By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
If you've been in line at the grocery store lately, scanning the magazine covers while you wait, you may have noticed a trend. Down below the tabloids screaming, "World's Fattest Cat Saves Babies From Burning Building" or "Aliens Meet With Ross Perot" are the serious mags. Almost all of them have recently featured articles on singer k.d. lang.
In the past six months, lang's been prodded, padded, painted, and portrayed by Elle, People, US, Details, Newsweek, Vogue, Pulse, Musician, and Mirabella. And that's to say nothing of the daily-newspaper coverage.
Given the present Garth-and-Reba-fueled ascendancy of country music, profiles of country singers are as common these days as stories about Princess Di's bulimia. What's surprising about this sudden flood of mass-market profiles on k.d. lang is that they're of a singer who's openly gay and militantly vegetarian, and who would say the world was flat if Nashville said it wasn't.
lang laughs over the telephone at the suggestion that the House of k.d. has been overrun by a full-court media press. But it seems that every time she turns around, there's another journalist at her door, hoping to describe the decor of her Hollywood Hills bungalow ("a rustic mess"), her dog, Stinky ("a puff dog that hurls itself at visitors"), her piles of CDs ("Instead of lang's spiritual godmother, Patsy Cline, you'll find Peggy Lee, Mahalia Jackson, Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, and Karen Carpenter"), even her outfit ("baggy jeans, sweatshirt, and thick socks").
Although she once considered the press an irritant, lang has become a skilled and dogged manipulator of her media reflection. She's obviously having a field day with her former adversaries -- feeding them outrageous and irresistible crumbs like, "I love having a cryptic sexuality."
lang's new interest in schmoozing just happens to coincide with the release of her new album, Ingenue. With it, lang serves notice that she's through with country music. After years of trying to explain both her music and her haircut -- for a while she shaved her head -- lang has forsaken a stillborn country career for the more dangerous waters of a Threepenny Opera-style cabaret direction. The cowgirl image she tried so hard to cultivate, and which was always more of a marketing ploy, is now just a memory.
The change has won her a wider audience. Out only four months, Ingenue is already her biggest-selling recording to date.
lang's nouveau, Brecht-Weill ballad sound allows her to be true to herself. Like a lot of artistic makeovers, lang's new musical direction was brought on by pain -- in her case, the end of a love affair. The torchy, lush Ingenue takes lang's failed relationship as its subject.
The new honesty in her music is inspiring her in other ways. lang has also found the time to appear in a very personal film, Salmonberries. The work of director Percy Adlon, whose best-known projects include Bagdad Cafe and lang's segment in the Red, Hot + Blue AIDS benefit project, Salmonberries is the story of two women in a remote Alaska town. Charged with sexual overtones, the film has yet to find a U.S. distributor.
Despite her newfound confidence in dealing with interviewers, does lang read the resulting articles about her home, her pet, and her sexual preference?
"Frankly, I don't," lang says in a tightlipped voice from a stop on her current tour. "I don't mind doing the press these days, but I don't want to read about it."
Raised in the cattle country around the small town of Consort, Alberta, reared musically in Nashville, and now ensconced in the Hollywood Hills, Kathy Dawn Lang is an undeniably bizarre subject. She is the most unconventional member of an unconventional generation of country-influenced singer-songwriters that includes Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, and Nanci Griffith. After years of beating their heads against Nashville's static walls, all have found a way out: Lovett and Griffith have been moved from the Nashville division of MCA Records to the label's Los Angeles-based pop division. Earle has dropped out to work on his bad-boy image.
The main reason lang could make the sweeping change from twang to torch is her mighty voice. lang undoubtedly possesses the most expressive, deep-throated pipes popular music has seen since Patsy Cline's. Like all great singers, lang's phrasing is idiosyncratic and inimitable. A smoky alto in its natural register, lang's voice has an unusual range -- able to both growl loud and low or whisper soft and breathy. It's the whispery side she uses to great effect on Ingenue.
For her more People magazine-inclined fans, lang's huge voice is less important than her prickly, unpredictable personality and her androgynous look. The first item of controversy is her insistence that her name be written in lower case, because, she says, "It's a name, not a sexuality." Then there's her decidedly masculine wardrobe and spiky 'do. And last year, the long-time animal activist did an antimeat commercial for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), with the hard-to-digest punch line, "If you knew how meat was made, you'd lose your lunch." The good, God-fearin', beef-buyin' followers of country music were outraged.