lifeblood: songs: backgrounds: american tune

1989-12-xx: despite the gold record under their belts, indigo girls take the slow road to success, the oakland tribune:

saliers and ray had been classmates since grade school. they grew up friendly rivals, because each sang and played guitar. "when we did get together in high school, it wasn't so much with the thought about there being something special about us, it was that playing music was fun," saliers said.

they both graduated from college with english degrees and their love of language is evident in their lyric writing. when the new york times panned them as being overly serious, "i cried," saliers admitted. but since then, she said, "the negative feedback we've seen seems to be from people who only gave the album a quick listen and never really caught what we were doing. so when the new issue of the village voice included its records of the year and listed ours as a must to avoid, i just laughed."

the duo honed their sound doing other people's songs (paul simon's "american tune," joe south's "games people play" and other thoughtful pop hits) in atlanta's clubs, especially the little five points pub. there's a photo of the pub, filled with family and friends, on the lyric sheet of "strange fire." "we played there five years off and on, and for one six-month stretch it was three nights a week. that's where we really came up with what we do now."


1990-04-29: wxrk, new york, new york:

pete fornatell: i'm also fascinated by the covers that you've done. get together, which we heard earlier. you also did the elton john-bernie taupin song mona lisas and mad hatters.

amy: yeah

emily: mmmm hmmm, great song.

p: and the one that i'd like to close with, with explanation from you two.

a: (laugh) yeah we'll explain.

e: (laugh)

p: which is paul simon's american tune.

a: yeah

p: what about that?

a: well it's a great song.

e: i first heard that song when i was in high school. i heard it done in four part harmony.

a: by starland vocal band.

e: yeah. no, no, no. well i heard it by them but also by a group where i went for high school. i went to high school a year in minnesota. and um, i have always loved that song, it's beautiful. i forget how we learned it together, how we decided to learn it together.

a: we learned it on guitar first

e: yeah, we started playing it on guitar

a: i think i played it solo for a little while

e: and gradually went to acapella singing, we both knew the song.

a: as we forgot the chords it became an acapella song.

e: (laugh)

a: that's kind of the way it happened with that one.

p: now it did get released on a special promotional cd.

e: mmm, hmmm

a: yeah, it's a

e: the intonation is off.

a: yeah, we were really off that day. so this is not the way it usually sounds when we do it. i mean usually we're in tune. at least 3 out of 5 timers we hit the right notes and this is one of the ones when we didn't.

e: so we're apologizing for something you're about to hear.

a: so listen with a grain of salt.


1990-10-29: indigo girls serve up evening of intelligent, provocative music, the portland oregonian:

in fact, the crowd was so enthusiastic that saliers and ray had to come out for their last encore sans guitars, otherwise they might be there still. they soared into an a capella version of paul simon's "american tune," singing in gorgeous harmony to an audience nearly hypnotized by the voices weaving through the darkness. as they swirled together, ray sustained the final note of a phrase with a tone that reminded a listener that the most glorious pipe organ is just an approximation of the human voice.


1992-04-24: have a nice earth day, the boston globe:

you don't need a psychic to tell you the indigo girls will be a highlight of tomorrow's earth day show at foxboro stadium. when the indigos book a concert, it's bound to be a passionate affair. they don't know any other way to sing. that has been true ever since they brought their coffeehouse zeal on tour with r.e.m. three years ago. the indigos have since won every folk award in sight, sparked festivals from newport to new orleans, and still kept their wits and social consciousness intact.

they'll perform their own songs at earth day tomorrow, likely in the late afternoon, before sets by headliners steve miller and midnight oil. but indigo fans have an added treat, since the folk-rock duo will also harmonize on a few songs with joan baez (a longtime idol) and nashville's latest sensation, mary-chapin carpenter.

"we'll switch around with each other. it will be like mix and match," says amy ray of the indigos. "imagine singing with joan baez! we did it once before in san francisco with this same lineup - and it was a fun show. it's definitely different."

that san francisco show was a benefit for baez's humanitas foundation. the jointly performed songs included bob dylan's "don't think twice, it's all right," paul simon's "american tune" and the band's "the night they drove old dixie down."

"the show was wonderful," baez recalls in a separate interview. "those things don't often work, but we got together at 2 o'clock the day before and worked through until 11 with a great deal of laughing and eating. we tried to be as inventive as possible. mary-chapin sang 'diamonds and rust' and i harmonized with her . . . and we did 'finlandia,' one of the most beautiful hymns that was ever written. it's about the earth actually. this is my song of god for all the nations; the song for my land and for yours. it's sort of antinationalist, in the form of a hymn."


1995-09: indigo girls, 1995 - record collector:

one hometown gig, at the little five points pub, was documented on the "reverse-1 live" promo cd. a great portrait of the girls in concert, its highlights included cover versions of elton john's "mona lisas and mad hatters" and an acappella rendition of paul simon's ''american tune". most of this material has since been included on the first worthwhile indigo girls bootleg, "history of us" - assuming you can find one that actually plays properly.


