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The Changer And The Changed - Brief Article
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`70S PIONEER CRIS WILLIAMSON AND MILLENNIAL PUNK ROCKER LEISHA HAILEY HAVE MORE IN COMMON THAN YOU'D THINK

When Cris Williamson released her enduring album The Changer and the Changed in 1973, Leisha Hailey was all of 2 years old. Hailey would thus grow up with little idea of the struggle lesbian-feminist artists had faced to make their voices heard, unmediated by male corporate culture--a struggle that had led Williamson to help found Olivia Records and the "women's music" movement.

"We didn't know what in the hell we were doing," says Williamson, whose first album had come out on the mainstream label Ampex. "It didn't matter. We made it up. That's what women did in those days."

Hailey's mom's best friend was a lesbian, and her record collection introduced Hailey to Williamson's music. When Hailey came out at age 17, her "aunt" gifted her with a stack of Williamson tapes, perhaps as a road map to lesbian life. Where else could she hear love songs like "Sweet Woman," addressed by a woman to a woman? The next year Hailey and her acting-school buddy Heather Grody formed their own guitar-driven pop-punk band, the Murmurs.

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"They're so cute; I just love what they do," says elder stateswoman Williamson of the young band. She remembers shyly introducing herself to Hailey and Grody at a festival. "I didn't think that they knew who I was, and I felt like this old geezer," she says.

But Hailey certainly knew her, and she isn't one to overlook the permission given her generation by the one that came before. "They made us feel safe and comfortable enough to make the kind of music we wanted to," she says. "Being gay and writing music about being gay has become, for a band like us, almost a nonissue."

That--and the fact that the Murmurs never had to come out because they were never in--pleases Williamson. "That's why we did it," she says. "By the time the Murmurs came along, all they had to do was stick out their thumb on the road and hitch a ride. But every woman our age says the same thing: `Remember to say the names of the women who went before!'"

Those names, besides Williamson, include Alix Dobkin, Meg Christian, Margie Adam, Holly Near, and Phranc, all of whom came out in the '70s. Their underground influence is sometimes forgotten in the rush of mainstream success by those who followed in the next decade, especially Melissa Etheridge, the Indigo Girls, and k.d. lang (Hailey's girlfriend of the past four years).

These days Williamson's audience is smaller than it used to be and consists mainly of fans who've been with her since the beginning. But she's also attracting some daughters and granddaughters of the '70s generation who are perhaps feeling the first inklings of a queer orientation. That's the sort of audience Hailey finds most exciting: "When we play gay pride festivals or all-age clubs, we get 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds who are completely out and open and gay. They're just punk-rock girls being exactly who they want to be."

At 53, Williamson is still writing and singing strong. Having recently gone through a painful breakup with her lover of 20 years, singer Tret Fure, she's coming up with new songs as emotionally cutting as those on Changer. Hailey, at 29, has also deepened. "The songs are maturing," she says. The Murmurs, who have been on a large label, MCA, are now looking for a small label or to self-distribute over the Internet.

In other words, they're going in a direction not unlike that of Cris Williamson.

To find more on Cris Williamson, Leisha Hailey, and their music, visit www.advocate.com

COPYRIGHT 2000 Liberation Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group




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