks, and I understand the reason is that this is a jazz funk album and music producers like to take samples from the album for their recordings. I'm surprised it's not been put out on CD. The name of the six-member band is Baba Yaga and their album is called "On the Edge." Here's their interpretation of Michelle Brody's song "Old Woman."
Baba Yaga - Old Woman (1978)
Again, Baby Yaga and "Old Woman."
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 www.queermusicheritage.com, 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.
Now to my very special interview with Nedra Johnson. Nedra's a first rate singer, songwriter and instrumentalist. Her debut album from 1997, "Testify," was nominated for two GLAMA awards, and this past June her followup, just called "Nedra," received the Outmusic Award for Outstanding New Recording Female. And before we get to the interview I want you to hear a little of one of the tracks from her latest album. This one is called "Michfest Blues," and was inspired by the Michigan Women's Music Festival.
Nedra Johnson - Michfest Blues (2005)
How would you describe you musical style to someone whose never heard it
I say it's a mix of blues-based R&B. Basically it's blues inspired, but it can go the other way, rock, folk, whatever, funk. So I'm influenced by a lot of different music.
From your new album, tell me about the song "Ahha It's a Good Thing"
Well that came out of you know, there's a certain way that people look at women's music, as if the label getting attached to you, women's music, is some kind of negativity, but I look at it and say, here's people who've been playing this feminist oriented openly lesbian music for 30 years. I couldn't do what I do without them having done this first, so it's more of a badge of honor and it's sort of a song to honor the women who have come before me and made it possible for me to do what I do
What to you is womyn's music?
Women's music is is music by women, for one, but also for women with a feminist perspective to some extent, you know, that doesn't mean it has to be, you know, like Kate Millett put to music, but just, I love women, so the songs I write are about loving women, and in a respectful way, I think.
Let's hear a little of the song "Ahha, It's a Good Thing"
Nedra Johnson - Ahha, It's a Good Thing (2005)
I liked what you were trying to get across with that song, and I liked that you included on the album a tribute version of Maxine Feldman's song "Amazon"
Yeah, I really you know, the song means a lot to me because it's something that's done annually at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, at the end of the opening ceremonies. So for that reason, having gone there 15 years it means a lot to me from that experience. And it was very difficult for me to even get a copy of the original to hear it first, because I've heard so many different versions of it over the years.
Well, I could have got you that.
I didn't know.
Maxine's one of my heroes and I did a really nice interview on her several years ago
Well, you know, I had a difficult time trying to get hold of her, to get permission to use it, and when I finally did reach her, I was very moved at how moved she was. She was like, thank you for not forgetting me. And that almost broke my heart because, my goodness, for me she was doing her thing 30 years ago, all of that, you know is something that means something to me
Nedra Johnson - Amazon (2005)
Nedra Johnson and Maxine Feldman's anthem "Amazon."
I really like Nedra's song "Forever With Me" and she's allowed me to add that song to the Gay Marriage Song page of my website.
It's a love song. You know, I didn't write it thinking, you know, this would be a good song for the marriage issue. It actually was written before any of that came up as a conscious political thing. But to me it's a song about love. It's personal. It was directed at someone and it also, I think, addresses the way the religious right wants to fight us without claiming God, because they try to deny us a right to a higher power, a right to God, Jesus, however you want to look at it, and that's part of what I'm doing when I write songs
Nedra Johnson - Forever With Me (2005)
Please tell me about "New Boy Blues"
"New Boy Blues" is sort of a butch-femme song, I'd say, and from the perspective from a butch who's not necessarily the more aggressive or the more dominant maybe that's the way to say it. I tend to hold my partners with a certain amount of reverence and it sort of comes from that inspiration.
You don't hear much of the butch-femme attitude in music anymore
Yeah, as far as butch-femme in music. You don't hear enough about lesbian stuff in music so when you try to break it down into butch-femme in music, that's a whole other extra, I guess. But I think you hear it throughout mine, to some extent anyway, although I don't think you have to be either butch or femme, or any kind of things like that to relate to it.
Nedra Johnson - New Boy Blues (2005)
I like how political your lyrics are has that ever caused you problems?
