Yearly Archives: 2017

Michelle Shocked February 13, 2018 City Vineyard

Michelle Shocked and Todd Almond February 12, 2018 City Vineyard

Midsummer Dreams


Midsummer Dreams

Cher bon vivants,
I’m not going to sugarcoat this, I’ve found the sweet spot here in Manhattan on my east coast sojourn. A millennial church, Movement NYC, is where Sister Shocked calls home these days, and you can find me practicing tai chi on the Highline, taking salsa lessons in the East Village, last night it was gazpacho (not as good as mine & Kevin’s!) at a bistro in Soho and barre hopping every single evening on Spring Street.

While midsummer dreams swelter in place, my Mercury Trilogy ventures apace. The June City Winery tour with Short Sharp Shocked producer Pete Anderson’s Trio was a burst of verve and brio, ending in a bright crescendo at the Kessler Theater in Dallas where we woke up to this headline in the Dallas Morning News.

Well, enough said, wouldn’t you say? Precious Lord, lead me on! July’s City Winery Captain Swing lineup features legendary Texan gypsy jazz musician Slim Richey’s scion, Tommy Richey, making his national debut, and a reunion with jazz trumpeter Rich “Spitty” Armstrong is a sure thrill that will fill the bill.

I’m introducing a new feature at my shows this summer, I call them Michelle Sox™ and they work like a charm to keep gadgets in check while the show goes on. After the gig, they are also available for purchase as a pair.

The Shocked Shop, soon back online at my website, will feature streaming, downloads, other cool Shocked sh*t, an Artist Rights resource center with copyright education and anti-bootlegging propaganda as well as a blogsite. Meanwhile, a few feature upgrades include this highlight, a Neck of the Woods interactive map of East Texas, so check it out.
Next month I launch my one-woman iteration of Truth vs Reality in Edinburgh’s Playhouse at The Boards to retell the tale of a few career exploits, kerfuffles, shenaningans and conflagrations, including my 1992 SXSW keynote address where I dropped a blackface minstrelsy bombshell on an unsuspecting hipster herd and got myself blacklisted for almost six years. Oh, you thought my 2013 San Francisco “Yoshi Didn’t!” episode was the first time I spoke truth to power? Think again. I am often an innocent bystander to my own genius, and this show is no exception. Onward with the #AllianceOfDefiance!
Last month, with a little help from my anti-folk friends, we launched an undercover debut as “Leaky Lou & The Whistleblowers” out on Governor’s Island for a little startup festival with big dreams, called PorchStomp.

Leaky Lou is my bright idea to support the efforts of a brilliant investigative journalist named Timothy Shorrock. Leak Culture is his work in progress, (and while I’m on the subject, Yasha Levine’s Surveillance Valley, is now available for presale,) so just wait until you get your hands on these guys writing. They’re the real heavies. My relatively minor copyfight skirmish pales in comparison to what these guys are up against, when it comes to censorship, suppression of dissent and whistleblowing.
In October I’m returning to Havana with maestro Ned Sublette, the brilliant author of Cuba and it’s Music and host of NPR’s AfroPop, for a whirlwind survey of rhumba and drums. There may be some available openings to join the group in case you’ve got the itch.Enough already. More to come. Until then, keep the faith and keep on rocking. I promise I will if you will.

Recommended Reading
The Black Box Society by Frank Pasquale
Spies for Hire by Timothy Shorrock
Move Fast & Break Things by Jonathan Taplin
What’s Yours is Min eby Tom Slee
How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt
When Google Met Wikileaks by Julian Assange
Shakespeare Insults
Cuba and its Music by Ned Sublette
American Slave Coast by Ned & Constance Sublette
The Smear by Sharyl Attkisson
Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil
Surveillance Valley by Yasha Levine

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Dallas-born alt-rocker Michelle Shocked makes few apologies for ‘epic exploit’

NEW YORK — It’s 1:30 a.m., and Michelle Shocked rocks a Rick Owens jacket while spellbound at the foot of a rinky-dink stage in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Texas drag artist Christeene Vale, who recently collaborated with Owens for a music video so sexually provocative it’d make Madonna blush, plows through a wicked performance that violates every measure of decorum.

Shocked, the Dallas-born Grammy winner and three-time nominee, inhales every NSFW gesture.

