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Emily Saliers talks solo work in advance of Birchmere show

Longtime Indigo Girls’ singer/songwriter says time was right for groove-based album

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Emily Strong, gay news, Washington Blade

Emily Saliers is touring her debut solo album with a surprisingly elaborate band and stage show. (Photo by Jeremy Cowart)

Emily Saliers

‘Murmuration Nation Tour’

With Lucy Wainwright Roche

Wednesday, Oct. 11

The Birchmere

3701 Mount Vernon Ave.

Alexandria, Va.

$29.50

birchmere.com

Thirty years and 14 studio albums into the Indigo Girls, Emily Saliers has released her first solo album, and even she acknowledges the artistic paradox.

“What’s a 53-year-old woman doing making her first solo record,” she says with a laugh. Although the Indigo Girls are alive and well — bandmate Amy Ray has released five solo albums and is working on a sixth — Saliers says it was a chance to pursue some of the more soul- and groove-oriented music she grew up with. “Murmuration Nation” came out in August. She’s touring it now and plays the Birchmere on Wednesday, Oct. 11. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How does it feel to finally have a solo album out?

EMILY SALIERS: Well, it’s great. I’ve been talking about it for a long time and even when I found (producer) Lyris Hung … it still took three years so it was like a real labor of love. … Sometimes you look at a CD and you think, “This is holding all that time and all that work and all that stuff,” and it’s a weird feeling but the response to the album so far has been overwhelmingly positive so I feel great about that.

BLADE: The Indigo Girls’ fan base is known to be highly loyal so is that a built-in audience for this or do you feel like you have to prove yourself somewhat?

SALIERS: I don’t have to prove myself. I just think the album is fairly different from anything Amy and I have done together in the same way that some of her records are very different from what we’ve done together. … I can’t just assume poeple will find out about it and get tickets to the show and stuff like that. … Without the Indigo Girls I wouldn’t have any solo record out … but still a lot of groundwork needs to get done to reach out and get people to listen to it.

BLADE: You talk about this being a more  groove-oriented album. How hard is it to come up with a compelling groove or loop and which comes first — the music or the lyrics?

SALIERS: It’s not hard. … I could just pick up an Apple loop off my Logic program and just run that loop for five minutes and just start writing guitar parts to it and then a song gets born. A lot of the songs were written that way. They started with a loop or a beat and then that rhythmic pulse helped write the song. A few things that were written on guitar, Lyris said, “OK, we’re gonna take the guitar out of this and do this instead.” … I don’t sit down and go, “OK, I’m gonna write about guns in America right now.” I sit down and get a beat and find the chords and then the subject matter comes.

BLADE: Will you do some Indigo Girls songs on this tour too? You can’t really fill a whole show with just one album.

SALIERS: We’re gonna do mostly songs from the album. It’s a full band and a friend who’s a filmmaker has created some video images so it’s sort of a full sensory experience. A section of the show will probably be Indigo Girls songs that I’ve written, maybe acoustic, but we haven’t fully hammered that out yet. But the real purpose of the tour is to play the solo music.

BLADE: It feels like such a weird time in this country. You’ve been on the road some with Amy this year. Does it feel different at the shows or do people kinda wanna leave that at the door and just enjoy the concert?

SALIERS: It’s perceptibly different. From the first show we played after the election, it was palpable and there’s a real sense of anxiety among our fans but also a sense that we need music to galvanize us and to make us feel good. It’s a crazy fucking time in this country and not just a little — it’s a lot. It almost feels cosmic with the terrible storms, the earthquakes. We’ve been getting huge reactions to songs like “Pendulum Swinger” and “Rise of the Black Messiah.” … This country — it’s a bit of a tinderbox right now

BLADE: How much of your album was written by November?

SALIERS: All but one song. “Fly” was written in response to the election.

BLADE: When people yell out songs during the slightest lull in a concert, do you ever feel like saying, “Just chill — we have a set list?”

SALIERS: No. We try to honor as many of those as we can. We’ll look at the set list immediately and ascertain if there’s a spot where that song makes sense. Some we won’t do if they’re too rusty and we haven’t practiced them and sometimes we won’t do it if it’s something we’re tired of. Sometimes if we’re introducing something from our new album and somebody yells out, “Chickenman!,” we’ll say, “We’re gonna go ahead and do the one we were talking about.”

BLADE: The Indigo Girls were in our market in May for three shows with the NSO Pops. How did your symphonic shows come about and how were those dates?

