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Monday, October 31, 2011

Catie Curtis: Texas Branding Part II

So I'm afraid the lovely concert at The Bugle Boy in La Grange, with an attractive blond up front had suddenly become political. It was now an unannounced contest between what Catie Curtis reveres and finds essential, and what billions of us have held to be true in the Judeo-Christian world for four thousand years. But given the circumstances, it was a one sided contest. Catie and her cause are not new, in fact she represents an ancient and recurring argument; an argument that has been rejected and condemned by an overwhelming majority in the three major world religions since the days of Abraham.

It was a nice pleasant evening until she sweetly, seemingly innocently threw the Gay Rights grenade out in the audience, and exposed her brand so to speak. Perhaps this was not as much an intentional salvo as an inadvertent bomb, tossed to a mostly sympathetic audience. My friend and I were just collateral casualties; small potatoes.

It's amazing what one courageous, controversial statement did to change the perceived ingredients of this quaint and intimate listening room. I suddenly felt my "brand" burning through as well, and immediate tension...

Like Custer must have felt.

So where does this discomfort come from? No doubt there was a war within myself. But my lifetime of experience with many kinds of people testifies there is another battle, totally out of my reach, where once again I am just small potatoes.

While quite bold and, in her fan’s eyes heroic, her personal sharing served to drive me away. Not because she is a lesbian, or because she is married to a woman, or even that she sings about it. But because she makes sure to make an issue of it, a kind of test for the listener, a line in the sand that either bonds or repulses.

Catie Curtis made the context of her music clear, and showed total committment to her cause, and her willingness to sacrifice whatever popularity she might sacrifice in this process. I just wish she could lighten up and enjoy the show and let me enjoy her songs without the bloody nose. If there had been a sword in the room, I would have taken it and surrendered it to her in submission. And then asked her nicely, play another song.

Because Catie is not just another blonde singing nice songs.

She packs a whallop under that smile. She puts herself out there, takes risks, in a way any artist can respect. And she freely admits that her songs are about her lifestyle. Later she sang one of her oldies called “I’m not radical” declaring that kissing and loving her female lover was not a radical thing. Catie is obviously cleverly picking for a fight, or just determined to make her sexuality a major part of her public identity. It is the sword she would gladly fall on. And in that she has succeeded. And that made me wonder if she was not beginning to grind the axe down to the handle.

So I offer these pointers, for her next Texas tour, which I look forward to:

1) Here musicians constantly sing about all their admittedly controversial or even scandalous lifestyles with impunity, and that is because they do not demand our approval. They sing candidly about themselves and their challenges in life, but never make their act on stage a pitch for legitimacy.

2) They can laugh at themselves. They allow you to take or leave it on your terms. If you want to buy a CD, or sing along, or hoot and holler, that’s fine with them. If you don't, you don't.

3) Bottom line, the entertainment is inclusive, and no hard feelings come from this.

Sometimes art seeks to find our commonalities, sometimes our differences. Every artist has to decide what they want their legacy to be.

4) The very best strategy for Catie Curtis or any person who wants acceptance is to be respectful of the differences in her audience, and accept them first. And that means not drawing lines in the sand that some may not be ready to cross. Of course, to be Catie, acceptance was a luxury she might have freed herself from long ago.

Catie or any lesbian entertainer must know this, whether they want to believe it or not; I have never seen an unfriendly crowd in Texas. Perhaps Curtis has been burned, or had a bad experience, but Texans will almost always make a toast to anybody that facilitates a good time. But a Yankee subculture woman with an attitude will be toast. "If you wanna play in Texas, you gotta’ have a fiddle in the band." You gotta be willing to adapt, just as much as you have already to restructure the American family.

5) In Texas, you walk up, shake people’s hands, and introduce yourself. You are no better than anyone else. In Texas millionaires sit with common folk. Old dance with young. Straights respectfully look gays in the eye, and treat them like anybody else. All that matters for acceptance is that you have modest social skills and avoid appearing haughty or superior. And you practice an age-old custom, going back to the day when everyone in Texas was running from something and had plenty to hide: You mind your business and I'll mind mine. That live and let live tradition has served us, and will serve you well.

Start doing that, and maybe more rednecks like me would jump when you say frog.

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