But when Christeene (a.k.a. Paul Soileau) notices a field of glowing mobile touchscreens recording her show, Christeene becomes incensed and screams at her audience, “Turn! Off! Your! Phones! [gay slur]!”

For a split-second, Shocked is stunned.

It’s as if Christeene’s snarling demand was dropped from the heavens — like an homage to a well-publicized incident in Shocked’s own past.

Shocked pumps her fist, belts out a mighty, “Whoop!” and smiles with vindication.

Michelle Shocked, photographed in her New York Chelsea neighborhood The Dallas Morning News (Chad Batka/Special Contributor)
Michelle Shocked, photographed in her New York Chelsea neighborhood The Dallas Morning News
(Chad Batka/Special Contributor)

Shocked, 55, has not played Dallas for more than five years. That changes Sunday night, when she will face her hometown fans for the first time since the incident.

On St. Patrick’s Day 2013, Shocked’s career suffered a harsh, almost unrecoverable nosedive when she performed at Yoshi’s, a San Francisco jazz club.

Her gig was framed in two neatly titled sets: “Truth” followed by “Reality.”

During the “Reality” portion, things got real.

Using Twitter, Shocked skimmed her audience’s song requests. One tweet suggested gospel music, which inspired Shocked to deliver a brief sermon about her Christian faith.

And then Shocked deliberately launched what she now calls her “epic exploit.”

Shocked said, “God hates [a gay slur].”

She describes her “exploit” as exaggerated satire.

Did people laugh?

“Yes!” she insists.

But after that verbal bomb, Shocked admits that she overestimated the audience’s ability for understanding. “I mean, I knew it would work. I just didn’t realize that it would work so well.”

It worked so extraordinarily well that, before you could say “hate speech,” Shocked’s remaining tour dates collapsed.

However, hardly anyone noticed how Shocked teed up that slur.

Most of the report on the Yoshi’s show referenced a 2008 interview when Shocked unhappily confessed that her new-found Christianity defined same-sex love as immoral.

Shocked accepted a Piers Morgan CNN interview invitation to explain her contradictory actions. In hindsight, a nine-minute televised segment wasn’t Shocked’s best damage-control solution.

During the rocky exchange, Shocked sincerely expressed that she’s not homophobic and said the Yoshi’s slur was “a mistake.” But she also told Morgan that her show “was supposed to be live — not recorded.”

As Morgan attempted to wrap the interview, Shocked recited an obscure couplet:

The apple tree’s got some strange fruit / Even Adam would not try

But human nature is living proof / Beauty is in the beholder’s eye

Unless it’s an inauguration, live television is a cruel venue for poetry. Shocked left viewers with an impression that was stranger than her “strange fruit” reference.

That televised confrontation was a low point, especially compared to her previous on-camera high, the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, when Shocked was nominated alongside both Madonna and Sinéad O’Connor for “On the Greener Side,” Shocked’s dynamically clever feminist spoof of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video.

Shocked’s work often made statements. Her 2002 song “Peachfuzz” is a down-home funky jam about a gay childhood pal who makes out with another boy at a nightclub. In the song’s second stanza, Shocked cleverly couches the British slang usage of “fags” (cigarettes) between other references to cigarettes and playing with matches.

Coincidentally, the “strange fruit” lines recited on CNN are the last lyrics to “Peachfuzz.”

Shocked was born at Baylor Hospital, but grew up “dirt poor” in Gilmer, Texas. (She would later make up the stage name and insists, contrary to myth, it is not a nod to her receiving electro-convulsive therapy.)

Her family lived in a vacant Mormon facility that had a ceiling tall enough to safely accommodate an indoor trampoline.

“That trampoline was awesome,” Shocked remembers.

Michelle Shocked in a pre-1994 publicity photo(The Dallas Morning News archives)
Michelle Shocked in a pre-1994 publicity photo
(The Dallas Morning News archives)

When Shocked hears the question, “What does the word ‘gracious’ mean?” her face lights up — like she just enjoyed an awesome trampoline bounce.

Before casting any stones, Shocked believes her entire controversial quote from that infamous night in San Francisco should be examined.

Like “manufactured reality” — now associated with genres of so-called unscripted TV — in lieu of simply saying the slur, Shocked instead baits her audience to tweet the inflammatory remark.

“If someone would be so gracious as to please tweet out, ‘Michelle Shocked just said from stage, ‘God hates [gay slur],’ Would you do it now?”

