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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. 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!
If you’re sunnyside up, spring is here on the hemisphere. What joy! The only thing that could be more exciting is news that a Google insider has turned whistleblower. This is Big. I declare the effort to Occupy Google a complete success. Bring on the class action! Party on! The Google AdSense leak is in Part 1 and Part 2
Last month I had the sublime pleasure of swinging a few tunes at the Viva Cantina roundup with Deputy Dave Volk and the Regulators. Dave posted this video and I don’t believe I mind the cameo.
In case you’re interested what straight, white (slightly albinist!) dudes pretending to be offended lesbians look like, this Twitter troll named ‘Anna K’ took umbrage at Deputy Dave’s gracious invitation. The only follower on “Anna’s” blogspot is the ersatz Yahoo News/Hollywood Reporter who first ‘broke’ the “Michelle Shocked is a Hatemonger” story, Chris Willman. When the hysteria dies in Sterling Vs Reality, the evidence that will remain is that a ho blackmails her john while a pimp observes from the shadows.
Last night at SAG’s screening of Richard Montoya’s new Chicano noir Water & Power, I coulda swore I saw Vivenne Dominguez herself amongst the luminaries in the crowd. This film opens today in AMC theaters in SoCal. Orale!
To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I posted the first chapter of Perrin Blackman’s stranger-than-fiction epistle, Truth Vs Reality.
I was supercharged by Vulfpeck’s most excellent Spotify spoof,Sleepify and the subsequent success of raising $20,000 with the concept, described here. I’m gonna try my hand at a variation on the theme; Inaudible Women.
Enjoy the sunshine, people!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all! Admittedly not above the radar, I have been quite feverish. By the time you read this, I’ll be in situ at the inaugural Content Creators Coalition meeting on the west coast with plenty to contribute and observe in the discussion of copyfight and artists’ rights. Here’s a snappy little video selfie that I made for the Copyright Alliance ‘Art Matters’ and the #iRespectMusic campaigns.
I guess my big news is that I am publishing an iBook by an author who has keenly observed events of the past year and I’m gauging interest in preview material. The ebook, Truth Vs Reality, will be released this spring.
It’s an interactive project, so I need appx 2 dozen UN observers monitoring social media for a known group of conspirators who, by now quite familiar to me, have targeted my livelihood and reputation. I will provide the dossier on those involved in this smear campaign and the preview material will provide ample background for the purpose of the effort. Hit me back if you’re interested in participating.
With that in mind, I can cautiously announce plans for a UK tour in October and a US tour in November. And any who are in the LA area are invited to come down to Viva Cantina in Burbank on April 3 for their monthly Western Music Association jam. My favorite intellectual property rights lawyer, Greg Victoroff, will be swinging the brushes and I heard rumors that a delightful singer named Vivienne Dominguez sits in on a few songs! Orale!
Otherwise, it’s been a plethora of self-improvement projects; Jedi classes with Master Guo have incepted the first 15 Chen Taiji moves; a former Stockhausen disciple has infused piano chords into my fingertips with minimal catechism, and a wonderful senora in Pasadena has me conjugating verbos and splitting infinitivos en espanol. Me gusta mucho!
TRUTH VS REALITY
BY PERRIN BLACKMAN
This is not a story about Michelle Shocked. This is a story about a leviathan. This is a story about click-happy consumers who have become the by-product, and of thought leaders who operate with paid and unpaid legions of enforcers that we might as well call “thought police.”
This is a story about hate. Not H8.
It isn’t pretty. But it sells! How we love getting caught in the current of righteous indignation! Get caught in that current and faster than you can fathom, you’ll find yourself front page news.
The underlying message: Keep your head down.
The darker message: This isn’t limited to red states or blue states. Media content is filtered for all but the most glaring and blaring statements. Subtlety and nuance lost, critical thinking is the casualty unless you’re willing to actively and doggedly pursue every suspicious fact you are fed.
Like pre-cooked meals, anger (and fear) sells. Packaged and processed, news is now sold a la carte. This is a business model that ensures profits for NOH8 campaigns. And HATE campaigns.
How? By registering your likes and dislikes, but mostly, by harvesting your clicks. Anger feeds this monster and daily fuels the click-machine. “A click is a click,” Ryan Holiday explains in “Trust Me, I’m Lying.” It doesn’t matter whether you clicked on a well-researched story or a sensational headline that asks, “Is Barack Obama Gay?” Even when the answer is, “of course not, silly,” it doesn’t matter because… you clicked. And hopefully you shared the story as well.
As for this story, while I am using continue
Click here to see online.
Published on Alternet
“Please do not understand me too quickly.”
