Outtakes from the Michelle Shocked Interview

Nov 30, 2007 at 7:07 pm

Singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked plays Blueberry Hill's Duck Room tomorrow night, Saturday, December 1, at 9:30 p.m. In this week's paper, Roy Kasten spoke with her; here are some outtakes.

What kind of band are you bringing to town? I'll be bringing three accompanying singers. I don't know if I should call them back-up singers, as we haven't done our act yet. They may come to be much more than that. We've done one show together. It was fun, all the personality and character they brought to it.

Gospel singers? Good question. Two of them are Jewish and one is straight-up gospel, from the same denomination that I belong to, which is the oldest, most established African American Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God in Christ. So it's ecumenical.

Maybe this is just my own obsession showing through, but I'm reminded of Dylan circa 1979. I'm not a real authority on Dylan. Seems like his vision was a personal one. He had this burden of being Jewish and then converting to Christianity. That's more baggage than most of us could bear. On top of that, having walked away from his politics. Remember in that Scorcese documentary when Joan Baez said, "You people don't get it. He's not going to be here for your protest march." In my approach it's very sincere and passionate. What I'm doing is a natural extension of what I have been doing all along. For Dylan, it was a sea change. And you can only surmise that his purpose had to have been to proselytize: I bit the bullet, now you fools do the same. It was not well received.

Speaking of which, do you have any thoughts about the Donnie McClurkin controversy? You're going to have to hip me to it. My experience with born-again Christianity is: "If you were the devil, where would you hide? What kind of disguise would you wear?" Now, if you want to hip me to whatever Donnie McClurkin did or didn't do in the name of Jesus Christ, I'll try to defend or apologize.

I didn't want a defense or apology. He was the openly anti-gay preacher (and singer) that Barack Obama invited on a recent tour. I have heard the most bigoted, narrow-minded things coming out of the mouths of preachers in the pulpit, in front of an African-American congregation. You sit there and you wonder, you of all people know that the Bible was preached as condoning slavery, that slavery was God's will. And this same congregation stood on His word, knowing that His desire for His people was liberty and freedom, and they stood on His word and marched and put their bodies on the line, with a non-violent morality, and witnessed over and over the power of God delivering them. But here's what I can tell you. I read the same Bible they do. And it says pretty clearly, God ain't jiggy with homos. But you know what? It also says he's not down with a lot of things. And nine-tenths of those, I do. So all I can go back to is: Who is among you without sin, let him cast the first stone. I approached my pastor about this. I asked him, "What about the gays?" He was like, "Look, as a man of God, I am obligated to preach the word of God. Not what I think, but what God says." I had a choice. Was I going to walk away from what had been such a benefit to me? Or was I going to leave an open-ended question mark on things that are obviously way beyond my understanding. So I try to live my life in an inclusive way, in a way that's not intolerant. That sounds so petty. I mean in a loving way.

When you were starting out releasing records, did you ever think about the future, and what you wanted for your career? Or was it all in the moment? I had apparently a stronger instinct than many of my fellow artists. I wasn't conceiving of it as a career. I was thinking of it as a means to an end. I identified as a political activist. At that time, I thought of the role of the artist as a bourgeois elitist. But here was a vehicle, with whatever measure of talent, and it just landed in my lap. So I took the opportunity. I did conceive of the trilogy of albums, Short Sharp Shocked, Captain Swing and Arkansas Traveler, from day one. The dominant concept was: I don't know where this ride is going, but I can sure do a good job at this point. It's like taking four years out to go to school, and then you don't read another book. I took that time to outline where I come from, because I might not get another chance.

You've done blues, latin, jazz, dub, rock, country, now gospel… I'll pick your mind about this. At this point it looks peripatetic, almost like style for the sake of style. Musical reinvention for it's own sake, as if I can't settle down, or more problematically, what if I did settle down, and it turned out to be boring and tedious? On the surface that's what it appears to be. But I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it goes something like this: I have a passionate love for all forms of indigenous American music. And American artists have one of the richest musical heritages in the world, and why, for the sake of marketing, would we allow ourselves to be forced into a very narrow genre? Part of that sensibility comes from being from Texas, where form follows function. Music is not a concert experience. It's a utility, like a tool. It can move and inspire, and literally move people to start dancing. And also inspire you to think deep thoughts. But the bottom line is that red neck at the back of the bar with a Budweiser.

He is always there. It's good that you see his usefulness. 'Cause that's you, right?

I've been the redneck at the back of the bar! (Laughs…)