“I said ‘gracious’ with every ounce of snide insincerity I could muster,” she explains now.

She re-enacts the entire quote with her arms pompously raised to her sternum while her hands are clasped in a yin-yang gesture.

Did she lift that hammy pose from a bygone operetta?

“It’s from The Little Rascals, man,” Shocked laughs. “From the ‘Arbor Day’ episode.”

What a silly gesture to accompany so-called hate speech.

“By the way,” she says over a plate of poached octopus at a tapas bar around the corner from her Chelsea apartment, ” ‘Grace’ means ‘God’s unmerited favor.'”

So why did Shocked deliberately implode her career by hurling a hateful slur?

Two reasons.

First, she was certain that the show was being pirated, which it was.

Second, because she was livid over the now-common practice of “smartphone zombies” recording and uploading her live shows without consent.

Shocked intensely believes that digital-song services are why recording careers now go largely unpaid.

“I’m not sacrificing myself to the gods of the freemium-entertainment altar,” she vows.

Shocked says she is credited as the only artist who owns their entire major-label catalog. Achieving that honor harkens back to 1986, at Texas’ Kerrville Folk Festival.

Kerrville didn’t invite Shocked to perform.

“I volunteered for trash duty. And I got fired,” she shrugs. “Volunteers were fed and we camped in tents. For me, Kerrville wasn’t about main-stage performances. I went for the late-night campfire picking sessions.”

With a lo-fi recorder, British journalist Pete Lawrence was an audience of one who captured Shocked’s guitar virtuosity, twangy troubadour expressiveness and vivid, Woody Guthrie-like lyricism.

That field recording — or “bootleg,” as Shocked describes it — was released in Europe as The Texas Campfire Tapes, which climbed the alternative charts.

Shocked insists she never consented to the album’s release.

“They made sure to send me a standard cover-their-butts letter,” she remembers.

Overnight, she became a hit-making folk heroine. AndShocked says, that’s when the major label “sharks began circling.”

But the Kerrville field recordings made her wise.

Michelle Shocked performs during the 35th Newport Folk Festival, August 6, 1994 (Dave Hansen/Associated Press)
Michelle Shocked performs during the 35th Newport Folk Festival, August 6, 1994
(Dave Hansen/Associated Press)

She learned that most music-publishing careers (such as those of Alan Lomax, former director of the Library of Congress, and Ralph Peer of RCA-Victor) were built on regional recordings engineered in rural areas. And when it came to copyrights — from sheet music to phonographs to entire musical catalogs — Lomax and Peer reaped the advantages from unsuspecting artists who were either black or considered hillbillies.

While Shocked rose through the chanteuse ranks, Lone Star songstress Nanci Griffith issued her some savvy “take that to the bank” wisdom.

“Nanci said, ‘Keep your publishing rights,'” Shocked remembers. “After considering it, I wanted everything.”

“Everything” meant also controlling ownership of her master tapes, which Shocked negotiated — along with a three-album Mercury Records contract.

Smartphone technology and file-sharing have eroded what Shocked so intensely fought to preserve: control of her “tapes.”

Shocked maintains a reputation for impressively engaging live shows. But her smartphone-armed audiences couldn’t resist posting bootlegs. And Shocked says her YouTube infringement claims achieve erratic and infuriating results.

Shocked laughs when teased that she could out-argue a Supreme Court justice over intellectual property protections and how Google often violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

She also passionately describes how cultural content has now fostered a moblike mentality — especially on Twitter and Facebook.

Online commenters — Shocked calls them “gnats” — make harsh accusations that her Christian faith combined with her handsome, almost androgynous beauty have somehow destined her into being an ashamed closet case who’s too weak to face the truth.

Shocked is no wimp.

She’s a single divorcée. Her lyrics often reflect a die-hard romantic who’s nursing a broken heart. And while sizing up new companions, she mentions that a willing dance partner would be an ideal boyfriend.

At times, she possesses a tough-as-a-tomboy demeanor but insists she isn’t a closeted lesbian.

She is, however, a risk-taker who says David and Goliath is her favorite biblical narrative.

By the time the Yoshi’s gig rolled around, Shocked wanted to challenge the online mob’s tipping point. Like yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater, she baited her Yoshi’s audience into a perfect storm, deliberately hatching a viral-media rebellion in America’s most progressive gay-affirming capital.