Which of the following ten denials are true and which are false? Richard Nixon: “I’m not a crook.” Vladimir Putin: “I’m not a thief.” Bill Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Edward Snowden: “I’m not a traitor.” Paula Deen: “I’m not a racist.” George Zimmerman: “I’m not a murderer.” The New York Times (In a crossword puzzle, “Shylock” was a clue, and “Jew” was the answer): “We’re not anti-Semitic.” Lance Armstrong: “I’m not a doper.” Donald Trump: “I’m not a total asshole.” And Michelle Shocked: “I’m not a homophobe.”
In March, singer-songwriter Michelle had spouted between musical numbers what appeared to be a fanatical Christian anti-gay rant at Yoshi’s in San Francisco:
“But I was in a prayer meeting yesterday, and you gotta appreciate how scared, how scared, folks on that side of the equation are. I mean, from their vantage point — and I really shouldn’t say ‘their,’ because it’s mine, too — we are nearly at the end of time, and from our vantage point, we’re gonna be, uh [facetiously], I think maybe Chinese water torture is gonna be the means, the method — [off-handed, flippantly] once Prop 8 gets instated, and once preachers are held at gunpoint, and forced to marry [in a character voice] the homosexuals. I’m pretty sure that will be the signal for Jesus to come on back.”
Audience: [laughter] “Whaaat?”
“You just said you wanted reality [laughs]. If someone would be so gracious as to please tweet out, ‘Michelle Shocked just said, from stage, “God hates faggots[laughter]. Would you do it now?’” [laughter]
Disappointed fans walked out. Yoshi’s gay manager shut off her microphone, insisted that she leave the stage, and banned her from performing there for life. At least fourteen gigs at other venues were annulled, and her career swirled its way down the drain. So she decided to issue this statement:
“I believe in a God who loves everyone, and my faith tells me to do my best to also love everyone. Everyone: gay or straight, stridently gay, self-righteously faithful; left or right, far left, far right; good, bad, or indifferent. That’s the law: everyone. I may disagree with someone’s most fervently held belief, but I will not hate them. And in this controversy, that means speaking for Christians with opinions I in no way share about homosexuality. Will I endorse them? Never. Will I disavow them? Never. I stand accused of forsaking the LGBT community for a Christianity which is — hear me now — anathema to my understanding of faith. I will no doubt take future flack for saying so. I’m accused of believing that “God hates fags” and that the repeal of Prop 8 will usher in the End Times. Well, if I caused such an absurdity, I am damn sorry.
“To be clear: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of any so-called faith, preaching intolerance of anyone. Again, anyone: straight or gay, believers or not: that’s the law. That means upholding my punk rock values in the most evangelical enclaves and, in this case, speaking up for the most fearful of fundamentalists in, well, a San Francisco music hall full of Michelle Shocked fans. As an artist in this time of unbearable culture wars, I understand: this means trouble, and this is neither the first nor last time trouble has come my way. And that’s fine by me. I know the fear many in the evangelical community feel about homosexual marriage, as I understand the fear many in the gay community feel toward the self-appointed faithful. I have and will continue speaking to both. Everything else – Facebook, Twitter, whatever – is commentary.”
At midnight on Friday, June 28th — the day after the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, and the beginning of the San Francisco Gay Pride weekend — Michelle was a guest of Daniel Flessas, host of a weekly radio program, The Outside World, on listener-sponsored KBOO in Portland, Oregon. The call letters of that station were borrowed from a marijuana strain known as “Berkeley Boo.”
Having also been invited to participate in the dialogue, I asked Michelle, “Why did you convert to born-again Christianity?”
“I was making an album in 1991 called Arkansas Traveler that had its roots in blackface minstrelsy,” she replied. “My fiancee was a journalist, deeply researched on the history of the genre. He suggested we attend a local African-American church to explore the contemporary expressions of the music that had inspired the genre, and it was an easy justification.
“Gospel music, what’s not to love? Soulful, passionate pyrotechnics, a choir. But I went one Sunday too often and next thing I knew, my feet were making the altar call. The rest of me decided to join them. I went for the singing but stayed for the song. Originally, I recall thinking, ‘You know, this music would be so good if they’d just cut out all that Jesus crap.’”
And then Michelle had a question for me:
“My experience has been that people don’t wanna let the truth get in the way of a good story. My question to Paul is, having been the instigator [laughs] of more controversies than I will manage in my lifetime, the absurdity of this situation often causes me to[laughs] ask myself — I’m not exaggerating — ‘What would Paul do?’ Surely, there has to be some hilarity that I have overlooked, ‘cause I have tried everything I can come up with to make people laugh and to lighten the situation up. What have I forgotten?”
