Junebug versus Hurricane

Dirty Drunk

"Girl sitting on her bed with her shirt off," Diane Arbus

Elena Glasberg


Sober Girl
–Amy Ray

I’m a sober girl

not for any good reason

I found myself on this road I’m on

It felt a lot like treason

To my last girlfriends

Who could never understand

When it comes to love I wanted ….. purity

I felt alone in this world in the city so I got out of there

I found myself at the end of a long dirt road

It felt a lot like nowhere

To my last girlfriends……..

When I was young in every camptown song I sung

I was aching just to be …… with someone

Who could lay me down, where rivers run

who was able, who was free…….

Free of this man made world

And all the bargains we made with fear

They slowly whittle us down to nothing

It felt a lot like despair

But I found someone who was still standin when it was done

And with the purest heart she said these words to me:

When I was young…..

Purity.  That word that just doesn’t fit in this song and I could never hear it, had to have Taylor translate it for me, several times, in fact.  The lyric, its rhythm, just doesn’t make any sense in the context of the song – it always ends the line so awkwardly, against the driving beat.  The word is musically unintelligible.  It seems to exist on another register of meaning altogether. Who but a lesbian would end a rock lyric on love with the non-rhyme “purity”?  But then Taylor’s got to translate so many of Amy Ray’s lyrics for me – I’m trying to get into their heaven, but I seem to live in a far distant psychic world.  I’m a Yankee, for one.  And a terrible lesbian.

I’m never sure to what extent I care about those sobriety narratives.  Or lesbian music culture, which everyone knows exists, if only in some idealized, non-commercial form.  Personally, I never listened to lesbian music – no Melissa Etheridge pressing her nose to the heterosexual window, threatening to seduce those straight girls.  No Indigo Girls!  Only Amy Ray solo for me.  These days Amy Ray makes true, complicated butch music.  Love her contralto, and her mixedness.  I’m interested in the way “Sober Girl” mixes hard rock n roll and the “camptown” songs Amy Ray was subject to in her southern religious upbringing.  Funny how the music that accompanies even the most oppressive dogmas probably saved more people than the teachings themselves.  Even in my heathenish way, I often feel saved by religious music. I might even say that all music is based in religious practice – in parables and incantations (spells).  It can lead to ecstasy — like the twinned guitar solos taking off at the song’s fade out.

“Sober Girl” is the moral-religious soundtrack of contemporary lesbianism.  What does it mean to be sober?  As a goal it lacks “reason.” And leads to isolation: “treason.” Sobriety requires social revolt and risk.  The singer moves from alienated religious childhood, to the bar girls of her young adulthood, finally to achieve self-possession.  The song collides on its divergent origins, the church organ entering the ripping guitars and stuttering, free drumming at the “bridge.” Here, the lyrics about wanting to find “someone who would be still standing when it was done” fold into themselves, rondo-like, and it turns out that that “someone” was you all along.  The alienated church girl turned into an equally alienated righteous lesbian.  Those last girlfriends, “who could never understand” are only the latest exemplars of the ‘man-made world” she needed to flee. I guess you could say, Amy’s (and my) “life was saved by rock n roll” without choking on the irony that a man wrote those lyrics.

The song describes the way I feel about lesbian righteousness and the sub culture’s sad tendency toward censoriousness (that would include a lack of appreciation for lou reed, the rock n roll animal).  You know, the identity wars, butch-femme drama, enforced folksiness and general culture of political earnestness that continues in different dress today. Sober is such a loaded term.  I’ve always been the sober one at the party.  But that’s not the same as being righteous or the one “standing when it was all done.” No, all those drunks can weigh you down.  Once (an obviously very castigating) girlfriend even suggested I was a “dry drunk,” a person who, without actually having the fun of boozing manages to display all the pathologies of unsobriety.  Well, talk about high and mighty!  Sometimes escaping back out that long dirt road seems less like victory than, well, treason.  And does treason sort of rhyme with the last word, “free’?  Freedom can be more isolating than alienation – at least alienation’s an identity.  Freedom can just feel like lost.

For a sober butch in a lesbian culture drunk on righteousness… being the sober butch has always felt a lot nowhere.  And now there’s a new substance – testosterone.  Everyone’s drunk on masculinity in a bottle, whether they’re taking it themselves or just rubbernecking.  For a middle aged butch this is one more scene that “feels a lot like nowhere”…..


6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

What about a butch singing about wanting someone [able] to lay her down where the rivers run?

Comment by Oli

i will take this on in a future post…. if there’s to be a future. thanks for your commentary, sweets……

Comment by junebugvshurricane

is this you in the Diane Arbus photograph? I saw it in MoMA and it struck me as familiar.

Comment by Christina

I didn’t know of Amy Ray and I stumbled upon this blog whilst researching Diane Arbus.. Thank you for introducing me to her.. much appreciation.. Cleo

Comment by Cleo B Gardiner queer-femme-artist

Today, I went to the beachfront with my children.
I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put
the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab
inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go
back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

Comment by Tongkat Ali

Nice response in return of this difficulty with genuine arguments and
explaining the whole thing on the topic of that.

Comment by samsung galaxy

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