Did it work?

The 23-minute Yoshi’s bootleg was uploaded to SoundCloud, courtesy of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. It is an electrifying performance that contains Shocked speaking and performing two original songs. The clip is also on YouTube.

Shocked shares a decision issued to her in May by the YouTube Legal Support Team. The decision states that Shocked’s complaint regarding the unauthorized recordings of her original compositions “is not valid” and will remain on YouTube.

“This means war,” Shocked vows and promises that her David-like battle against Google and YouTube is far from over.

The Yoshi’s incident resulted in Shocked being blacklisted. Venues weren’t ready to put her name on a marquee — until this year.

On Monday, she inaugurated a three-month, four-city (New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Nashville) residency with City Winery, a respected dinner-and-drinks chain known for showcasing intimate concerts with musical legends.

However, Shocked is not performing solo.

She has reunited with Pete Anderson, the six-string guitar god who produced and helped define not only Shocked’s recording career but also Dwight Yoakam’s superstar success.

Shocked and Anderson’s band make a stop in Texas Sunday night at the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff.

What should Dallas expect?

In some ways, a return to her musical roots. Shocked recently came across video of her first national TV appearance, which was aired on Late Night with David Letterman. Shocked and Anderson jammed with Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band.

That performance of If Love Was a Train is so in-the-pocket solid — part Elvis and all blues — that it began a lengthy friendship between Letterman and Shocked. She appeared on Letterman — both on NBC and CBS — “at least a dozen times,” she remembers.

Her Kessler gig means that she’ll be close to her family.

“And we’re planning to blow Dallas’ hair back,” she says.

Shocked has always forged her own path. And she refuses to apologize for overestimating her audiences’ ability to comprehend her “epic exploit” regarding pirating her shows.

She sees someone else who misjudged her audience’s reaction: Kathy Griffin, in that recent predicament where the comedian held up a Donald Trump-style mask styled to look like the decapitated, bloody head of the president.

“In the making-of video, Kathy jokes to the photographer, ‘You know, we’re going to move to Mexico because they’re going to put me in jail,’ ” Shocked says.

In the Yoshi’s bootleg, after Shocked drops that bomb, she performs her song “Wanted Man” — about a guy she meets in Mexico and discovers he’s on the lam to avoid a court date.

Will she perform “Wanted Man” in Dallas?

“You know what?” Shocked says. “I just might.”

Editor’s note: Daniel Kusner is a freelance writer based in Dallas and New York. 

Originally published via Dallas News.

Mercury Trilogy

My dear friends,
It is so good to be writing to you again; it’s been a long, dry spell and I have so much to tell.
I will be on the road this summer touring with my long time collaborator, world class guitarist and musical innovator. Pete Anderson produced two of the three albums of my Mercury Trilogy and it is a long standing dream come true to be reunited in this performance project with him. We are playing a summer residency tour at City Winery(Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Nashville – and soon, Boston) and we will perform each album from the Trilogy – Short Sharp ShockedCaptain Swing and Arkansas Traveler – consecutively in the months of June, July and August. Pete’s rhythm section will join us for parts of the show and will also feature Pete’s own original compositions.
I’ve been at Red Wally Studios in Beacon, NY laying vocal tracks for my friend Ron English’s opus, Delusionville with the brilliant lads from upstate NY’s The Package. Delusionville is a character-based musical featuring Ronnnie and Bunnny Rabbbit with a cavalcade of turtles, buzzards, sheep, ducks, wolves and even one orange elephant named Trunk. Delusionville is a place where, after falling down a rabbit hole, they all live in another dimension where even the best intentions always dissipate into apathy. Ron and I go in the wayback machine to college days in Austin. Here’s a snap from my debut as Bunnny, “the star of the show,” alongside drummer Lee Falco.
A few weeks ago I listened to a table read for Kind Hearted Woman, a new script by serious-heavy musical theater playwright Todd Almond. Todd aced it. Last year, I saw Courtney Love strut her stuff in a stunning two-hander by Todd called “Kansas City Choir Boy.” I was first introduced to him by my friend, the great guitarist Janet Robin, at a Center Theater Group production of Todd’s two-hander written for Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend.” We’re doing a show together at 54 Below in the fall, so I’ll send you more details about that next time.