My response: “I think what you forgot was that audiences don’t always know the references, and so when you said, ‘God hates faggots,’ they might not have known that the reactionary Reverend Fred Phelps had said ‘God hates fags’ and meant it, and therefore they assumed that you were saying it as representing your belief when you were really, as I understood it, parodying the hatred that Phelps exuded. I mean risk-taking is risky business.”
Daniel: “But you didn’t always explain everything to everyone, did you, Paul?”
“No. When I published satire, I wouldn’t label it as satire any more than Jonathan Swift’sModest Proposal. He didn’t say, ‘I’m only kidding, folks, I really don’t mean that Irish babies should be eaten by the British in order to simultaneously solve the overpopulation and starvation problems.’ And I didn’t want to deprive readers of the pleasure of deriving for themselves whether something was literally true or a metaphorical extension of the truth.
“There was a singer named Tonio K. I was invited at the last minute to open for him at the Roxy Theater in L.A. — Harry Shearer was supposed to do it, but he couldn’t — and I had never heard of Tonio K. This was at a time when there were all those TV evangelicals — Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker — and they were involved in one sex scandal after another, and so I did some material about that. But the audience didn’t laugh, and I couldn’t figure out why.
“Only later, a review in the L.A. Times concluded that I was obviously not aware that Tonio K. was a born-again Christian singer, and his audience was filled with born-again Christian fans. So I felt relieved, because it was funny material, but humor is totally subjective, and I think that’s what Michelle got caught in. The gay community has been so mistreated by people who actually do express hostility toward them, it suddenly landed Michelle in that category.”
Michelle: “Paul, can I hold your feet to the fire? As the original Zen Bastard, you did not provoke for the sake of provoking, you would never ridicule an audience simply to express some sense of smug superiority. There was always a point and a purpose to the endeavor, and so I would like to submit to you that my efforts were to confound an audience that has grown so self-righteous that they needed a little prick, they needed a little poking. What was that Abbie Hoffman quote? ‘Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger.’ I gave them a little taste of the medicine, and they did not like it, not one bit, no sir.
“I am reflecting back that your sensibility was not that of a provocateur, but always of one that would inspire people to think, and my experience with this is that they had grown so entrenched in their dogma that, rather than think, rather than rush to curiosity, I was subjected to a rush to judgment, and I cannot think of anyone that I would like to give more tribute to inspiring [laughs] my instigation than you. I’m blaming you for all this, Paul [laughs].”
“Yeah, right — I’m the little prick that you referred to.”
Michelle confirmed that she would be at the Gay Pride celebration on Sunday morning, “but I will be part of the contingent that is making a statement that San Francisco is proud of Bradley Manning for pursuing his duties as a whistle-blower in revealing secrets that the government would rather not listen to. And we’re basically just all gonna raise points that San Francisco Pride leadership rejected the election by all of the former SF Pride grand marshals to name Bradley Manning as this year’s grand marshal in favor of allowing their sponsors, their military and their corporate sponsors, to dictate the conscience of a community they claim to speak on behalf of, and I would love to be in that great number, marching, proud of a gay soldier who has the interest of everyone in this country above the interests of a few in this country.”
On Monday, I emailed her and asked how that event went.
“The Bradley Manning contingent in the SF Pride parade was a feisty attempt to put context to the Yoshi’s fracas,” she replied. “My story, the one I’m sticking to, is that it was a laugh riot, a second line of soul in the middle of a privilege parade. The truth is that I saw and heard countless reasons why any spirit of passionate resistance that once existed has left the disco long ago. It now resembles a Bourbon Street Mardi Gras without King Zulu. Show us yer tits! It’s the Rose Parade, and the corporate sponsors write the script. Even the Manning contingent played to the half empty grandstand like dutiful dissidents. The Star-Spangled Burqa was a hit, waiting for the photographic/video evidence to appear. So far so censored. I’ve got this nifty little shot occupying Google at the parade.”
And so, returning back to that night at Yoshi’s, was Michelle homophobic? Please pass the analogy. In 1952, there was a French-and-Italian film, Seven Deadly Sins, consisting of seven vignettes, one for each sin – greed, lust, avarice, pride, Dopey, Sneezy, Bashful – and at the end of the seventh sin, the narrator told us that we were going to see the eighth sin.
On the screen were all those images that we had been conditioned to associate with the intimations of sin – sailors, hookers, an opium den – and then the narrator explained that the eighth sin was the desire to see sin. The audience groaned with a spontaneity that served only to underscore the narrator’s point. Sometimes the ultimate target of satire should be its own audience.