SALIERS: D.C. was fantastic but after the third show, we were wiped because the symphony shows are the most intensive of all our performances. They’re one-offs, not typically tied to a tour, so we show up, meet the conductor, have a two-hour rehearsal and then we perform. You have to constantly be on your toes and it’s a different orchestra every time. The D.C. orchestra was phenomenal as you would expect. It got started because there’s an agency that puts artists together to arrange your songs and then you send the scores around and we got invited to do that and it’s been fantastic. … We’re doing a symphony album in 2018 that we recorded with the Colorado University Symphony so it’s become a very important part of what we do.

BLADE: Sometimes those arrangements for pop or rock acts are so lame and the orchestra is bored out of their minds. How do you feel yours turned out and was that a concern?

SALIERS: We worked with two different arrangers and then ended up sticking with this guy named Sean O’Laughlin and he’s just so creative and passionate. Amy and I both had long conversations with him about how he felt about the songs. … He put so much into them. … Often the conductor will say, “These are good arrangements, they’re interesting.” … We hired the right person.

BLADE: How many Indigo Girls songs do you have charts for now?

SALIERS: I think maybe 23. We usually do about 18 at one of those shows.

BLADE: The Indigo Girls have stayed fairly active in the studio while many other veteran acts just tour with nothing new out. Why is that important to you?

SALIERS: Yeah, I mean it’s true they’re expensive to make and nobody sells records anymore, even the type of top echelon of record-selling bands don’t really sell. We have to make a living touring, that’s just a reality, so it’s a good thing we love it and we never go out for too long. … We’re always excited to get back together and there’s always an internal push to create more new music. The only thing that keeps us from doing it more is busyness. … It just makes sense in the scope of a career to keep putting out new music.

BLADE: Do you think it’s lame with bands like the Dixie Chicks who just tour and tour and haven’t had anything new out in like 10 years?

SALIERS: Whatever anybody wants to do is fine. If people like it and they’re coming to your shows, I don’t really care. It’s just that for us, we know what keeps our fires burning and that is to create new music, to not be on the road all the time and to support each other’s independent projects. But whatever other bands want to do, I don’t have any judgement.

BLADE: How is your daughter?

SALIERS: She’s gonna be 5 at the end of November and she’s the light of my life. I never wanted to be a parent ’til I found the right person and it’s been a very happy marriage. We allow each other a lot of space and (wife) Tristin takes care of things when I go away and I take care of things when she’s involved in school or work. We love our kid and we have a really, really great life and I’m so grateful for it.

BLADE: You and Amy were so pioneering and were out when so few were in popular music. Have you ever had younger bands like maybe Tegan and Sara or whomever, tell you it was cool or inspiring that y’all were out so early?

SALIERS: I don’t recall that so much from other artists but we’ve had a lot of those conversations with fans. They’ll tell us personal stories about how the music carried them through a hard time when they were coming out or whatever and that’s really the most gratifying thing.

Emily Sailers, gay news, washington blade

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Out & About

Studio House, Visual AIDS partner for educational program

Day With(out) Art 2021 to be held at Lamont Plaza

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One Tent Health, gay news, Washington Blade
World AIDS Day is next week.

Studio House and Visual AIDS will join forces for “Day With(out) Art 2021” on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. at Lamont Plaza. 

This event is a community outdoor screening of “Enduring Care,” a video program that highlights strategies of community care within the ongoing HIV epidemic followed by a discussion about the video.

There will be an open house in the neighborhood at the David Bethuel Jamieson (1963-1992) Studio House and Archives featuring newly commissioned work by Katherine Cheairs, Cristóbal Guerra, Danny Kilbride, Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad and Uriah Bussey, Beto Pérez, Steed Taylor, and J Triangular and the Women’s Video Support Project.

For more information, visit Eventbrite

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Movies

‘Tick, tick… BOOM!’ explodes with the love of Broadway

A perfect film for fans of musical theater

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Andrew Garfield shines in ‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

If you are a person who love musical theater – or if you know someone who does – then you know there is something about this particular art form that inspires a strong and driving passion in those who enjoy it, often to the point of obsession. For this reason, perhaps it’s no surprise that those who work in musical theater – the creators, performers, and all the other people who make it happen – are often the biggest musical theater lovers of all.

