July 4, 2012 | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Gays prominent at Amy Grant’s Nashville weekend

Weekend before last, a friend and I made a road trip to Nashville to spend a weekend with Amy Grant and 550 of her nearest and dearest. It was a great weekend — $50,000 was raised for various charities Grant supports, the music performed (almost all requests) was a long-time fan’s dream come true and the Gospel Music Hall of Famer and six-time Grammy winner was as accessible and approachable as was realistically possible considering those attending were among the all-time die hards, a few of whom had vulture-like tendencies everytime Grant appeared.

That gays — and at least one lesbian couple and one trans woman — were among the group was hardly surprising. We’ve been among the most vocal in her fan circles for years. Most non-church folks remember Grant only for a few early ’90s hits (“Baby Baby,” “Every Heartbeat”). Though her catalog has aged well, she’s not deemed terribly high on the hip quotient. Even one of the charity recipients said, “Amy Grant — isn’t she Vince Gill’s wife?”

But for a generation of gay men who grew up in Baptist and Evangelical churches in the ’80s, Grant was so much more than that and, no exaggeration, a lifeline. Contemporary Christian Music had its own parallel universe divas — Sandi Patty, Twila Paris, Margaret Becker, et. al. — and Grant, who in many ways had and maintains a very non-diva-esque persona, was queen of the lot. But that’s just one of the ironies of Grant’s career — she also stumbled into the music biz without really trying, has always been upfront about her modest pipes (she’s really a better songwriter than singer) and, despite a bounty of RIAA Platinum albums, never fully fit in in either the gospel or pop establishments.

Amy Grant with fans at her farm in Franklin, Tenn., last weekend. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Those of us in fan circles have discussed ad nauseum Grant’s public handling of her gay fans (or lack thereof). She’s warm, friendly, gamely poses for photos with male couples, etc., but is careful never to state her personal feelings one way or the other. One understands to a degree — she’s in a no-win situation. As was obvious from the attendees last weekend, most of Grant’s fans are Gen. X and post-Boomer soccer moms from the Bible belt. We all seem to mix pretty well. I hope they feel the same. But Grant would alienate a large part of her fan base if she were to come out one way or the other on her feelings of the Bible and homosexuality. There’s a clamoring among gay fans, of course, for her to be more unequivocal. Nobody’s expecting Lady Gaga-caliber activism, but heck, even the late Tammy Faye Bakker Messner was more openly gay accepting than Grant. Perhaps, though, having lost everything already, Tammy Faye had nothing left to lose (Tammy Faye even joined us at Capital Pride about 10 years ago …. Ahhhh, Tammy Faye, how I miss thee).

Grant does occasionally take risks — it will undoubtedly seem like a non-issue to many, but monogrammed bottles of Jack Daniels with Amy Grant nameplates were sold for $100 a pop at her farm, which she opened to guests on June 23. It all went to charity but the irony was delicious — I’m old enough to recall the outraged reactions in the ’80s when Grant said in an early interview that she occasionally imbibed. Folks at my parents’ church were apoplectic.

It’s never been a big deal to me, either the booze or the gay stuff. Some fans, so eager to glean the slightest glimmer of acceptance (are we really that desperate for validation?), latched on to an off-the-cuff remark she made during the weekend when a guest southern gospel singer, telling a story about a drag queen who’d parodied his wife, said his group had a large gay following (Grant acknowledged she did as well).

The draws for me have always been Grant’s music and personality. There’s a freshness, a buoyancy, to her music that, though it sounds stylistically dated, never really goes away. It goes back to the first album — lyrics and energetic Brown Bannister production around lines like, “The sun woke me up real early it’s a beautiful morn/so I’m goin’ down to the river to be reborn” still resonate 35 years after they were put down on wax. My parents, both products of stodgy, old school mainline and Roman Catholic versions of Christianity, had early-’70s born again experiences and for them and their fellow Boomers, there was a parallel Jesus music/born again fever sweeping the country the same time Stonewall and the modern gay rights movement was kicking off. This is no coincidence — hippie ideals weren’t sustainable, of course, but what they did bring us was a shucking off of the ’50s mindset on all kinds of issues. In terms of gay stuff, faith, and a whole lot more, this was not your parents’ (my grandparents’) America. Grant got in on sort of the tail end of that but shot off into the stratosphere in the early ’80s. By then, things had calmed down and she became the voice of a churchgoing, Bible Belt generation with songs like “El Shaddai,” “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” and “Thy Word.”