You know, I don't really know. I hasn't cause me any real direct problems, like no one's tried to beat me up after a gig. Although I have had people confront me, especially around the religious stuff, like, do you or do you not believe in God? Or this is appropriate here but it's not appropriate there. I did something one time where somebody it was at a conference for welcoming churches, meaning churches that are accepting of gays and lesbians. And there was somebody that thought that "Testify" was a little too much for that setting, you know, because of the first line saying, "my baby's got sanctified booty." But you know that was one person In probably at least a thousand, so I took it in, I heard what he had to say, but you know, I just disagree. And I think if anybody felt that strongly about it they would have said, so I think probably most of the other people disagreed as well.
Of what song that you've written are you the most proud?
Well I guess "Testify" seems to be such a classic for people who know my music, so in some ways I'd say that, though I do love all of the songs, they all mean something to me, they're all healing in some ways to me. So also I'd say "Forever With Me." In each one I try to be as honest as I can about whatever I'm addressing so I can't say that I have a real, one song, that's it, you know
I know, artists hate that question. Suede told me "choose between my babies?"
Well it's difficult because to me they all are different, so it is like choosing between your babies.
When you perform what song gets the most audience reaction?
Well, I'd say "Testify" gets great reaction. That's from my original record. "The World Can Stop Turning," that definitely has responses all throughout. And "Anyway You Need Her" is definitely a good audience participation song. It's one of those kind of church songs that you know it after the first chorus through, so people jump in on the chorus. It sort of depends and it's funny, if I do "Alligator Food" in San Francisco, they respond really strongly, but if I do it in Iowa, it's like, okay. So it depends on where I'm at with some of them, too.
Has your relationship with any of your earlier songs changed since you wrote them?
You know, I think I listen now with a different kind of producer's ear. So there's some of that that I would say yes to, like maybe I would do a little different background vocals or instrumentation on something. But as far as the songs themselves I guess some are not as relevant to me as they were right when I wrote them, but I still think they hold up pretty good. I mean, I've recently been driving in a car that has a cassette player, and I have an old cassette of "Testify" so I was listening to it and I'm like, "that's not a bad album." You know, it's funny, it seems to mean a lot to other people. I just heard from some folks last night at the Outmusic Open Mic, they just bought "Testify" so it means something to them in a way that it did when it first came out to people, so it's really interesting getting that response from that same record ten years later almost.
Tell me about the song "Testify" itself.
Well, it starts out "my baby got sanctified booty and I swear I'm saved by what she does to me." To me I just look at there's some humor to that, of course, but I don't think that we close our bedroom doors or anything, no matter what we do, if you believe in God you gotta know that God knows what you're doing. So it's about claiming that, and claiming it as a blessing. Sexuality, love, all of that is a blessing and I think if you don't recognize that then you're misnaming what you have. And very often for gay and lesbian people we get told that what we have and hold valuable, that it's not valuable. You know, like I say I'm in love with this woman and you say, "that's not love." If I buy that, if I believe that then all of a sudden I'm starting to see that I don't have the things in my life that I thought I had.
And I think that's a lot of our damage and I think that's why you have young people still committing suicide. You know, if you look at our numbers compared to the numbers of straight kids who are committing suicide, you know, LGBT kids that are killing themselves over some ridiculousness, over shame. My thinking is that we got to do something to heal that. And so that song comes out of that, and when I go on and say, "folks say God made Eve and Adam, not no Adam and Steve." I don't know what that's thought of as clever. Is that because it rhymes? That's the only think I can say about it. Are you saying that God only made Adam and Eve? And not Nedra and JD and everybody we love? God made everybody. So God made Adam, Steve, Mike, Jack, you know, everybody. I have to put that to the side and that's other people's issues. I'm claiming God in my life. I'm claiming God in my love. And you can't take that from me.
I was going to ask you, kind of jokingly, how do you know if someone has sanctified booty?