Because of this, “tick, tick… BOOM!” (the new film directed by Lin-Manuel “Hamilton” Miranda and written by Steven “Dear Evan Hansen” Levenson) might be the most perfect movie ever made for such fans. Adapted from an autobiographical “rock monologue” by Jonathan Larson, it follows the future “Rent” composer (Andrew Garfield) for a week in the early 1990s, when he was still an unknown young Broadway hopeful waiting tables in a New York diner. He’s on the cusp of turning 30, a milestone that weighs on his mind as he prepares for a showcase of a musical that he hasn’t quite finished – even though he’s been writing it for eight years. With limited time left to compose the show’s most crucial number, his race against the clock is complicated by major changes in his personal life; his lifelong best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) has quit acting in favor of a five-figure career in advertising, and his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) is moving away from the city to accept a teaching job and wants him to come with her. With reminders everywhere of the ongoing AIDS epidemic still raging in the community around him, and with his own youth ticking away, he is inevitably forced to wonder if it’s time to trade in his own Broadway dreams for a more secure future – before it’s too late.

As every musical theater fan knows, the young composer’s obsession with time (hence the title) is laced with bittersweet irony in the context of what eventually happened in his real life: the day before “Rent” opened on Broadway and became a smash hit that reshaped and expanded the boundaries of what musical theater could be, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 35. He never lived to see the full fruition of all those years of hard work, and that tragic turn of events is precisely what makes “tick, tick… BOOM!” relevant and provides its considerable emotional power. In that light, it’s essentially a musical “memento mori,” a reminder that the clock eventually runs out for all of us.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s not also a celebration of life in the theater, and Miranda is probably better suited than anyone to make us see that side of the coin. Now unquestionably in the highest echelon of status as a Broadway icon, he came of age in the era of “Rent,” and he takes pains to make his depiction of Manhattan in the ‘90s as authentic as possible.

Capturing the era with touches like Keith Haring-inspired murals and the use of “Love Shack” as a party anthem, his movie keeps Larson’s story within the context of his time while drawing clear connections to our own. His reverence for Larson – whom he cites as a seminal inspiration for his own future work – manifests itself palpably throughout. Yet despite that (or perhaps because of it), so does an infectiously cheery tone. Yes, things get heavy; there are hardships and heartbreaks at every turn, because that’s what a life in the theater means. But at the same time, there’s just so much fun to be had. The camaraderie, the energy, and the joy of simply living in that world comes leaping off the screen (often thanks to the enthusiastic choreography of Ryan Heffington) with the kind of giddy, effortless ease that might almost make us jealous if it didn’t lift our spirits so much. No matter that the lead character spends most of the movie second-guessing his path; we never doubt for a moment that, for him, the rewards of following his passion outweigh the sacrifices a thousand times over.

That’s something Miranda also understands. His movie drives home the point that the joy of doing theater is its own reward, and he’s willing to prove it by turning up in a bit part just for the sake of being a part of the show. And he’s not the only one. The screen is littered with living legends; in one memorable sequence alone, a who’s-who of Broadway’s brightest stars – Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Andre DeShield, Bebe Neuwirth, Joel Grey, and at least a dozen more – serve as a high-profile backup chorus of extras for a song at the diner, but there are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos in almost every scene. It almost feels like a gimmick, or an effort to turn the movie into a “spot the star” trivia game for hardcore fans – until you realize that these are the best and brightest people in their field, who have willingly chosen to show up and participate even though they did not have to. They are there purely for love, and you can see it in their faces.

Miranda scores big across the board as a director – this is his feature film directorial debut, which confirms the standing assumption the man can do anything. But “tick, tick… BOOM!” is a star turn for its leading player, and full credit must also go – and emphatically so – to Garfield, who surpasses expectations as Larson. The one-time “Spiderman” actor trained extensively to be able to master the demands of singing the role, and it shows; he comes off as a true musical theater trouper, worthy beyond doubt of sharing the screen with so many giants. Even better, he integrates that challenge into the whole of a flamboyantly joyful performance that makes Larson endearingly, compellingly three-dimensional. It’s a career-topping piece of work.

The rest of the principal cast – a refreshingly inclusive ensemble that reminds us that Larson was instrumental in making Broadway a much more diverse place – are equally fine. De Jesús gets a long-deserved chance to shine as Michael, and Shipp brings a quiet calm to the easily-could-have-been-overshadowed Susan that makes her the perfect balance to Garfield’s high-octane energy.

Joshua Henry and Vanessa Hudgens contribute much more than their stellar vocal talents to their pair of roles as Larson friends and collaborators, and there are delicious supporting turns by Judith Light and Bradley Whitford – who gives an affectionately amusing and dead-on accurate screen impersonation of Broadway legend-of-legends Stephen Sondheim, one of Larson’s (and Miranda’s) biggest influences and inspirations, who accordingly looms large in the story despite his relatively short amount of screen time.

