For some strange reason (the media), Margie Adam, the purest pop singer this side of Judy Collins, seems to be better known for the several years she spent not making music. A decade ago, Adam quit the music biz at the apex of her career. Now she's back. And there are more important things to talk about.
For one, this composer and performer of elegant pop songs is also an "out"spoken lesbian and feminist. Nothing unusual about that, except Adam must be one of the few devoutly pro-fem people in the world who can tolerate the existence of the music of the 2 Live Crew and any of the other outrageous rappers and outlandish misogynists you care to name. There should be, Adam says, room for all extremes, and if more room were made for them, in the media and in people's minds, they wouldn't seem so extreme. "I'm interested in being a part of a human community," she says, "where all the voices are involved in the conversation."
Hers is a particularly incisive one A before the hiatus, Margie Adam helped pioneer a movement that came to be known as "women's music." "That's the historical term that's been used," she explains, "to frame a period of time from the Seventies through the mid-Eighties. Women began to form a network of production companies and distribution companies where none had existed. They were promoting and disseminating music written and performed by women. It was a cultural articulation of the women's liberation movement."
Like those nasty rappers who claim that their muse is the tough inner-city streets, and that the artist can't be separated from the art, Margie Adam says there should be no mistaking that her music is the work of a feminist. "Our experiences as women have a direct impact on our art. The idea was to draw attention to this network of women who have record labels, who are about the business of promoting indie women in music."
The songs, including those on her newest album, Another Place, do not speak directly and exclusively to homosexual women, reaching out instead for a universal ear. More often than not A and this is true of most any lyricist A sexuality typically comes down to little more than a choice of pronouns. For example, the most spirited song on the new CD, "Ranting and Raving," with its propulsive melody and nifty vocal hitch in the chorus, is about a person offering comfort to someone "after the breakup." Whether he or she, the sentiment is universal: "Tell me all of the details/Tell me all of the hurt/Tell me everything she ever did/That made you feel like dirt."
And in her treatise about AIDS, "How Many?" Adam writes from both sides of the gender fence A it's a he who "dreads the Sunday Times/Knowing he cannot resist/Searching for the names he knows he'll find," and a she who "was there when it started/Offering her open heart." AIDS touches everyone, and Adam is too crafty a tunesmith to limit such a profound topic to only half the population.
Perhaps most famous for composing the Peter, Paul and Mary hit "Best Friend (The Unicorn Song)," Adam, even with the years off, has recorded five albums so far, with another due out soon. She has been heard often on National Public Radio, which employs her Naked Keys, an album of piano solos, as interlude music. Her next release will also be a piano instrumental collection.
While her piano playing can't be knocked, Adam's greatest asset is a strong yet gentle voice that seems incapable of missing a note. It's like moist icing spread on a steaming cake, but not as messy. Which is ironic in light of the fact that Adam never thought she'd be a performer, initially having pursued a career as a songwriter for others. "I never expected to be in front of people," she says. "I thought my work was songwriting and feeding the songs to other women. But then women's organizations invited me to perform, and they told me to just come and be myself."
Since Adam and Holly Near and the others pushed women's music into America's face, many of its proponents have achieved success despite the inherent prejudice against them. Adam could very well take credit for the careers of k.d. lang, Phranc, and a handful of other artists. "Well, maybe we created a context in which they could come out and be as they are," Adam says, adding that one of the keys was enabling women to work as engineers, as drummers, in sundry roles traditionally held by men. "Visibility," she notes. "We needed to introduce American society to who we are, who we really are."
That mission, needless to say, is far from complete. "I don't expect them all to acknowledge the impact of women's music," she concedes. "It'd be nice if everyone acknowledged and understood their roots. At the simplest level, it is poignant that within the music industry itself there is a whole group of men and women who are either lying about their relationships or have dropped that component out of their persona entirely because of the homophobia in this society. They understand [coming out] would damage their careers. What it does to you as a person -- to deny a part of who you are to make it in the world -- it's devastating."
In both her discussions and her approach to music, Adam likes to lump together the homosexual community (whatever that is) and other groups she calls "marginalized." Often called upon as a keynote speaker, including at the twentieth National Women's Music Festival in California a few days ago, Adam has helped raise scholarship money for disabled students and, for her most recent album, has penned a tune inspired by an ominous prophecy drawn from a tribe of indigenous Mexican Indians. Nothing queer about that. "I thought Sting achieved the perfect blend of consciousness and artistry when he wrote about the disappeared in South America," she says. "That's the challenge as a songwriter awake in this world, to never lose sight of the art. I understand that there's always going to be resistance to any art that's created by the marginalized, any art that encourages people to think. I understand I'm an outlaw, and that beautiful music can fly underneath the radar. But I feel blessed as a songwriter who comes from the pop tradition, because I know melody and I know chord progression, I know rhythm. It's just a matter of putting it all together."
Still, there's no separating the artist and the art. "I didn't come out for eleven years," she recalls, "because if I said I was a lesbian, a whole group of potential allies would never hear my music. I look forward to a time when it's no big deal. It's not real to say, 'You gay people are making a big deal.' People are getting beaten in the streets, so it is a big deal. This is about being afraid, and I didn't want to live like that."
Adam's first South Florida show in more than ten years will be a fundraiser for Victoria Sigler, a Dade County public defender running for county judge. A mutual friend approached Sigler and asked how she might help the election effort. Says Sigler: "I told her, like any judicial candidate, I need money. But I'm a little different from the norm. Judicial candidates usually send letters to lawyers asking for contributions, but I'm trying to get people involved, to run a grassroots campaign. She said she might be able to get Margie Adam to come down and play a fundraiser. I've been listening to her music eight or ten years and always really enjoyed it."
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Sigler, whose interest in the bench arose from a family tragedy that brought home the meaning of victims' rights, surely must be concerned about associating her campaign with a known homosexual. "Doesn't bother me a bit," she quips. "I don't walk away from any segment of the community."
Margie Adam clearly feels the same. "Whether I'm identified as a lesbian or a woman artist, I'm still struggling in a kind of culture that misunderstands that any marginalized group can have a universal message. Black filmmakers struggled because their work was thought not to be translatable to big box office. That's like saying Helen Keller is translatable only to crippled people. Art is art."
Margie Adam performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the MiamiWay Theater, 12615 W Dixie Hwy, North Miami, 893-0005. Tickets range from $15 to $30.