Indigo Girls and Activism in Music

My wife has given me many things that I’m grateful for since she came into my life.  One of the nicest things she’s given me is a whole new range of music that I never listened to before.   When we first dated, one of the first places she took me to was an Indigo Girls concert in Berkeley.  I had heard the name of Indigo Girls, but I never really listened to their music before.  Ever since that concert, I really started listening to them, and found out they are deeply involved in progressive activism and promoting issues of peace and sexual equality. 

One of the first things I noticed during the concert was the desk in front of the entrance promoting various LGBT and leftist causes.  At first I thought this was just because I was in Berkeley, but as I looked for our seats to listen to the concert, I noticed that a large proportion of the audience were lesbian women.  I asked Lisa about it and she told me that Indigo Girls were strong activists in gay and lesbian causes.  When the concert started, I really enjoyed the music and the two women that made up the group.  They talked to the audience and asked for requests for songs, they brought up on stage a student to play accordion to one of their songs, and everyone had a wonderful time.  I really liked the songs.    It was the first time I heard songs like “Closer to Fine” and “Galileo” and they were catchy and fun folksy songs.

After the concert Lisa lent me her CD “All That We Let In”, which I instantly liked.  The cover was by Jaime Hernandez, one of my favorite cartoonists who did the 1980s alternative comic book “Love and Rockets”.    I liked every song on the CD, and my favorites were “Free In You”, “Perfect World” and “All That We Let In“.    I liked the joy in the Indigo Girls singing, the crisp harmonies, and the catchiness of the songs.  The lyrics have a strong social consciousness, but it’s not in-your-face. 

Indigo Girls consists of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, two high school friends.  A look in Wikipedia shows that they were a part of the Atlanta, Georgia college rock scene of the 1980s that included such bands as the B-52s and REM.   They started producing CDs in the 1980s, starting with the CD “Indigo Girls” and they were nominated for Best New Artist in the grammies, losing out to Milli Vanilli.   Amy and Emily wrote most of their songs separately, and my wife tells me they have a sort of Lennon/McCartney type dynamic in their songs.  One songwriter tends to write edgier songs while the other writes more optimistic songs.  i’m not sure which one writes which, but like John and Paul, Amy and Emily’s songs really work well together, complimenting each others strengths.

A month ago my wife purchased the Indigo Girls latest CD, Despite Our Differences.  It’s an edgier collection of songs,  with lyrics that mine some of the same stories of economic misery that Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellancamp mine in their populist songs.  In “They Won’t Have Me” Amy Ray sings,

“They won’t have me, but I love this place. 
The rural life is broken, the farmlands gone to chaff.
My hands are idle, my mind needs rest,
the toil of the decent and the sleep of the best.
I sit in diners with  the old men.
they talk of work cause it’s all they ever did.
They gave their hearts to Jesus and got serious
They gave up their drinking and worked for this-nothing.”

In my ears, I sense a sadness at the lives of people left out of the economic benefits of the Bush years.  Amy and Emily have instilled the sense of social concern that make up their entire career.  In the back of their CD sleeve, they have a list of groups whose goals they support:  the Carter Center (www.cartercenter.org), Women’s Action for New Directions (www.wand.org), WITNESS (www.witness.org), Honor the Earth (www.honorearth.org), Native Wind (www.nativewind.org), the National Biodiesel Board (www.biodiesel.org), the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (www.nyacyouth.org), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation (www.thetaskforce.org), and Indymedia (www.indymedia.org). 

My last time seeing Indigo Girls was in the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California a few years ago.  A nice folk group called Girlyman opened for them and it was a nice afternoon in the lawn listening to good music.   The Indigo Girls weren’t as intimate in their banter with the crowd as the concert that I saw in Berkeley, but it was an energetic and entertaining show nonetheless.  I see Indigo Girls in the same spirit of music and activism as Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger in the 1940s, and Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul and Mary in the 1960s, and Bruce Springsteen, Public Enemy and John Cougar Mellencamp in the 1980s and 1990s.  It’s good company to be in.  Music may not be able to change the world but it can change attitudes and cause people to think.  Indigo Girls is doing its part to change people’s attitudes for a better world.

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About angelolopez

I’ve wanted to be an artist all my life. Since I was a child I’ve drawn on any scrap of paper I could get a hold of. When I went to San Jose State University, I became more exposed to the works of the great fine artists and illustrators. My college paintings were heavily influenced by the humorous illustrations of Peter De Seve, an illustrator for the New Yorker magazine. I also fell under the spell of the great muralists of the 1930s, especially Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. I graduated with a degree in Illustration. Since my time in college, my goal has been to be a successful children’s book illustrator. I’ve illustrated 3 books: Two Moms the Zark and Me by Johnny Valentine in 1993; Night Travelers by Sue Hill in 1994; and Cherubic Children’s New Classic Story Book Volume 2 for Cherubic Press in 1998. I’ve painted murals for Lester Shields Elementary School in San Jose, the Berryessa branch of the San Jose Public Library, and Grace Community Church in Los Altos. I’ve had a few illustrations published in South Bay Accent Magazine and I will have an illustration published in the January/February issue of Tikkun magazine.
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