A lot of folks claim to have seen evidence of my fragile mental state on the Piers Morgan Show. I won’t deny that (why bother?), but it was a very short amount of hair-raising time in which to make some very important points, and at least indicate some of the back-story for those who didn’t attend the show at Yoshi’s. So for anyone still interested, I provide a full transcript of the interview, with the most salient points highlighted:
Once again, thanks for listening, sorry for causing any offence or anxiety, and see y’all soon….
MORGAN: Michelle Shocked is the indie folksinger who’s made a habit of shocking her fans recently. Clubs around the country have canceled her concerts ever since she made some very controversial remarks about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. She’s here now to tell her side of the story for the first time. Joining me exclusively in her first national interview since the incident is Michelle Shocked.
Welcome to you.
MICHELLE SHOCKED: Thanks, Piers.
MORGAN: I need to explain what happened. We need to just play a bit of audio from this gig you did in San Francisco on March 17th. And this was an exchange you had with the audience. Went on for quite some time, but the one that got all the attention was this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHOCKED: I was in a prayer meeting yesterday, and you’ve got to appreciate how scared, how scared folks on that side of the equation are. I mean, from their vantage point – and I really shouldn’t say their, because it’s mine, too – we are at nearly the end of time. And from our vantage point, we are going to be — I think maybe Chinese water torture is going to be the means, the method once Prop 8 gets instated and once preachers are held at gun point and forced to marry the ho-mo-sexuals, I’m pretty sure that that will be the signal for Jesus to come on back. You said you wanted reality.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Now I’ve listened to about 20 minutes of what went on on the Internet. And what was clear, was although some of the audience were laughing then, that mood changed, and they became pretty angry with what you were saying, as you elaborated. You went on to say “If any of you want to go out and tweet that Michelle Shocked said God hates” – and you used a derogatory word for gays – “please do so.” And the mystifying question for many of your fans – and indeed everyone who’s read about this story – is, Why would you say these things?
SHOCKED: I admit I made a mistake, Piers. If I had the chance to go back and do it again, I don’t think I would have taken the audience up on their choice. I had presented an entire performance, and I’d framed it as “Truth.” And then I came back out for an encore, and they requested “Reality.” And what has consequently taken place ever since then is my manifestation of how little I think of reality. I know that it’s stock-in-trade for a lot of the media to just present things like ‘That’s how it really is.’ But I don’t think the audience was ready for the consequences of that, and I surely have not been happy with it.
MORGAN: Right. I mean, it’s been devastating to you and your career. You’ve had concerts cancelled all over the place. And I would imagine a very turbulent time for you. What many of your fans are saying is they you don’t really understand why you would want to put any kind of comments like that in the public domain, not least of which, because you once came out as bisexual yourself. So they’ve no comprehension that you would be remotely homophobic. Have you become homophobic?
SHOCKED: Over I’d say the last 10-12 years, I’ve enjoyed such a degree of independence and freedom, I can basically do whatever I want. I don’t have minders or managers telling me what to do. And I have adopted a course that’s not the orthodox one where, I say that there’s only two things you don’t discuss in polite company. One is politics, and the other is religion. And I make a point of talking about both. And the clip that we just listened to – it sounds quite serious-minded – but it was at the start as I said of the encore and —
MORGAN: But you lost the audience. That’s why I said I listened to the whole thing.
SHOCKED: Not then but later on, yes.
MORGAN: And most of them began to walk out and were very unhappy about it and wanted their money back and so on. But I repeat the question. I mean, are you basically, when you said what you said, it sounds on the face of it to be pretty obvious and clear homophobia. Are you homophobic?
SHOCKED: Yes, on the — on the surface it sounds really bad. It’s not really a point worth making, but the show is supposed to be live, not recorded. And —
MORGAN: What difference would that make?
SHOCKED: To me it’s an important difference, but I don’t think we have time to go into it right now. When you read it in the transcript, which I’d gone back and created, I can do a couple of things to show you and highlight —
MORGAN: Wait a minute. Let’s try and keep it simple for the audience.
SHOCKED: All right.
MORGAN: Because, you were born a Mormon, you converted to — to become a born again Christian. And many Christians have views about gays, and about gay marriage and other issues. Are you somebody that objects to a gay lifestyle, and to gay marriage?
SHOCKED: If the question is asked to make things simple for the audience – and I believe you that it is – I’d like to make it even simpler. I am, for the last 10 years, so deeply in love with a man, that the idea of living my life without him is impossible.
SHOCKED: I know how much I love him, and knowing that passion that I have for him, would I ever want to deny that to anyone else? Absolutely not.
