Amy Ray

Amy Ray at the Troubadour, Los Angeles, January 28, 2009

Nora loaned me the LP of the very first Indigo Girls album in 1990. It was shocking to me how they talked about the Bible and Jesus. They were lesbians, right? My brother the rock critic mocked them, for this lyric in particular: “I am intense, I am in pain, I am love.” Too earnest. Recall, in the 90s you were ostracized for not living in irony. But for me, it was as much the fact of them as their product that fascinated me and made me a fan. They were lesbians, right?

I always discussed them with friends. Not in a group, but in pairs. Me and Nora, me and Jane, me and Eliza. We loved them without saying as much. Our concerns surrounded these topics such as:

  • They’re lesbians, right?
  • Is Emily an alcoholic? She sings about beer a lot.
  • Is Amy trying to come out with that Prince Valiant haircut?

They have been with me a long time, through thick and thin. I pretend they are my friends. I guess they are, in a way. I am just not theirs. Thus I am overjoyed to see Amy really hitting her stride with her latest album, Didn’t It Feel Kinder. And whatever Southern, closet-y, hippy aesthetic she once had that may have stood between us, she seems to have shed for full-blown genderqueer.

She is backed up by 2 of the Butchies, Kaia Wilson and Melissa York, who instantly ratchet up her cool by a factor of 10. So even if Amy doesn’t flatter herself with thrift store bought, polyester men’s clothing, Kaia and Melissa’s fashion forward dykattire offers a thoroughly pleasurable viewing alternative.

But it was Amy songs that caused me both to bang my head and weep openly. She’s singing just out of her range on many of these tunes, which adds extra feeling to her usual themes of yearning. Her songwriting is taut where it has sometimes been indulgent and funny where it has sometimes been, yes, too earnest.

It may be the sheer fact of her lo these many years later that moves me most. I doubt the Indigo Girls have made her a millionaire. She tours in a van, not a luxury bus. Their popularity has ebbed and flowed. But she keeps at it. Challenging herself to change and try new things and stay connected to younger people.

From my vantage point on the floor, she loomed large on the stage. Appropriate to a talent and force for positive change in the world who appears to be trading passionate excess for wisdom.

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