Lavender Country comes out singing9/14/2016
In 1973, Lou Reed snuck a coy reference to transgender actress Candy Darling into the hit “Walk on the Wild Side,” and David Bowie was blurring the line of sexuality with his Ziggy Stardust shows. But, believe it or not, the most groundbreaking LGBTQ musical statement was coming from a country band.
That was the year that the Seattle band Lavender Country released its self-titled debut album. It featured songs like “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears,” “Back in the Closet Again” and “Come Out Singing.” The album sold out a pressing of 1,000 copies, and the band played west coast pride events for a few years before disbanding in 1976.
Decades later, “Lavender Country” surfaced on the Internet, prompting singer-songwriter Patrick Haggerty, now in his 70s, to start performing again for the first time in years. Lavender Country performs Sunday, headlining the Maximum Ames Music Festival in Ames.
“The audience was really limited, but that’s who we made the album for,” Haggerty said in a phone interview. “We knew there was no market. We made it for ourselves. We were our own market. It allowed us to say what we wanted to say without fetters, because nobody was going to buy it anyway.”
But people are buying it now (or at least streaming it). In 2014, the label Paradise of Bachelors reissued “Lavender Country.” Entertainment weekly called Lavender Country “breakout star of SXSW” this year, and a documentary, “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears,” has been making the rounds at film festivals.
Haggerty attributes that to the homophobia that once dominated the country (and the music industry) dissipating. Lavender Country recently played its first show in Nashville, something Haggerty never would have considered possible in the 70s. For the first time, he’s playing his songs in actual country venues and is playing shows with other country musicians, including those recruited as his Lavender Country backing band.
“Musicians are a poor bunch of bigots. That’s been true for centuries. We’re artists. We’re just not good at being bigots,” Haggerty said. “I don’t believe any of infamous, famous or up and coming country acts believe the red, white and blue crap that dominates country. They do it to get along. It’s the higher echelon of the country industry who are pushing that image, and they’re freaked out of their mind.”
Country might seem like an unlikely outlet for a gay man in the 1970s, but Haggerty never considered anything else. He was the son of a dairy farmer (who was supportive of his son before Haggerty really realized he was gay), and country was the music that always spoke to him.
“Country is who I was and where I came from,” Haggerty said. “I was doing square dancing and listening to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Gene Autry. It’s the genre that was ingrained in me. Since I knew all the genres were going to exclude me anyway, I might as well stick with what I knew.”