MORGAN: So you’re not homophobic?
SHOCKED: The truth, I don’t think, lies in the simplicity. I think it’s in the nuance. And that’s been completely lost in this unfortunate –
MORGAN: What were you — I mean, let me play along with what you are saying which is you didn’t mean it to come over the way it did, even though it seems pretty clear to me –
SHOCKED: Yes. Yes.
MORGAN: what I was listening to. Where was the ambiguity? What was the point you were trying to make?
SHOCKED: Like, I think, knowing your dedication to focusing on gun control issues, for example, right? And the line is, “Once preachers are held at gunpoint.” What could I have possibly meant by the idea — and Prop 8 I said is instated, well, I’m sorry, but Prop 8 already stands. I didn’t know what I was talking about. Clearly I was —
MORGAN: But you’re not a stupid person. Why didn’t you know what you were talking about?
SHOCKED: Because the nature of spontaneous improvisation, I had done a complete show as truth, and the audience requested reality. And so I was giving them the whole macabre distortion of truth that I consider reality to be. And that’s where all these confusions and misunderstandings —
MORGAN: Are you — with all the members of the gay community who are outraged by what you said, are you — are you sorry?
SHOCKED: Yes, I am very much so, because what’s being questioned is my support for that community. And they have been a predominant component of my audience over the years. It may seem very calculated and simple on my part that I would disavow them at this stage, but I need to tell them sincerely and directly: In no way do I disavow the LGBT community, in the same way that I don’t disavow my faith community.
MORGAN: And do you have any problem with gay marriage?
SHOCKED: No, I don’t.
MORGAN: Do you support it?
SHOCKED: I do.
MORGAN: So you support full gay rights?
MORGAN: Well, Michelle, thank you for clarifying it. Looks like you’re sorry you said what you said. And people, your fans I’m sure will be relieved to hear that.
SHOCKED: If I may, the point is worth making that there is an empathy that’s unique to what I hold my position. I was identified as a lesbian, as bisexual, early in my career. But the way that came about was such that I held my peace. I didn’t, I didn’t try to defend — because I didn’t feel like it was anything to defend: I’m not “a gay” — But to say that the manager that first presented me to the world…made a pass at me. And when I spurned his approach, that was all the — that was all the encouragement that he needed to then market me as a lesbian and then —
MORGAN: Well, he made, he obviously – if that is it true, he made a mistake then, and you made a mistake on the 17th of March in San Francisco. I think we probably agree on that. And I wish you well in making a recovery.
SHOCKED: Now you offered that my efforts, my current efforts, aren’t going to be swept under the carpet. So I’d like to take you up on that offer, if you don’t mind.
MORGAN: What do you mean?
SHOCKED: I mean that I have been diligently working for the last five years on a project that is — if I have not managed to convince you that I have very much at stake in putting this question to rest: is Michelle Shocked homophobic? Does Michelle Shocked support the gay community? —
MORGAN: Well, you’ve answered those questions.
SHOCKED: To your satisfaction?
MORGAN: Well, you’ve answered them very clearly, and people can make their own minds up if you mean it. That’s not for me to say that.
SHOCKED: Well, as I say, in the court of public opinion, putting a poet —
SHOCKED: — on a tribunal like this, I just want to say —
MORGAN: Michelle, I put the questions to you. You’ve answered them emphatically, and I will take you at your word. Thank you for joining me.
SHOCKED: “The apple tree has got some strange fruit / that even Adam wouldn’t try / but human nature is living proof that – ”
MORGAN: The world is full of strange trees and strange truth.
SHOCKED: “Beauty is in the beholder’s eye.”
MORGAN: I agree with you. Michelle Shocked, nice to see you.
As certain of my remarks have, I believe, been taken out of context, I am providing, to anyone still interested, as complete a transcript as I can of what actually happened during my encore at Yoshi’s, based on the bootleg first posted by the San Francisco Bay Guardian on March 18. Nothing has been edited out, and any further corrections are welcome. The only liberty I’ve taken is to highlight those words, in bold, pointing to intentions which were misinterpreted at the time, and have since remained obscure.
Of course the fault for that is completely my own, and I can not and do not blame anyone for defending the gay community.
Three portraits: Georgia, Michelle, Frida (appx 6’ x 4’ each)
Stage Left – Georgia’s image is framed backwards, her portrait is visible behind the frame. Invisible to the audience, the word TRUTH is on the front of the frame
Center Stage – Michelle’s portrait; the image is visible and the frame is invisible. Above her face is a word balloon ‘@mshocked’ and below her face is a word balloon ‘join the discussion.’ Invisible to the audience, the word VS. on the back of her image. To the right of her portrait, a stool is placed.
