This story about Michelle Shocked makes me sad. When her first album, “Short Sharp Shocked,” came out, it quickly became and remained one of my favorites. The mixture of the personal and the political, love songs and agit-pop, stories about childhood hijinks and police brutality and reconnecting with old friends and the military-industrial complex, all to a swinging, bluesy, rockabilly twang, was so refreshing after a decade of synth pop. Michelle Shocked was Billy Bragg mixed with Bonnie Raitt, an anarchist hillbilly with a wicked sense of humor.
I understand that people change, and not always for the best. That personal struggles lead us all down different paths. Michelle Shocked went from being a Mormon kid in Texas who never fit in, to a rock ‘n’ roll rebel, to a born-again Christian; it couldn’t have been an easy journey, and I can certainly respect the spiritual efforts that brought her to the West Angeles Church of God in Christ. It’s hard to square her music with her angry anti-gay tirade, the love the suffuses her early records with the hatred she spewed about “the downfall of civilization” that marriage equality threatens for her. It’s even harder to square her support for the Occupy movement with her bigotry.
People change, but I don’t think that has to mean that the music changes. Will I feel a little differently now when I hear “If Love Was a Train,” “Hello Hopeville,” or “Come a Long Way”? Probably. But are they still great songs? Definitely. I thought that the backlash against Cat Stevens’ stupidity at about the same time I was cranking the volume on Shocked’s “Captain Swing” was dumb; if “Peace Train” was a great song before, it surely remained a great song after. I’m not going to go out and buy any new Michelle Shocked albums for a while, but I’ll hold on to those great early albums in the hope that she’ll turn around.
And I have confidence that she will come around in time. It’s painfully ironic that Michelle Shocked has identified herself as a lesbian in the past (quite explicitly in this 1990 Dallas Voice interview):
I spent the first 18, 19 years of my life wondering why, in just depression, why I didn’t fit in. I’m so amazed when I talk to a lot of younger fans who are so clear about their sexual orientation as a lesbian. I’m like “how did they know?”
The personal tension in her heart, the conflict between equally valid parts of her soul, has got to be unbearable; and out of that pain, it’s not surprising that fear and anger spew forth. I hope that she finds a way to square things up, to find peace with herself and her world in a way that makes sense, and can let go of the fear.