Bored eventually with straight-up gospel, she gradually started flirting with pop music and following a hit No. 1 duet with Peter Cetera in ’87 (“Next Time I Fall”), she had a full-on hit pop album of her own by 1991 (“Heart in Motion”). But she never fully went one way or the other. At the point in which an all-out pop album would have made the most sense — just following the Cetera hit — she went the other direction and made an impressionistic gospel album, “Lead Me On.” Its singles tanked on pop radio but it went onto become her critical peak and has been called (by CCM magazine, et. al.) the best gospel album of all time. Likewise, when “Heart in Motion” was going through the roof a few years later, Grant was careful to let people know she hadn’t sold out as she was so often accused of doing by the hardliners (she gets bonus points, in my opinion, for having been condemned by Jimmy Swaggart). The album closes with the all-out praise song “Hope Set High” (“if there’s anything good that happens in life, it’s from Jesus”), a song she memorably performed last weekend.

So were the young gays of the era, hopelessly stranded in the Bible Belt with no hope of escape until college, just latching on to the closest thing we could get to a lighthouse in Grant? Not really — it’s deeper than that. I and many I know were also listening to Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper and Tina Turner (we all figured “Private Dancer” was her first album) back then too, even if we had to sneak their tapes into the house. It’s hard to know if Grant meant any of this intentionally or if it was her own way of sneaking in some stuff past the gatekeepers, but there are glimmers of gay hope dotted all throughout her discography from as early as 1980 when she sang the lyrics her then-husband, Gary Chapman, had written (“all I ever have to be is what you made me/any more or less would be a step out of your plan”) to her own lyrics just a year later (“being this person inside of me/unafraid of being me/no more faces to hide behind …/even if I am the only one who wants to fly”) and even much later, with the 2003 song “Out in the Open” (“there is no jury, there is no judge/ready and waiting are the steady arms of love”). If it all sounds vague or like searching for something that’s not there, keep in mind, more often than not, Grant was nearly as subtle with her Christian references. It seems laughable now, but people used to parse her lyric sheets and balk at how few references there were to Jesus and/or God anytime she had a new album out, noting how increasingly infrequent they were becoming.

I don’t particularly care what Grant’s personal views are on homosexuality. Sure, it would be great if she would at least take the Dolly Parton approach to embracing/acknowledging us. Lord knows we need all the help we can get on the LGBT rights front where each step ahead feels like pulling teeth. But conversely, what does it say about us as fans if we need some sort of acknowledgement from our favorite singers? I do get it — when you’ve invested emotionally and financially in a singer/brand who’s meant so much to you, especially during the raw, painful formative years (and let me tell you, it’s lonely being the only gay fish in an evangelical, Bible Belt pond when you’re 13), it means a lot to know those you admire are on board. But as adults, ultimately that need for validation says more about our own desperation than anything it might suggest about Grant. For the record, Sandi Patty, perhaps my other all-time favorite singer, is just as evasive. There are quietly gay people in her camp and she once told a group of gay fans who hosted a tribute post-show event for her in New York that she was “feeling the love,” but she, too, stops short of any condoning type-of statement. They’ll both talk to any small-town newspaper in which they happen to have an upcoming show, yet my Blade interview requests go curiously unacknowledged. Perhaps they feel they’ve already rocked their Christian fan bases enough having spent the last 10-15 years rebuilding after each going through controversial divorces (Sandi’s first husband, John Helvering, and Amy’s, Gary Chapman, were huge parts of their touring entourages in the ’80s; John ran sound for Sandi; Gary was Amy’s band director on several of her biggest tours).

My ultimate frustration with loving these singers falls into a whole other category entirely — to my endless chagrin, whole chapters of their touring history are missing in action. Sure, I love mainstream pop and rock too, but if you’re a Stevie Nicks fan or, merciful heavens, a Tori Amos fan, and you’re willing to look in some, ahem, unofficial places, you can find audio circulating of practically every show they’ve ever done. Same with the Stones, Bob Dylan, Springsteen — all the big dogs you’d expect. Other acts, like Pearl Jam, have recognized the insatiable appetites of their staunchest legions, and have released “official” bootlegs, manna from heaven for those who’ve worn out the studio recordings and spent many hard-earned dollars following them around. Even Cyndi Lauper, who traditionally has varied up her live show way more than, say Madonna or Janet, has a surprisingly rich bevy of fan-generated recordings out there. Different artists have different feelings on this sort of thing (the Grateful Dead famously encouraged it), but the sticking point for many is that it’s OK as long as you don’t attempt to profit off it.

Amy and Sandi both fall into that category — Sandi didn’t even bat an eye when people plunked down camcorders on mini-tripods at a Nashville event she hosted last year — and yet huge swaths of their concert-giving history are unaccounted for. And I’m not talking about obscure stuff, either — tours like Amy’s “Heart in Motion Tour” and Sandi’s “Another Time Another Place Tour” were mammoth operations playing arenas for months on end all around the country 20 years ago. On one hand, it’s not terribly shocking — these are not singers, historically, with wildly inventive bands who shook up their set lists drastically from night to night. However, when 25 years has gone by and you can’t even find a complete set list and no official live album or VHS concert tape was ever released, this brings its own level of frustration. These people have spent half their lives on the road, yet there’s precious little evidence that they’ve even left their living rooms.