Stage Right – Frida’s image is framed backwards, her portrait is visible behind the frame. Invisible to the audience, the word REALITY is on the front of the frame.
Onstage, Michelle confesses she is terrified. Audience is encouraging. Michelle inquires if she is the only one there who believes an Invisible Man is in the room. A timid woman in the back raises her hand and Michelle invites her onstage. After a few gentle urgings to her and further solicitation to the audience, @TheGuapo volunteers. He steps onstage to operate her Twitter handle, @mshocked from her iPhone as her ‘avatar.’ After revealing the words “TRUTH” “VS.” “REALITY” by turning the portraits opposite, Michelle offers the choice to her audience. Per @TheGuapo, the audience chooses TRUTH. Thus, Michelle plays 10 songs sequentially from Short Sharp Shocked with little comment. She bows and leaves the stage. Audience applauds.
Encore – (content is from the bootleg recording)
Yoshi: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Michelle Shocked.
Michelle: Hey, y’all wanna hear what some of y’all just said? Alright. Let’s see, where do I start? (reading tweets) Umm..
Tweet: “Awesome” (laughter).
Michelle: I don’t know where it’s starting, so I’m just gonna start here.
Tweet: “Oh, my other big favorite, along with Jump Jim Crow”…
Michelle: Where are you, Elise?
Tweet: “That’s OK. I’m Anchored Down in Anchorage, even with commercial breaks.” (laughter)
Tweet: “Thanks for the shout-out for ‘Strike Debt’ #lifeordebt.”
Michelle: That’s from Lisa, and Lisa was the only person who joined the conversation before the show. Remember where it said….(indicating the word balloons, no longer visible, on the portrait)
Audience: (laughter) Yeahhh. Now we remember. Right there right there right there right there….
Audience: (in a German accent) Hello. It’s so good to see you again.
Michelle: (responding to the tweet sent to Lisa prior to the show) I said ‘the Calvary has finally arrived,’ and I think I meant ‘cavalry,’ but I’m not sure I did. (laughter)
Tweet: “Every time you sing Anchorage, I think of my six-year-old skateboard punk rocker Stella.” (audience members hoot)
Tweet: “Hey ‘Chelle, how’s that jack rabbit running?”
Michelle: I think that’s a request for a song that I have called “Jump Little Rabbit” ‘cause Easter’s comin’, y’know?
Tweet: “Some things only get better with age. That song was clearly one of them.”
Michelle: Thank you, Christine!
Tweet: “Reality” could include some Gospel.” (audience laughter)
Michelle: Any other lovers of Invisible Man in here? This is sincere – the two things that I’m passionate about, y’all…I love me some Jesus, and I love liberation. And I did not know how I was gonna come to San Francisco, and…authentically represent the….(leaves thought hanging, reads further)
Tweet: “We came to see you. Don’t need no other guitar-player no how. Great first set.”
Tweet: “Rocked my baby to sleep to ‘Anchorage’ 13 years ago,”
Michelle: (acknowledging the tweet is from the wife of the avatar, @TheGuapo, who is now seated in the audience) ..and thank you for the loan thereof, of your husband. Truth be damned, let’s go with reality, just for a while. And I know I talk a lot, and apparently at some point it’s gonna either put me in a coma, or cause me to have cancer and a premature death, but I really can’t help it now. I’ve dedicated 25 years to becoming more and more authentic, and I’m told that has value in the current culture but I’m not 100% convinced (laughter). But there’s no turning back. I’ve been practicing for quite a while.
But I’ve got some pretty wonderful role models to draw on. Georgia O’Keefe (applause). For those of you who don’t believe there’s an Invisible Guy here in the room with us now, you may be inspired by her example. There was this one mountain she painted over and over and over again. It was very near her house in Santa Fe, the mountain was called Pedernal. And finally someone asked her, “Why, Georgia?” – I don’t think she had Twitter, but somebody got to her – “Why do you paint this mountain so many times?” And her answer was quite confounding for someone who confessed to NOT believe in God. She said, “Because God told me, if I painted it enough, He would give it to me.” I’m just telling you the facts (laughter). And so, sure enough, when Georgia died – anybody want to hazard a guess as to where they scattered her ashes? Unh-hunh. So, it’s not too late. You can jump into this Jesus game anytime you want.
But I was in a prayer meeting yesterday, and you gotta appreciate how scared, how scared, folks on that side of the equation are. I mean, from their vantage point – and I really shouldn’t say ‘their,’ because it’s mine, too – we are nearly at the end of time, and from our vantage point, we’re gonna be, uh – I think maybe Chinese water torture is gonna be the means, the method – once Prop 8 gets instated, and once preachers are held at gunpoint, and forced to marry the homosexuals. I’m pretty sure that will be the signal for Jesus to come on back.
