The truth was I was scared to death. I had just come out, both as a lesbian and as an artist, and I was terrified.
In moving to Southern Oregon, I felt I was infiltrating the Big Girls’ Club of fiercely independent, wildly creative, and deeply political 1980's lesbians. And here was Jamie, younger than myself by several years… and already "out" longer and traveling around the country alone, making money off her art. She was obviously one of the Big Girls, and I was completely intimidated.
Fast forward twenty-five years, and I am reading Jamie’s memoir Drive All Night. It is an astounding testament of passion: passion for lesbian culture and community, passion for music, and—let it be said—passion for driving, sometimes all night.
I found a clue in the chapter “Beware of Middle-aged Folksingers in Pickup Trucks.” Jamie is telling stories about crossing out of Canada. In 2009, the U.S. border guard asks her purpose, and she tells him she has been visiting her fiancée. He says, “I’ll bet he was happy about that.” Jamie, without hesitating, firmly corrects him: “She.”
She is immediately selected for a “random check,” her passport is confiscated, and she is told to step inside. She is questioned, cracks a few more jokes, and is finally released while her vehicle is supposedly searched.
Later, she has occasion to pass back into the US again, and again they ask her purpose, again she tells them, again she corrects the pronoun… and again the delay for a “random check,” or as she puts it, for being “a Big Lesbo.”
See, that’s the thing. She didn’t change her story. Because that’s how they do in the Big Girls’ Club. Even when nobody’s watching.
She is a delightful story teller… but then we know that, because of her songs. And, by the way, it’s fun to hear how she strategically deploys some of these favorites, like the time she sang “Menstrual Tango” in a Bible Belt venue, or “I Wanna Be a Straight Guy” in a round-robin of heterosexual women at the famed Bluebird Café in Nashville.
Jamie’s road stories are as hilarious as they are horrendous: rude patrons, arrogant techies, lazy producers… and her hosts! Lordy, her hosts! People, do not offer to put up a touring artist in your home if it is haunted by ghosts or inhabited by a free-range pig!
And then there are the motels. Here’s a little jewel:
"At another hotel, I was sleeping soundly after a long day of driving when at midnight the people in the next room awakened me. A young kid was singing loudly out of tune as the adults laughed. I banged on the wall to no avail. When I got up at six a.m. the next morning, I phoned them. I’m not proud of my behavior, but it sure felt good to hear that groggy “Hello?” on the other end of the line. I should have sung for them. At least it would have been in tune."
So many stories… stalking the Shakers, auditioning for Canada’s Got Talent, singing to the stranded in airports, the square tires of Alaska, bras and bellydancing...
Jamie Anderson, you intimidated me twenty-five years ago, but now you positively scare the crap out of me. You are a complete badass. Oh, and a Big Lesbo.
Get this book. Read it. We are not worthy.