It should be obvious by now that “tick, tick… BOOM!” is a delight for people who love musical theater. But what if you’re not one of those people? The good news is that there is so much to enjoy here, so much real enjoyment, so much talent, so much hard work on display that nobody will have any reason to be bored.

Even people who DON’T love musical theater.

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Books

James Ivory on movies, beauty — and a love of penises

If you enjoy film and wit you’ll love ‘Solid Ivory’

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(Book cover image courtesy of Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

‘Solid Ivory: Memoirs’
By James Ivory
C.2021, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
$30/399 pages

Few things have been more pleasurable to me during the pandemic than Merchant/Ivory films. COVID becomes a dim memory as I ogle the costumes, beautiful vistas from Italy to India, music and spot-on dialogue of “A Room with a View,” “Maurice,” “Remains of the Day” and other Merchant/Ivory movies.

For decades, fans from gay men to grandmas have enjoyed these films, directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant in partnership with the writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

In “Solid Ivory,” Ivory, 93, gives us his memories of movie making, growing up gay, his decades-long romantic and professional partnership with Merchant and (you’re reading this correctly) the penises he has known.

If you believe that elders don’t enjoy sex, Ivory’s memoir will blow your ageism to smithereens.

From watching the movies he’s directed and knowing his age, you might think (as I did) that Ivory would be shy about talking of his sexuality. Wow, was I wrong!

Ivory appreciates penises as a sommelier savors fine wine.

Ivory knew that he liked boys early on. Ivory recalls playing at age seven with a boy named Eddy. He and Eddy were “putting our penises into each other’s mouths,” Ivory writes, “…I made it clear that Eddy’s dick must not touch my lips or tongue, nor the inside of my mouth. I had learned all about germs at school by then.”

Though Ivory and Merchant were devoted partners, they each had other lovers. Bruce Chatwin, the travel writer who died from AIDS, was Ivory’s friend, and sometimes, lover.

Chatwin’s penis was “Uncut, rosy, schoolboy-looking,” Ivory writes.

Ivory’s memoir isn’t prurient. His sexuality doesn’t overpower the narrative. It runs through “Solid Ivory” like a flavorful spice.

The book is more an impressionistic mosaic than a chronological memoir. Ivory, often, tells the stories of his life through letters he’s written and received (from lovers, friends and professional contacts) as well as from diary entries.

Many of the chapters in the memoir were previously published in other publications such as The New Yorker.

“Solid Ivory” was originally published in a limited edition by Shrinking Violet Press. The Press is a small press run by Peter Cameron, a novelist, and editor of “Solid Ivory.” Ivory grew up in Klamath Falls, Ore. He was originally named Richard Jerome Hazen. His parents changed his name when they adopted him.
Some of the most engaging moments of the memoir are when Ivory writes about what life was like for a child during the Depression.

Ivory’s father lost his savings when the stock market crashed, and his mother frequently gave food to “tramps” who came to the door.

His “eating tastes were definitely formed during the Depression,” Ivory writes.

Since that time, Ivory has lived everywhere from England to Italy. “But although I consider myself an advanced expert in the more sophisticated forms of cuisine,” Ivory writes, “My gastronomical roots remain dug deep in the impoverished soil of the American Depression.” Ivory became smitten with movies when he saw his first picture when he was five.

He and Merchant, a Muslim from India who died in 2005, fell in love when they met on the steps of the Indian consulate in New York in 1961. I wish Ivory had written more about the 30+ movies that he made (mostly with Merchant and Jhabvala, who died in 2013).

Yet, he provides tantalizing recollections of filmmaking, actors and celebs.

The chapters on “Difficult Women like Raquel Welch and Vanessa Redgrave” are fun to read.

Welch, a bombshell brat, doesn’t want to play a love scene in “The Wild Party.” During the filming of “The Bostonians,” Boston is captivated by the drama of Redgrave’s off-screen politics.

Ivory isn’t that impressed when in 2018, at age 89, he becomes the oldest Academy Award winner when he receives the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “Call Me By Your Name.” “Its fame eclipses even Michelangelo’s David and the Statue of Liberty,” Ivory says, with irony, of the Oscar statue.

If you enjoy the movies, beauty and wit, you’ll love “Solid Ivory.”

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