Audience: (laughter) Whaaat?
Michelle: You just said you wanted reaiity (laughs). If someone would be so gracious as to please tweet out, “Michelle Shocked just said, from stage, ‘God hates faggots’” (laughter). Would you do it now? (laughter)
Audience: You can have your [muffled], Michelle! I think some people got it [undetermined]
Michelle: (adjusting strap) Just adjusting my bra strap. Nothing worth getting in a froth about.
Michelle: You’re confounded! Matt, you might need to get back up here.
Matt (@TheGuapo): There’s gonna be aloooot of talkin’ about that.
Michelle: I ain’t scared. I ain’t scared. This is not a tribunal. This is one woman’s opinion. And…it’s fun. It’s a lotta fun. I am so committed to loving each and every soul in this room tonight, that I could not come here and ignore you. I could not come here and pretend that I was above the conversation, and I couldn’t pretend that I was beneath it either. I had to join it. Thank you for that one handclap – I do that all the time. Matter of fact, I was in church a couple of…you know it’s come to a bad point when the white girl is sitting in a Black church, I’m clappin’ (claps) and the man in front of me turns around and goes, ‘That’s irritatin’.’ (audience laughter) Hallelujah. I’d like to play you some songs, but –
Woman: I hope you get wise, Michelle, and realize that there’s nothing to fear. There’s nothing to fear. Everybody is deserving of your, whoever your God is, His love.
Michelle: Can I respond to that, off the microphone?
Woman: You can respond to that ON the microphone.
Michelle: (angry, shouting) I AM SICK OF CHRISTIANS, FILLED WITH HYPOCRISY, HIDING BEHIND THE SYMBOL OF A CROSS!
Woman: C’mon, show it. Show your true self. C’mon!
Audience: Could you clarify? C’mon Michelle! Say what you mean! What are you so afraid of?
Michelle: I believe that the word of God is just what it says it is: the truth.
Audience: (getting restive) Oh dear God. The who? Let’s not forget, in the Bible….Frightening, frightening, etc.
Michelle: I’m just saying one thing. Just one thing. Just one thing. Porque de tal manera amo Dios al mundo, que ha dado a su Hijo unigenito, para que todo aquel que en El cree, no se pierda, mas tenga vida eterna.
Audience: We don’t speak Spanish!
Michelle: You don’t speak Spanish?
Audience: Oh no, we do! I don’t! Say it in English!
Michelle: (starts to play guitar, then singing)
Leaving town while I still can
Going down to the Yucatan
To become a wanted man
It happens that fast
Saying my goodbyes,
Now, mama, don’t you go and cry
I gotta try to live without a past
Shined my shoes, dressed the soles, only cost me five pesos
At this rate the money goes twice as far
Atencion, Señor, mas cerveza por favor
A rolling stone gathers his thoughts in a Mexican bar
(spoken, with guitar accompaniment)
I was heading down to Guatemala, during a very brief ceasefire in the hostilities. But I’d made the mistake of booking my flight on AeroMexico
Audience: Are you being homophobic, or….[muffled] That’s the most homophobic thing I ever heard…[muffled]…Yeah, but she’s in my town [muffled]….
Michelle: AeroMexico is owned by the Mexican government, so they arrange things so you can’t fly through Mexico without stopping for a night in Cancun – which, I don’t know
Man near microphone, to waitress: Excuse me
Waitress: Are you ready for the check?
Man: Just one second. Where is the management of this place, to get this moron out of this place?
Michelle: Cancun is some people’s idea of paradise, a lot of fat, happy gringos saying, ‘Pépé, bring me another cerveza.’ So when the plane landed at the airport in Cancun, I told the taxi-driver, ‘Just take me into town, I’m gonna stay at a pension, avoid those fancy resorts.’ And to my surprise, another gringo asked, could he get a ride. I said sure. We got to the hotel, checked into our separate rooms – this story’s not going where you think it is – but about five minutes later, he comes knockin’ on my door, wanting to know, do I got change for a hundred dollar bill? I said “Man, this here is Mexico, they don’t use dollars here, they use pesos. But this was back when I was still drinking, so I said, “You wanna come around the corner with me to a bar for a beer? Maybe they’ll have change for your $100 there.” So we did. And they did.