I’m returning again this August to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in a show called Truth Vs Reality, produced by the bon vivant Church-Woods lads, Barry & Joe. I’m delighted to be a part of Civil Disobedience’s #AllianceOfDefiance with pals Christian Kelty’s Joe’s NYC Bar, Peter Michael Marino’s Show Up and Romy Nordlinger’s Alla Nazimova biography, PLACES.
It was ten days of sun and fun at the Orlando Fringe Festival  as the house band for Joe’s NYC Bar.
It was ten days of sun and fun at the Orlando Fringe Festival  as the house band for Joe’s NYC Bar.
Saturday, June 17, I’ll be on Governor’s Island at Porch Stomp with “Leaky Lou & the Whistleblowers,” supporting my friend, the brilliant investigative journalist Timothy Shorrock.
I’ll be in Dallas at the Kessler Theater on July 2nd with Pete and the boys.
I’ve been invited to stop and pay a visit to Victor Wooten’s JAM camp later this summer.But most of all, what I want you to know is that God is good. I feel very blessed to have such devoted, faithful, loyal and trusting audiences. I know the road has been rough and the journey long, with haters playing hardball. But that is what makes it all so very interesting, don’t you think? I’ve never stopped making trouble, I just went underground for a chance to catch my breath and come up for air with a little reinvention. The creeping fascism of the last 10 years – Wall Street fraud, government corruption, media manipulation and rampant copyright theft – has wreaked havoc on creators and concerned citizens alike. It just means, “the times they are a’changing and you gotta change with the times.”

That’s enough for now. I promise next time I’ll have more news about my new studio recording adventure, the Cuban-inspired copyright education project Musical Chair, (going for the third time October 5-9, join us!) Plus goss about exciting new partnerships and promising developments about my long-awaited opus, Indelible Women.

Until then, keep the faith and keep on rocking. I promise I will if you will.

p.s. Here’s a list of my current favorite blogsites and reliable information sources

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Copyright Alliance: 5 Questions for Michelle Shocked

This week we would like you to meet one of our Individual Creator Members, Michelle Shocked.

1. What was the inspiration behind becoming a songwriter? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
I started writing songs at the same time that I started learning to play the guitar. It was a natural progression because I felt like nobody could tell me that I was playing the songs wrong if I had written them. If you sing someone else’s song, they always have something to compare you to; but if you sing your own songs, you’re judged on the merit of your originality rather than some technical standard.

2. Can you take us through your process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?
Without even realizing it, you’re thinking about song ideas for most of the day. You may write down two or three, and by the end of the day, you may have had a dozen, of which you won’t really remember or archive most. But every now and again, an idea comes along that you just know will work. You can see the whole thing, you can feel the whole thing – how it works, where it turns, what it’s purpose is and how it applies universally. Then it just become a bucking bronco ride. You hang on for dear life and try to corral as much of it as you can into the most economic expression possible without losing the intensity of the creative experience.

3. What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
I think the biggest misconception about songwriting is that we are songwriters. I’m beginning to suspect that we are idiot savants. It’s both a curse and a calling, the obsessive-compulsive drama of the gifted child.

4. Have you experienced copyright infringement and if so how has it affected you personally and financially? And what do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time and money into?
Yes, I have been victimized by copyright infringement. In fact, I have been blacklisted and unable to tour or record professionally for over three years because of my outspoken dissent against copyright infringement. When I encounter someone stealing my stuff, I have no more nuance to my response than if I had woken up to find someone had broken into my bedroom in the middle of the night. I’m going to scream and holler and hope that when I turn on the light it was just a bad dream. The exponential increase in blatant disregard and selective enforcement of my rights as a creator does not invalidate those rights in any way.

5. If there was one aspect of the copyright law that you could change, what would that be and how would you change it?
Simple. Congress needs to provide creators with a small claims venue for challenging copyright infringement. Going through the federal courts is simply not an option for 99% of us. There are several worthwhile proposals already on the table that legislators could effectively pass with considerable bipartisan support.

Michelle Shocked

Photo courtesy of Russell Cusick. | Slider photo courtesy of Mickey Deneher

Are you one of our Individual Creator Members? Participate in our Five Questions series! Please email us at And if you aren’t already a member of the Alliance, you can join today – at no cost – by completing our Individual Creator Members membership form!