Mary Gauthier and songwriting in the Age of Trump
I am focused on resistance.
by James Mann
Since her first album Dixie Kitchen in 1997, songwriter Mary Gauthier has earned critical praise and extremely devoted fans with her brutally honest yet emphatic songs. Her latest, 2014’s Trouble & Love is a masterpiece of mood with moments such as “Worthy” and “How You Learn to Live Alone”. As anyone who follows Mary on social media knows, she’s a vocal advocate for those those left behind in today’s culture, and isn’t shy about her passions. So, Ink 19 checked in to see how this gifted artist has dealt with the election of Donald Trump.
Q: What was your initial reaction waking up November 9th?
A: I didn’t go to sleep the night of Nov. 8th, so waking up Nov. 9th was not something I did! I just sat in my bed alone till the sun came up, and stared at the wall in front of me. I turned off all media, and a bottom opened. My spirit regressed, and I was propelled backwards in time. It was as if a meteor hit my house, a new 9-11 unleashed. I felt violated. I felt abandoned. I felt alone. I was mortified. Ancient ghosts from deep under my bed were let loose. They screamed and howled. I could not make sense of what was happening inside me, or outside of me. I know I was not the only one. Millions of people were crying and afraid on November 9th. The “election” opened old wounds in me, and old trauma was let loose. I was going through the process of PTSD. Bottom line: America had “elected” a perpetrator.
Q: Has that reaction changed since?
A: I am calmed down now, more centered. The shock is wearing off. The day to day reality of what has happened set in. I believe the election was a sham, that Russian interference threw it to Trump, and that history will show he is/was an illegitimate president. I believe he will be impeached, or removed by some other means. I am focused on what I can do to help that along. I am focused on resistance.
Q: What role do you as a songwriter foresee? As a citizen? Are they the same?
A: My role as a songwriter has always been to come up with songs that speak to the human heart. The purpose of songs for me, as I see it, is to create empathy. In fact, I think good songs ARE empathy. As an artist, and as a citizen, I think empathy is what will save us, that ability to put ourselves in another persons shoes and feel their emotions. This is how we find our way back to community, to safety, to love. It is empathy that is lacking in this administration..the ability to feel for others who may not look like you on the outside, but are the same on the inside. The job of the songwriter, the artist, it to challenge the dreadful new status quo. To go out on a limb and come up with something that makes human hearts resonate and get in synch with each other. To be an active part of letting people know they are not alone.
Q: You’ve been an outspoken advocate for LGBT issues your entire career. Do you feel a sense of urgency now?
A: Oh yes! We are in the throes of a backlash now, and I have no idea how bad it will get. We moved LGBT civil rights forward in the last decade, and there were a lot of people who felt it moved too fast. Those people are in power now, and we will see rollbacks on every level. I will be a voice in opposition of that. I believe in liberty and justice for all…and that means ALL.
Q: What worries you most about Trump and our nation’s future?
A: What worries me most? Hah! How do I even begin to answer that question in the age of Trump? I worry about the loss of our Republic. I worry about a new war. I worry about all of the millions of vulnerable people who have done nothing wrong, who he chooses to pick on from his position of power. I worry about the collapse of the environment through climate change. My worries are many, and they are reality based. We live in a deeply troubled time, where we cannot even have a conversation with those we disagree with. We are in the age of rage. Contempt creates destruction. It destroys relationships, it destroys communities, and it can destroy a nation. Empathy is the antidote, but it is in short supply right now. I hope and pray that artists come forth with new ways to create it, because we are in an empathy emergency.
Q: Your 2005 song “Mercy Now” seems so apt at this time:
“My church and my country could use a little mercy now/ As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out/ They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down/ I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now”.
How did that song come to be?
A: I wrote that song when it became clear America was going to invade Iraq. Sadly, the lyric was prescient in ways I never could have imagined.
Mary Gauthier starts work on a new album this week, of songs she wrote with veterans. As she posted on Facebook, “It’s their story. I am choked up. These songs are real, true, and beautiful.” We have no doubt.