And after a beer, maybe two, OK three, he started explaining to me that he was supposed to be in Memphis the next morning, for a court hearing. This man was on the lam. But that’s alright, that’s alright, because he had bought a book. And that book was called “How to be a Fugitive.” Of course you realize, he’d just broken the first rule of the book: if you’re gonna be a fugitive, don’t tell nobody. After another beer, he told me how he was gonna get by in Mexico. He was gonna continue doin’ what he’d been doin’, which was makin’ guitars. Right there in his bag, he had a sample of his wares – did I wanna see ‘em? “Sure,” I told him. “Show me what you got.” And he pulled out the neck, the headstock of the guitar that he’d been working on. And right there on the end, like they all do, was the name of the luthier: Newman. New…Man.
I ain’t gonna pass that up. So I wished him well – especially as he’d just broken the second rule of the book: if you’re gonna be a fugitive, don’t tell anybody your real name. I admit all I really know, is the little that he’d told me, but between you and me
It’s best between the lines
Although I swear I’d heard him say there’d been a fiancée
Convicted of his love, but not his crime
Listen, y’all –
We are condemned by our own hand
A fugitive will understand
So forget everything you can
What’s in a name?
But sure as the word made flesh the soul will confess
And this cup passes before us all the same
Oh, don’t bother to applaud – it’s not needed (faint applause continues). No, no, seriously. I don’t think I can handle all the adulation right now.
Woman: You don’t deserve it. Everyone should get up and leave! That was rotten! That was a horrible thing to say, if that’s what you believe.
Audience: Somebody over there believes she means something different. Maybe you’ve been confusing –
Michelle: I got a question for y’all. It’s a sincere question. How are you enjoying reality so far?
Audience: Not your reality
Michelle: Sucks pretty much, doesn’t it?
Audience: Oh yeah – (other woman continues yelling)
Michelle: You can’t have both.
Audience: Don’t come to San Francisco saying that shit.
Michelle: Don’t come to San Francisco saying that shit? Let’s take that note. I just got a tweet, they said, “Don’t come to San Francisco saying that shit.” Where do I go to say that shit?
Audience: Wow! Arkansas! That’s so weird, you’re so weird…
Michelle: It IS weird. (laughs) Yeah, it is weird…
Audience member: Your reality is tweets? Your reality is tweets?
Michelle: This is not my choice –
Audience: According to this show, we spent like 20% of this show on tweets. 80% was a show, and 40% was homophobia
Audience: Get her out of here –
Yoshi: Yeah, we’re…I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for joining us tonight at Yoshi’s.
Michelle: You’re pulling the plug? They’re giving me the hook, y’all.
Audience: Hell no! No! Hell no!
Michelle: I still got game. I still got game.
Audience: You don’t need no amplifier –
Michelle: Shall we lose the mic?
Michelle: Alright. I will (scattered applause, stage sounds) Let’s move closer When they take away the microphone, you wanna stay close….
(sound of audience leaving)
Although I know my love for you is true
I seem to bring out the very worst in you
Perhaps you though my love could be bought
Perhaps you think we’re happy, but we’re not –
(under Yoshi announcement:)
I tried to talk it out
But you just take it out on me
Yoshi: Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Yoshi’s, we appreciate your patronage, and your servers will be with you shortly with your tabs. Thank you so much for joining us, and we do hope to see you again back here very soon. Thank you.
(Michelle, still singing)
Shout at me to shut up
Turn the volume up on the TV
And when the neighbors all began to complain
You yell at me, and tell me it’s my treachery’s to blame
I gave you my trust
Audience: Michelle, we love you –
But I’m taking back the same
For the things you are doing in our name
listen, y’all –
All I ever needed you to show me was your soul
But I see that all you ever really wanted was control
And now I know this wasn’t part of your plan
But I’m singing this – citizen to country – not woman to man
I’m sayin’ that we should see other people
We should see other people
Oh I believe with all my heart
That we should start to see other people
(glasses being collected, crowd noise)
All I ever needed you to show me was your soul
But I see that all you ever really wanted was control
And now I know this wasn’t part of your plan
But I’m singing this – citizen to country – not woman to man
I’m sayin’ that we should see other people
We should see other people
Oh I believe with all my heart
That we should start to see other people
I just want y’all to know that I didn’t ask for a deposit for this performance, and I have pretty good reason to believe that when I leave here tonight, I’m gonna be told that I did not give anyone their money’s worth. And so now I’d like to pass the hat, and ask if you wouldn’t mind putting a dollar in for the folksinger, for the busker, for the street performer. And if that’s too kind, maybe you’ll support my initiative – a songbook with sheet music in it. You can read the words, you can see for yourself, between the lines. All I’m trying to say is, God bless us, every one. Thank you for coming.