Just for the record, my holy grails in this vein are — Sandi: anything pre-’83, the ’84-’85 “From the Heart Tour” (her first cross-country jaunt), the ’91-’92 “Another Time Another Place Tour” or the ’98 “Artist of My Soul”-era dates. For Amy: always wondered how complete the “Age to Age” concert video is — at 90 minutes including Gary’s set, one imagines a few numbers might have ended up on the cutting room floor. Only a handful of individual numbers have ever surfaced from the 18-month-long “Unguarded Tour” — surely somebody taped this at least one night (soundboard tapes were reportedly made each night but have never surfaced in fan circles). Also curiously missing from trading circles is her biggest tour ever — the “Heart in Motion Tour.” Audio has been known to exist, but nobody I’ve ever talked to claims to have it. I’m totally down for a no-profit swap if anybody has any of this stuff.

If there’s an upside to all this, it’s that Amy and Sandi are still out there and active. Patty records regularly and has released an album almost every year of the last decade. Grant only records here and there (she’s reportedly working on a new album), but she tours almost constantly. It’s a blessing I don’t take for granted as a few of my other favorites from the era — Paris and Becker — have, with precious few exceptions, completely stopped recording and touring.

Time to move on and get a life? Yeah, probably, but isn’t it uncanny how deep the nerve is that takes you back to the first music you ever discovered on your own? For me, it defies explanation. And so the quest/obsession continues. I’m even — don’t laugh — planning to check out a D.C. Women of Faith conference in August. Ordinarily I’d rather sit home and watch paint dry (I’ve left much of that theology long behind), but — holy of holies — Amy and Sandi are BOTH scheduled to be there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

14 Comments
  • LOL: Out of 550 guests; “That gays — and at least one lesbian couple and one trans woman — were among the group was hardly surprising”. As if having a few token glbtq’s out of several hundred guests qualifies as a ‘prominent’ showing. Please.

  • Joey, we are birds of a feather! All through adolescence and college, I hung on to Amy and Patti and David Martin and Twila and Maggie B and Smitty, knowing I was different but hoping that God was going to be big enough. Check out the words to Smitty’s “A Way;” in that song I found divine permission to come out to myself. I think that these straight artists, although they can’t fully understand what we went through as gay closeted Christians, are sensitive and pragmatic enough to walk a fine line, preserving their homophobic market while still appreciating the gifts we have to give. I don’t fully agree with doublespeak, but I do understand where they’re coming from, even as I’m relieved my career doesn’t rely on a market segment that won’t accept my civil equality. Thank you for this article.

  • Thanks for such a heartfelt and insightful article. I grew up on Amy Grant – she was the voice of my generation that I was never very comfortable sharing with anyone else. And while she sang about God and Jesus, she also spoke to me about love and living life unselfishly, all without any judgment heaped upon the listener (in my case, a shy, closeted high school and college student). For that reason alone, she’s always held a very special place in my heart; I’ve always been receptive to her message, even with this grown-up and slightly tarnished heart.

  • Amy Grant has always come across as very real; even when it’s fueled the fire of her critics in both the Evangelical community and the secular community. I have always enjoyed her candor in interviews. Her songs seem to speak more frankly of the struggles we all face in being true to ourselves while respecting our faith in God. I feel there is hope for us as more people embrace a more progressive Christianity.

  • This article was emailed to me. I enjoyed the earlier sections, but then it sort of lost focus. Overall, though, awesome! Thanks for writing an Amy piece from a gay perspective.

    I also want to take the chance to comment on this quote: “…some fans, so eager to glean the slightest glimmer of acceptance (are we really that desperate for validation?)…”

    Hmmm. Why would the writer assume someone is desperate for validation just because they have an emotional reaction to how an artist feels about gay rights? Music connects fans to musicians in powerful ways. As a longtime gay fan of Amy (loved her since Age To Age!), I have stated my wish that she’d finally be honest about her beliefs regarding homosexuality/sin and gay rights. This has nothing to do with desperation and everything to do with me being uncomfortable supporting an artist who not only doesn’t stand for equality but might possibly have a separate-but-equal mentality.

    In 2012, if a popular musician remained strangely silent on whether they believed in equality for African-Americans, and if an African-American fan then asked the artist to simply state their views, no one would assume the African-American was seeking validation. I certainly wouldn’t expect them to keep purchasing the artist’s music.

