Folksinger, big-band shouter and born-again gospel vocalist Michelle Shocked returns to her hometown of Dallas tomorrow for the first time in seemingly forever.
Spanning nearly 25 years, Shocked's career has been a roller coaster ride of changing genres and confounding expectations. After having just stepped out of a Los Angeles recording studio, the politically astute Ms. Shocked took quite a bit of time to speak with DC9 about her leftist leanings, her mistakenly being labeled a lesbian and her recent conversion to Christianity.
Being born into a Fundamental Mormon household, you must have an interesting perspective on the recent goings on in Eldorado. I remember being raised Mormon and people asking me about polygamy. The standard answer was that was a long time ago. We always knew that there was kind of this break-off group that still practiced polygamy somewhere. Polygamy has always been something that Mormons feel gets misrepresented in the media. I don't know why the authorities went in now. I mean, how long has that thing been there? It's not like that they just started. The timing of it confuses me. It's like sex scandals or cult news that always breaks in order to distract us from other news headlines. But thinking about Mormons, can you imagine how awful it would have been if Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee for president?
Throughout your career, similarly to Steve Earle, you've never hesitated to state your political opinions. How much do you think being so vocally leftist can damage an artist's career? I think it affects us enormously, but we rarely complain because when the tide is in our favor, it also affects us very favorably. Right now, to have any integrity, you have to make a stand and have a very unpopular opinion.
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How do you think republicans have been so successful presenting themselves as the party of Christian values? Hypocrisy, an undaunting willingness to engage in hypocrisy. If you think about the things that are being done in the name of God, I sure wouldn't want to be Republican when I died! I think that it's an old, political formula. It's the same with nationalism, the ability to tickle people's notions of patriotism and the fatherland and the homeland. It's all a part of what Obama correctly calls the politics of fear.
Did you cringe when Bush said his favorite philosopher was Jesus Christ? I love me some Jesus Christ and I really have an antipathy for George Bush. Jesus did have a mighty philosophy, a revolutionary one, but I don't understand how Bush reconciles his politics with his theology.
Recently, you talked about becoming a born again Christian and you stated that perhaps you simply attended church a few times too often. In the same way, could someone attend a Muslim mosque or a Buddhist temple and find truth there? Obviously millions and millions have found that truth. I'm aware of the Christian gospels being the one way, the true way. I don't know if those other religions make that same claim. I don't think Buddhist claim Buddha is the only way. Perhaps Muslims do, but I am way out of my depth here. I'm barely hanging on by my fingernails speaking as a Christian. I am not a model Christian by any sense of the word.
Who is? I believe that my pastor is. I believe it is so easy to learn and be taught by him. If you knew that there was a man of God on this earth, someone who really had the wisdom and the discernment and the knowledge and the control, would you not follow that person? I'm really persuaded that my pastor is the embodiment of that man of God.
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Early on in your career, you were incorrectly assumed to be a lesbian. You once said that you were an honorary lesbian. Now that you've been married, divorced and found religion, why do you think many who claim to be Christians are so openly hateful toward homosexuals? In his time, Jesus was hanging out with the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the lepers, all the people that proper society had banished or had determined were underclass. Today, it is easy for me to imagine that Jesus would hang around those who have been scorned, abandoned and neglected. We live in a homophobic society. But homosexuals are a group of folks who Jesus would recognize. Jesus even says that he didn't come here to be righteous. He came here for those who needed salvation.
Your latest effort was a live, gospel recording. Do you think gospel music could ever crossover and have popular success? Someone would have to dedicate an entire career to the gospel genre. I don't think there is a way to make a gospel record and make it appealing to people who listen to some of the best music on the planet already. For my particular audience, I think there is room for them to here what my spiritual growth consists of.
Is there a reason why you don't play Dallas very often? Is it because the Bush library is going to be built here? I have a lot of unresolved family dramas in Texas so it kind of became an easy place to avoid. I've resolved a few of the conflicts and I'm probably going to be involved in another one at this show. That's family, right? That's just how it is with family.
Michelle Shocked performs Thursday, April 24, at the House of Blues' Cambridge Room. --Darryl Smyers