As I mentioned last week, when you know the person on the cover of People, it might be bad news. And when one of your favorite singers from your high school years starts appearing on your facebook/twitter feed, that's not a good sign as well. Such as the case as Michelle Shocked.
But let me backtrack: Yes, you're in for a treat! One of "Back in my day" stories when I remember a simpler time, the eighties! As the guys at MST3K put it: "Vote for Reagan and do cocaine." Okay, I wasn't that bad. But back then we didn't have youtube to watch nifty videos. Nope, we had VH-1 or MTV in 1989. Sometimes whole days would go by and you wouldn't watch a decent video. Remember, these were the days of pouring sugar on men plus laying your hands on Bon Jovi. Women had high hair, and they liked it. They were straight up because they couldn't shake their love. It was the electric youth!
But if you were patient, good videos were slipped in. Take the silly "Punk Rock Girl" by the Dead Milkmen, anything by 10,000 Maniacs, and of course "Stand" by REM. Then we had "Anchorage" by Michelle Shocked. The video was so stunning in its simplicity, it left me dazzled.
The first thing we saw was a boy wearing a hat and scooting by on a skateboard. Only it wasn't a boy, it was a girl, Michelle Shocked. Then this southern voice started to sing:
I took time out to write to my old friend
I walked across that burning bridge
Mailed my letter off to Dallas
But her reply came from Anchorage, Alaska...
"Hey girl, it's about time you wrote
It's been over two years you know, my old friend
Take me back to the days of the foreign telegrams
And the all-night rock and rollin'... hey Shell
We was wild then
Hey Shell, you know it's kind of funny
Texas always seemed so big
But you know you're in the largest state in the union
When you're anchored down in Anchorage...
In the video we saw Shocked interacting with people in New York, cutting to old home movies. There was such a sense of melancholia to it, yet it was such a lovely song.Already at sixteen I had friendships that went away; growing apart or life happened. They didn't go to Alaska, but it felt like it.
"Anchorage" got heavy rotation on MTV. That year Meranda and I went to see Gone With the Wind at the Castro. We saw leather and ACT-UP stickers, a shock from two girls from our side of the tunnel. And then we saw this boy talking with another woman, then they started kissing. Then it hit me: "Meranda! That's Michelle Shocked!"
"Look, look, look! It's Michelle Shocked kissing a woman!"
We were a bit stunned. There was Michelle Shocked kissing a woman. My, my, my.
I didn't know much about Shocked's past; I did know she was committed to a hospital, but somehow she transformed that pain into singing and songwriting. I played the song for my Creative Writing class. It felt right; it was like a Anne Tyler/Eudora Welty short story.
Shocked had other minor hits. There was another video she did as a answer to the Robert Palmer videos, only with men in green speedos. As George Takei would say, oh my! Yet "Anchorage" always held a place in my heart; I was this teen girl wanting to belong. I saw Michelle Shocked as a person who felt the same way.
So imagine my disappointment when I read that last night at a gig at Yoshi's, Shocked started going off on anti-gay rants. At first I thought oh yeah right. I even made a joke on my fb account: "Next Edie Brickell will sing the praises of Sarah Palin." It had to be wrong. This couldn't be the girl that was making out at the Castro during the intermission of Gone With The Wind. What's up?
When things don't make sense to me, I sit down and write. To get a feel for "Anchorage" I looked it up on youtube to hear/watch the video. Nothing on youtube. Checked on VH-1 Classic. Pulled. It disappeared. Suddenly I felt so sad. Sad of course that Michelle Shocked said the things she did, wondering what was going on with her. Saddened that the video was gone as well.
The fact it went public so quickly is good though; good that hate speech will not be tolerated. Yet I can't help but wonder what happened to that singer I saw so many years ago on MTV, the one wearing a black sweater and jeans, that skinny girl who sang about old friends. One wonders if maybe she has another burning bridge she has to cross.
And now time for a shameless plug...
I will be writing a column for the music website http://caughtinthecarousel.com/ where I will weigh in on music, music music. It's edited by St. Mary's alum/professor Alex Green, and my first column will appear on March 30th. I will not however sing for my supper. You would thank me for this if you heard me sing.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries