It's All Right You Guys, Michelle Shocked Is Only Trying To Blow Our Minds - UPDATED: Audio Emerges

[UPDATE] Shocked issued a full statement on Wednesday. It is at the bottom of this piece. 

[UPDATE] An audio recording emerged on Wednesday afternoon that appears to chronicle the events on Sunday night. Posted below with quick comment.

How the hell am I supposed to handle this Michelle Shocked business? Hands down, it's the strangest music news story that doesn't involve debauchery of some sort. (You're still safe, Edgewater Hotel.) What do you make of a middling folk songwriter, formerly out bisexual, staunch liberal political advocate, born-again-but-apparently-not-so-megachurchy-that-she-doesn't-sympathize-with-the-Occupy-movement Christian who walked into a bar and spat homophobic tripe onto the foreheads of unsuspecting patrons who just hoped they'd hear an update on the girl from "Anchorage"?

Then you got your differing interpretations of the incident at the restaurant/nightclub, like Rashomon for the Huffington Post set. "Oh, she was trying to be ironic." "No, she really meant it!" "She wasn't feeling well, she was obviously troubled." "She didn't sound troubled to me!" "The pear salad was divine." "No, the pear salad was crap!"

It's like my editor threw an egg salad sandwich, a stress ball, a fifth of cut-rate bourbon and a whoopee cushion on my desk, said "Now make those into a toy model Camaro," and walked off. Only I don't have an editor, so I have to go get those items myself. It makes no damn sense.

You also have activity on the only entity with authority to settle these brew-ups with full and binding legality: Twitter. Which has been kind of a let-down, if I may say. Half the people are saying "Michelle who?" or "What shocking news: Michelle Shocked still has a career!" Come on, Twitter Nation, you've had that site with the bird on it swamping your screen for at least five years now, can you not recycle lazy jokes from Courtney Love mini-scandals over that time?

Shocked's own tweets since the incident are also annoying, in that they're coy and evasive and clearly not settling anything. "When it comes to parsing parsley, I ain't persnickety" went one. That's so cute and cuddly and alliterative. If only she could shed some light on Peter Piper picking pickled peppers, the goddamn hoarder.

It's an important story. Not counting the Westboro Baptist Church and Bryan Fischer, Shocked's alleged statements are maybe the most galling and offensive anti-gay sentiments ever spewed by a public figure. Even Tim Hardaway's 2007 rant sounded less biting because it was obviously borne out of ignorance (and it's very important to note that Hardaway completely reformed).

Shocked cannot claim that lack of knowledge. At the beginning of her career she demurred on her sexuality, which as far as I'm concerned one is entirely permitted to do. A lot of music followers who ruminate over this type of thing assumed she was a lesbian based on her butch appearance. I admit I did. Certainly she had a sizable LGBT fan base, although enough straight people liked her enough to give her three Top 20 hits on Billboard's Modern Rock chart back in the '80s.

One of those hits was called "On The Greener Side," which depending on your analysis could be a sly commentary on her sexual orientation:
Your love, love, love
Don't keep me satisfied
And though I've never been there
I know it's always greener
On the greener side
That may look vague and it is, but consider the accompanying music video. It was conceived as a retort to Robert Palmer's clips for "Addicted To Love" and "Simply Irresistible," which both featured expressionless, statuesque female models gently gyrating and pretending to be Palmer's backup band. Of course that was sexual objectification, even if it wasn't particularly malicious. Shocked's video for "On The Greener Side" did the same, except Shocked used male models in place of Palmer's females. ("I'm definitely having a joke at Robert Palmer's expense," Shocked said back then.)

The subtext of the video, and Shocked's refusal of a guy named "Romeo" in the song, gave the impression that she had no intention of going hetero. Three years after "Greener Side" she married a journalist named Bart Bull, who I'd love to hear from right about now.

That explains why this situation is so confusing. Her relative relevance in the year 2013 (namely, not much) isn't, well, relevant. The grand scope of her remarks is at odds with our understanding of her image, not to mention the coming-out-lite she did in 1990. Which wasn't necessary, again, but underscores the point. The vituperative nature of her outburst jams our collective chronology.

As to the conspiracy theories... (1) "She did it for publicity. There's no such thing as bad publicity." No. Fred Phelps and his horde of demi-brained outgrowths of sperm and Miracle Whip called the Westboro Baptist Church do it for publicity. That's 'cause they count on their bad publicity, because it's worth it to pull in the one numbnut out of a million who says, "Man, those fag-hating dudes are my bag!" Shocked can't afford bad publicity, because she will lose maybe four-fifths of her followers, immediately marginalize the remaining one-fifth, and wind up with nothing much to show for it. That's festival-circuit showbiz, folks. If this was a publicity stunt, it was horribly conceived.

(2) "She's not doing too good, mentally." Seeing that one a lot. Certainly this blow-by-blow account (which I got literally five minutes before writing this sentence) indicates there was some pre-existing trepidation within Shocked before the show. An attendee who admitted he was in the minority opinion said:
"Shocked's fear, whether bad stage fright or something else, seemed quite genuine. The initial attempt to kickstart the show via Twitter didn't come off, and the choice we were offered, 'truth or reality,' was extremely puzzling. I was definitely worried about how the evening was going to go."
The concertgoer said it was difficult to assess the experience because it was "odd and disjointed."

(3) "It was meant in irony." Before I saw that piece from Yahoo!, I would have said, "Well, funny way to show irony. I prescribe more Colbert Report." Still, though -- could nearly an entire audience have misinterpreted Shocked's vocal inflections, or tone of voice, or whatever typical stage tricks provide a clue that you're about to try The Incongruity Shake? Guy from the concert: "One thing I haven't seen reported is when Shocked said that she was tired of 'Christians that hide their hypocrisy behind a cross.' It was that statement that led me to believe the some of her others were ironic."

At the same time, Shocked's statement about "when Prop 8 passes and priests are forced at gunpoint to marry gays" seemed divorced from the rest of the potential irony, even from the guy who reported it from the club. And it was wrong on a big count: Prop 8's passage banned gay marriage.

Also: Why'd she make the statement "You can go on Twitter and say ‘Michelle Shocked says God hates faggots"? Parsley-parse that statement for a minute. If the situation had spiraled out of control and Shocked's narrative had been misunderstood, why would she dare her audience like that? The cadence of her statements, and the audience's reaction to them, would dictate that if she wanted to express a non-homophobic viewpoint, she'd say something corrective. "No, you guys, that's not me." Something like that. She wouldn't goad the people in the room. She'd have to come down from her juvenile "you-don't-understand-me" perch and say, "Look, I'm not against gay marriage or gay people. Let me explain myself." Maybe she thought that would be pointless, but again: How did her rant's narrative ultimately arrive at the point where she decided to taunt people and not explain what she really meant, then and there? Isn't that contempt for your audience, who incidentally just paid to see you?

If you have the presence of mind to say some people are going to leave your (aborted) show thinking that you "hate faggots," then you acknowledge it must have been something you said and that you appeared sincere when you said it. Your dismissive irritation over being misunderstood is no alibi. You anticipated your effect on the audience and you said it anyway.

(4) "She was raised in an oppressively fundamentalist religion, and her mother sent her for shock-therapy treatment." True, and now you know why she chose the name "Michelle Shocked." I'm willing to give her an inch on this fact alone, only because I know what it's like to be raised in an oppressively fundamentalist religion (with some quirky differences with other realms of Christian fundamentalism). Having that kind of heavy ecclesiastical baggage while trying to make it on your own isn't easy. Sometimes, even if you don't genuinely believe the main tenets of your religion anymore, strains of your former beliefs can occasionally crop up in weird instances. Like calling something "satanic" because you don't understand it, or fear that everything's going to come to an apocalyptic end with no evidence whatsoever. But even though I get this aspect of Shocked's profile, I think she would have calculated beyond it for the sake of the show.

I don't know anything about being electro-shocked except for a Chemical Brothers show I attended in the '90s.

(5) "She believes it." Well, if any of us on the West Coast are up on Thursday morning at the ungodly hour of 8am, we can hear her apparently official explanation in an interview with Nicole Sandler. Obviously, if she does believe what she said, we need not waste any more time with her.

This is the modern world. Its reaction time is one-twentieth what it was in the mid-90's. Judgment comes quicker. Yes, sometimes that judgment's unfounded, and that's all the more reason to gird and discipline yourself in the area of saying and doing stupid shit. Whatever Shocked intended to do, it backfired. She excluded all compassion. If she didn't mean to be homophobic, then she needs to work on her presentation. Heavily. As it stands, she now has a contrition ritual to look forward to. She can blame and castigate the press all she wants ("Well thank God, a hack for hire at Yahoo News is here to save the day," she said in response to an interview request from the person who's written the most forgiving account about her yet). But she said it. No one dragged it out of her. Nobody asked for it. I'm sure she'll try to explain it on Thursday. If she gave a damn she would have tried earlier. Regardless, I'll listen to her explanation. Probably not live though.

We didn't have these problems with Jewel.

[UPDATE] Shocked has issued a statement. In the interest of fairness, here it is at Brooklyn Vegan.

[UPDATE] Audio was released Wednesday afternoon that seems to document the meltdown in question. You can hear it on John M. Becker's site.

Quick analysis of the tape 'cause I promised myself to sign off on this issue once and for all: She meant what she said, but she's obviously going through some "thing." I don't know what it is. She sounds defiant and serious about her statement that Jesus will come back if Prop 8 "passes" [sic - see above]. I don't think Shocked is in her right mind, but whoever's mind she's using at the moment sincerely believes that. Listen to the whole thing.

The song she plays at the end is called "Other People." It will not be tomorrow's Song Of The Day.
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