    Very weird–at least for me–when we get this double-standard with gay rights, even within the LGBT community. After all, gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights. Human rights, IMO, are non-negotiable. I’ve stopped giving people a “pass” if they hide behind religion while propagating their bigotry.

    All that said, I have a hunch that Amy Grant actually does support gay rights. It’s past time that she speaks her truth, whatever it may be.

  • Wow – as a hard core Amy Grant fan since the “Mountain Top” days, the last place I would have expected to find such an in depth and knowledgeable article about her was in the Blade. Well done!!!

  • Thanks Joey for a great article. I was one of the 550 last weekend. :) Please, please, please write down your thoughts on the DC event! I want to know how it is for you. I have been reluctant to attend the Women of Faith conferences…not sure I would fit in. I’d love your observations.

  • Loved the article. I came out at 26 and Amy was already doing the “House of Love” tour. I consider her THE major influence in my life from the years of drug treatment and then finally coming out, Amy had a song for ALL of it. I have seen her in concert more times than I can count and have always smiled a bit at the site of gay fans! They/we are defiantly there!. I would be devastated to find out that she does not support or accept my life and who I love. I have thought about it for years now, “Doubly Good to You” was played at my commitment ceremony and I wondered what she would think. Knowing what I do know about Amy I can’t imagine her feeling anything but love and compassion. If I’m wrong…I don’t think I want to know!! Thanks for your article. P.S. Amy grant live Vol. 1 &2 are awesome!

  • Amy Grant was the first christian artist to record and have a #1 christian hit written by a gay in 1989!!! (from the best gospel album of all time, Lead Me On, which was controversial at the time for discussing real struggles christian people face.) She is noted for this in the Encyclopedia of Christian Music. “What About The Love” written by Janis Ian (well known lesbian singer-songwriter) and Rhonda Fleming!!! Listen to it!!!!
    Amy also performed “You Can Sleep While I Drive” with Melissa Etheridge on the Lifetime Special “Women Rock: Girls & Guitars” in 2000!
    That’s 2 great statements of support as far as I’m concerned
    Can’t believe the gay fans and/or the writer doesn’t know and include this history in his article!!! Very Interesting!!!
    Wanted so badly to be there!!!! I LOVE AMY!!!!

  • Great article! David Archuleta is another artist who had a good gay fanbase, at least until he announced he was doing on a two-year Mormon mission in December 2011. David also gamely poses with gay fans, seems accepting, but has so far said nothing about his personal beliefs on the matter. However, his family is known to have gay relatives and openly gay close friends.

  • Wow – I’m kind of embarrassed I never thought of all the CCM women I listened to obsessively as a young lad as basically the same thing as all the divas that gay men are notorious for obsessing over growing up. I loved Amy, Margaret Becker, Cece Winans, and Cindy Morgan was a special favourite (I met her twice; once with a hand-made collage/poster that I had her sign before I laminated it). And here I was thinking that all I had to go on for early indicators of my sexuality were the hats I liked to wear to church. Thanks for that :)

  • This may be long after this post was originally written, but thank you for for this wonderful article. I’ve been a completely devoted fan of Amy’s since early teen years (I first heard Amy at about 14, I’m now 45). Amy’s path from the sacred to the secular and back has followed my own path through life. I’ve never doubted Amy’s conviction to share the true love and mercy of God with the world. At the same time, I’ve enjoyed Amy’s candid songs about love and life too. I could not make Amy’s Tennessee Weekend, as much as I had wished! That wasn’t a bad decision, because I’m a pre-teen fan that would have behaved badly. If I had come within 10 feet of her, I’d have burst into tears and been a blubbering idiot and no doubt she would have gotten nervous and her securty team might have dragged me away. Whatever. Someday I still dream of meeting Amy and saying “thank you’ for the difference you made in my life.” Yeah, I’m gay… I’ve had a struggle all my life to come to terms with my faith and my relationship with God and my family, but I’m ALL good today. Thanks to Amy’s music, I’m actually still alive, still love the Lord, still love my very devout parents, as well as my partner. I appreciate every heartfelt word Amy has ever written and sung about life, love, faith, and mercy, and that won’t ever change. My biggest wish is that Amy never stops writing and recording new material. She has a phenomenal gift that punctuates my life’s path with meaning. I can’t wait for the next Amy Grant album.

  • Amy Grant clearly states in the CD booklet of 'Simple Things' that the song 'Out in the Open' is about self forgiveness, specifically the shame from her divorce. It's not a homosexual endorsement. She doesn't take a stance because she doesn't need to. Christians don't believe in homosexuality and for her to announce it, would just cause a s#! t storm, which is what gays do when people don't agree with their agenda.

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