Saturday, September 20, 2008

A lesbian looks back at wimmin’s music

Singer-songwriters Ferron and Bitch make music together on video above. Ferron is on the right and Bitch on the left in the photo below from Short Story Records. I’ve fallen in love with a “wimmin’s music” song that I hated when I was a twenty-something lesbian in the 1980s. Almost a quarter-century has passed since I heard lesbian folksinger Ferron sing “Shadows on a Dime,” but the song plays over and over in my mind lately. I used to find the song depressing. Now it feeds my spirituality and seems haunting and true, probably because I am in the position that Ferron sings about: I'm looking backward down the track To see us dreamers in our prime. I remember when I bought the Ferron cassette tape in 1984 in the tiny women’s bookstore in my hometown of Iowa City. I was living in Japan and came home for a visit. My partner and our other American friends gave me long shopping lists of hard-to-find items that I was supposed to buy for them while I was in the States. Ferron’s “Shadows on a Dime” was on my partner’s list, and I tracked it down at the hole-in-the-wall women’s bookstore. No doubt that store is long gone, like most of the other women’s bookstores. My partner loved that Ferron tape and played it over and over despite my objections that it was gloomy. The meandering, almost tuneless melodies became etched in my mind against my will. Time passed, we moved to California, the tape broke. Lesbian feminist women stopped calling themselves “wimmin” (coined because we didn’t want anything to do with “men”)… but I never forgot the song. And I grew to love it. Today I longed to hear “Shadows on a Dime” for real, so I looked it up on Google. Wow, now I can watch Ferron singing it on video! I can buy an updated version on her new album Boulder, released just three months ago. I can print out all the lyrics, which were muffled and mysterious until now: A tethered bird in a tethered cage… The song turns out to be about working in a factory and loving another woman. It has an authentic working-class voice that is seldom heard in lesbian-oriented media today. I learned from Ferron’s website that critics call her “the Johnny Cash of lesbian folksinging.” Her bio is full of amazing details, like how she ran away from home as a teenager, but couldn’t turn to the Catholic Church for help -- because they had banned her for using the word “bra” in the church youth group. And Ferron is still touring! In fact, TODAY she happens to be playing at the Iowa Women’s Music Festival in my hometown, Iowa City. So I’m posting this today as a tribute to Ferron, who shaped my spirit with lyrics like this: But I don't forget the factory I don't expect this ride to always be Thanks, Ferron. I never hear stuff like this on “The L-Word.”

1 comment:

Scott Hankins said...

You go. Over the last few months, I've been catching up with some music too.