1999-10: indigo girls get social, bay windows:

saliers and ray released their first album in 1987 while still students at emory university. the two had been friends, growing up together in atlanta, since the ages of nine and ten (saliers is now 36 and ray is 35) and began performing together in high school. just out of college, they signed with epic records. in 1989, their major label debut, indigo girls (featuring their biggest hit to date, "closer to fine") went double platinum and earned them the grammy award for best contemporary folk group. while the indigos always had a major lesbian following, emily was a little slower than amy in publicly coming out.

"early on, i just had some fears," she explains. "i just didn't want us to be thought of as a 'gay band' and didn't want to be held back. i was younger then and it was just adolescent fear."

in 1993, they appeared at the march on washington, performing a haunting a cappella version of the simon and garfunkel classic "american tune." "i remember walking up that scaffolding [to the stage] thinking i was about to throw up because i was so nervous," says saliers. "then i remember the power of that gathering of people - it was very moving. i remember being honored that we were asked to perform there, and i remember being completely empowered by the experience and just wanting to get back and be a gay rights activist as much as possible."


2014-08-31: es.1993, official indigo girls "a year a month blog" on tumblr:

in 1993, amy and i were invited to sing at the march on washington for lgbt rights. an estimated 800,000- 1 million people were there on the mall, as we collectively demanded our rights: the end of sodomy laws, increased aids funding, the end of discrimination in the military, the legalization of same-sex marriages, the end of discrimination in the workplace, full inclusion in the educations system, laws to prevent discrimination against lgbt's in the area of family diversity, custody, adoption and foster care and to define family to include the full diversity of family structure, rights to reproductive freedom, an end to racial and ethnic discrimination in all forms, and an end to violent oppression of lgbt's. when i consider the advances that have been made on all of these fronts since then, i am reminded of the sheer power in people gathering for civil rights, and i am in awe to have been part and still to be part of the civil rights movement for lgbt equality in the u.s.

it was a beautiful day, a glorious day. i and many others' spirits were bolstered by the recent election of bill clinton, and we relished the atmosphere of change that he fostered. amy and i chose to sing "american tune" by paul simon because it spoke so clearly of long journeys through dark times, clinging to the hopes of promised dreams and freedom. as we climbed the stairs to reach the stage, i remember that i was very, very nervous but also extremely energized and moved to the depths of my heart. to stand in solidarity with hundreds of thousands of people, queers and straight allies, is a moment in time i carry with me for the rest of my life. there were many brave people there. some risked their jobs, their careers, their families, their churches and synagogues. for us, we were spared any great discrimination for a place at the podium. music was our voice for inclusion.

it's strange to think that there was no internet then, and that word of mouth played a huge part in amassing such a monumental gathering prior to the event, i remember people around me every where we went saying, "are you going to washington for the march?" and we all were. the plane to d.c. was loaded with marchers, the airport was crowded with marchers, the streets were filled, and the restaurants were filled. the atmosphere was joyous but charged with serious intent. i had seen footage of the civil rights march on d.c. of 1963, and pictures from masses gathering for democratic freedom in eastern europe, but until 1993 i hadn't personally witnessed the power of the people to effect change by standing en masse and demanding civil rights. it was awesome, in the true sense. it has been a great privilege to be part of the lgbt rights movement through all these years and, while we still have a long way to go, especially when it comes to alleviating the suffering of queer teens, homeless and suicidal youth, and to increase protection and support for trans members of our communities, we have indeed come a long way in many arenas of concern since 1993. i can speak to that personally, as i was legally able to marry my partner last year and sponsor her for a green card so that our family can live and work in the u.s. i never thought i would see the day in my lifetime. but i did. activism changes lives for the better. the music we bring along lifts our spirits through the arduous work for change.


2017-05-31: indigo girls' amy ray craves creative combinations, the daily progress:

and while they were at last month's rock and roll hall of fame ceremony, "we threw things around musically," ray said.

"for me, because we've done so many things here and there, this was an eventuality," she said. "it was a matter of timing. it's always been one of those things we've thrown around.

"but it's really the timing. we can't do a whole show where we're just throwing it together at the last minute."

expect a creative combination of songs in tuesday's setlist, because each singer has been tasked with bringing song candidates to see which ones the others also would like to try.

"chapin and joan and emily and i will pick songs," ray said. for example, "i want to tackle 'american tune' by paul simon," ray said. "i'd like to tackle that with four parts."

their easy rapport and shared love for music shine when the four singers are together.

"usually, there's just a lot of joking and catching up," she said. "it's actually very easygoing, but it's challenging musically. you're learning new harmonies."

part of the fun comes from figuring out which friend sings when.

"it won't be all four of us on all of the songs," ray said. "it'll be different combinations of us on different songs."

one possible combination? "chapin, with three people singing harmony," ray said.

and one possible wrinkle? "emily's probably the only soprano," ray said with a chuckle.

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