In the 70’s and 80’s, women’s music was the soundtrack for my life. There was one performer in particular who made me just a little short of breath and it wasn’t because I had asthma. Meg Christian had the most charming Southern accent, told funny stories, wrote a hell of a song and in her hands, a guitar was an orchestra and every song a folk symphony.
One day in ’77 or ‘78 I visited my local women’s bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona. Instead of breezing past the little rack of LPs like I usually did, I stopped. Even though there was nothing by Carole King or Carly Simon, I examined a few of the albums. One sported a drawing of an orange juice can with the words “Lesbian Concentrate.” I knew this had something to do with Anita Bryant, a conservative singer and part time orange juice pusher who thought queer folks were endangering children. (Too much vodka in that juice methinks.) Even though I’d never heard of any of the performers, I bought the album.
Hear it here.
It stayed on my turntable for days. I kept dropping the needle on favorite songs including Meg’s very funny “Ode to a Gym Teacher.” It was love. I returned to the store and found I Know You Know, her first solo album. More love. Then I went to a concert and there she was, with her beautiful guitar playing and that impish smile. Love … love … love … oh, sorry, I was off in a gym teacher fantasy.
At my first National Women’s Music Festival in 1988, she gave a guitar workshop where she taught us to play “Sweet Darlin’ Woman,” a wonderful love song written by Diane Lindsay and recorded by Meg for her Face the Music. I sat up front in that crowded room, restless hands on my guitar, and did my best to focus … ooh, she’s so cute … that intro looks pretty easy … she’s adorable … so that’s the chord she plays there … wonder what she’s doing later … if I talked with her afterwards what would I say? I’d casually stand in front of her and thank her for the instruction, then tell her a little joke and chat a little.
Did I stop and offhandedly deliver those rehearsed lines? No. I walked past her, eyes straight ahead, hoping I wouldn’t trip on the way out. Stepping out into the hallway I thought, hey, that song wasn’t so hard to learn.
Then promptly forgot everything. I mean, daaaayum, that was MEG CHRISTIAN.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a professional musician, too, and I don’t usually lose it around musicians I admire. We don’t get all shook up around really good accountants – and believe me, I have great admiration for what they do. Why should we get twitchy when we meet musicians? I met Melissa Etheridge once – shook her hand even – and if she’d have showed me how to play “Bring Me Some Water” I would’ve remembered every note. I’ve played a lot of festivals with women like Cris Williamson and Holly Near; we’ve had some delightful conversations. I love their music and have a lot of respect for them, but I don’t require oxygen to be in their presence.
Even before I started performing at festivals, I traveled from my home in Arizona to the Midwest and California many times to attend them. Bonus points if Meg was one of the artists. One time I made a two hour drive to hear her in concert. Well, sort of hear her. I had a raging cold, the congestion plugging up my ears so badly that the music sounded like it was a mile away (although you can be sure I sat up front). With a pocket of cold meds and a box of tissues I was good to go. (My apologies to anyone I infected that night. It was worth the sacrifice, wasn’t it?) Another time, I made a six hour drive to San Diego to hear her on one of her last tours. It was well worth the long miles, fast food dinner and floor space later that night on some stranger’s floor.
She was on the bill for the West Coast Women’s Music Festival in 1981. I didn’t hesitate when a group of friends told me they needed someone to share the drive. I scraped together money from my office clerk job and set off, four of us crammed into a small pickup.
The night Meg was scheduled there was some political turmoil. Rumor had it that women of color working in the kitchen were paid less than the white women. There had been a meeting or two that day, and during the act before Meg (the all-women big band Maiden Voyage), a group of women stormed the stage demanding to be heard. The band knew nothing of the issues and stopped playing for a few moments, but after a brief period simply started playing again.
At one point – I think it was after the band – Robin Tyler, the festival producer, came out and gave an impassioned speech, ending up in tears. Activist Flo Kennedy was there, too, and they argued on stage. Even though they were friends, Flo sided with the upset workers and Robin denied the allegations. They left the stage.
A long moment of awkward silence settled over the crowd. Many audience members left to go to a meeting in solidarity with the workers, including most of the women who shared my blanket. There was no freakin’ way I was leaving and missing Meg. I figured I could investigate the turmoil later.
Several minutes passed. The crowd had grown smaller and was fairly quiet except for a low murmur of whispers from women trying to decide what was going on. There was no recorded music played over the speakers and no emcee made announcements. Then suddenly, Meg walked on stage. No intro, just there she was holding her guitar and wearing an adorable brightly colored tie dyed jumpsuit. Diane Lindsay took her place beside her, a bass guitar in her hands.
Meg did the first two songs without much talking, unusual for her. Later on she opened up a little, entertaining us with stories about the songs and about her new album Turning It Over. There were a couple of hints that all was not right, including a comment about surviving and her insistence that we listen to one song that talked about healing.
Out of the many, many, festival performances I have attended, this one stands out in my mind. The music was beautiful and well-played despite difficult circumstances. I had to swoon, just a little, when she played “Sweet Darlin’ Woman” with Diane at the piano. So beautiful.
You can hear that very performance here. Click on the link in the upper right hand corner that says “click to listen 2.” (The other download button is to hear the rest of the show, a wonderful tribute to Meg’s music including part of an interview from the early 80’s.) The concert recording is a surprisingly good quality. You’ll notice that it starts abruptly, without an intro, just as I mention in my story. (While you’re at the Queer Music Heritage site, make a cup of coffee and settle in because there’s an amazing amount of info about many other artists too. JD Doyle, who maintains this site, is a treasure.)
I probably shouldn’t tell you all this. I’m writing a book about early women’s music. Already I’ve talked with many of the greats, but I haven’t yet spoken to Meg. I don’t even know if she grants interviews these days and if she does, I don’t want her to think I’m some crazy woman who’ll blather on incoherently.
Meg left women’s music in the mid 80’s and has led a fairly quiet life that focuses on her spirituality. She still plays music, but from what I can gather, not often. She’s been on an Olivia tour or two and is scheduled for a big one they’re doing in 2013. I’d go but it doesn’t fit into my budget. Besides, I might want to remember the Meg I knew then, not the one I’d see now.
Hell, what am I saying? It’s MEG CHRISTIAN.
If any of you wants to suggest to Olivia that they book me for that cruise, please do. Just don’t tell Meg I’ll be there or she’ll feel like she has to hire muscle-bound women who are experts at fending off drooling folk singers.
Should I get her a lacy lacy lacy card for Valentines Day?