Well, I guess if they walk past you and you can't help but shout hallalulah, that's a good indication
Nedra Johnson - Testify (1997)
Tell me about "Hail Mary"
"Hail Mary" is a real Michigan Festival song. It came out of getting into a relationship with somebody who was Catholic, for one, and just meeting her there at the Festival actually. So, I say things like "welcome home baby, I was sure that you'd be here." Well, when anybody gets to the Festival you say welcome home to them. So there was like divine recognition. I met this person and it felt to me like we knew each other already, so I call that the divine recognition and say welcome home. And when I go on and say, "the moon was full in piscies." I think it almost always is in picses cause the Festival comes around, so there's that. And on a sacred land, this girl actually grew up on a farm right outside the land so growing apple trees and eating is related to that. There's real literal stuff in the song although I think it probably sounds more poetic and pretty and something, you know. And when we left the Festival I went back to New York, she want back to California. So I say my world is falling and hers is ever green. September in New York, it's fall, and in California, they don't have seasons. So, that's all part of it, and again it's claiming God in the relationship. It's asking for a blessing in the love.
Nedra Johnson - Hail Mary (1997)
Has your audience changed over the years?
It some ways my audience has changed. Of course I'm familiar with the women's music audience so I put myself out to that audience. For the most part that's my main audience
Tell me about the song "Are You Getting Angry Yet"
"Are You Getting Angry Yet?" came out of going to for one I went to watch some of the trials for the people who were in Act Up that got charged with trespassing, I believe, at St Patrick's, so all of that in the first part of the song is very literal. In the chorus they say, "are you happy, are you gay, are you getting angry yet?" I use that acronym, Are You Getting Angry Yet, (Are You GAY), because there was at that time somebody going around writing "Got AIDS Yet?" as an acronym, and it would say straight across "GAY?" with a question mark, and down it would say Got AIDS Yet. And I just started carrying a marker around because it was happening so much that I could actually carry a marker around and do that. On a daily basis I'd end up somewhere where I saw somebody had written that, same handwriting, same crazy person.
Well I remember seeing it also.
So I say they deny you Jesus and wish you AIDS. To me I think of things like, how can you call yourself a Christian. If coveting somebody else's wife is something that's seen as negative then how can you think wishing AIDS on people, or thinking AIDS is a joke. That thinking did such damage to the heterosexual community. It's so ignorant. For me I think of it as saying, are you gay, are you getting angry yet, like you don't have to be gay to be angry about the way the government has dealt with AIDS, the way the governments across the world have dealt it. I mean now they're saying, oh yeah, we need to do something about this. But still because it's primarily people of color and poor people and gay people this is something that's not been a priority, even still.
Nedra Johnson - Are You Getting Angry Yet? (1997)
From her 1997 album "Testify" that was a little of "Are You Getting Angry Yet?"
I'm down to the last song, but before I get to it I want to thank you all for listening, and I want to especially thank Nedra Johnson for the wonderful interview. And as I had expected, the interview was so good that I could not fit all of into the radio version this show, so my internet listeners can hear an extended version with more comments and additional music. That of course can be found at www.queermusicheritage.com. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston.
I'm going to end this segment with one of my favorite songs from Nedra's latest album. And again, you can find out more about Nedra Johnson and her music at www.NedraJohnson.com. My favorite song from the album is probably "Any Way You Need Her," and the song was nominated for Out Song of the Year at the Outmusic Awards. Here's some final comments by Nedra, talking about that song.
"Anyway You Need Her" Funny that it was almost a last minute addition. I had the song for quite a long time. I just started thinking at the last minute, let me see, let me add this song here. And so far it's been one of the songs that people have really responded strongly to, and it's about .from the way that I believe, and I do believe in God, so I just think that God would be whatever you need God to be when you need it. And if you need God to be her if that's the only way you're going to hear the message, or you know like we all have somebody that comes in and offers a different perspective, and that person for me I can say, they've just brought a different voice, maybe just what I needed to hear. So all of that to me, I think of it as a blessing, so it doesn't matter what way that blessing comes, as long as you name it correctly. This is a blessing. And I think that a lot of the mainstream Christianity says, only this is from God, only the Bible and only the Bible we say, and only the interpretation we make, is what works. And I definitely like playing with irony around that kind of restricted belief, and I like also pushing the limitations on what anybody thinks about God. When I say Jesus is a lesbian, or Jesus is a fierce gay man, I know that's funny to people but I also do believe God is whatever I need when I need it, so there's the humor in it, but there's also the reality in it for me as well.
Nedra Johnson - Any Way You Need Her (2005)