Amy Ray Goes to the Prom

AE: Prom also contains a recurring high school theme, as heard on “Put It Out For Good” and “Driver Education.” Are these songs based on your own experiences in combination with what you are seeing now in high school kids?
AR: Yes, it’s definitely both. Although I wouldn’t say that I’m in touch with what every high school thinks in every part of the country (laughs). It’s so different from one region to the next. It’s my little neck of the woods. For some reason this record became thematic around that time period. A lot of it references things that I went through and images that I remember from high school and I put it in the context of some high school experiences of kids I know now or things that I see on the news or that I read or kids that I talk to at shows. I probably fell into the trap a couple of times, but I didn’t want it to be too sentimental about back in the good old days when I was in high school (laughs).

I think high school was a coming of age for me, more than college was. I’m more attached to the things I went through in high school and the teachers that I had. That was when I started singing and playing in clubs. That’s when Emily and I started the Indigo Girls and that’s when I started finding my political self. College was a really great time for me academically, but I was already playing music and I was already an activist and I was already gay (laughs). All of those things happened to me in high school. When I have a touchstone to talk about activism or politics or rebellion or identity, high school usually becomes that.

AE: The song on Prom that I keep coming back to is “Rural Faggot.” You shine an unyielding light on homophobia, and by the time the song reaches its dramatic and ironic conclusion, you have rewarded the listener ten-fold.
AR: I’m glad that you found that ending to be like that. The song was pretty dark and I didn’t intend it to be a hopeless song. It was meant to be like “This is what you’re going to go through and it’s going to be all right.” But this is the process that is happening right now that you may not see. I wrote if from the rural area that I live in and a couple of my neighbors and their kids and these boys that I’ve seen grow up over the last twelve years and become teenagers and then leave the house. Some of them are gay and some of them aren’t. Many of them went through a period of gay bashing and would tell me about it (laugh of disbelief), as if I would think it was funny. They knew I was gay and I don’t know why they thought I would think it was funny. They wanted to get approval from me for something that was obviously not something that I would agree with.

They saw me as different, because I’m a gay woman, and these were all guys. They saw a real difference between gay women and gay men. That is a real hallmark of living in a rural area. In a rural area, you almost expect the flannel and the almost mannish style of dress. But if guys walk around with a purse, there’s just no place for that in a rural area (laughs). There’s no place for a man who is effeminate or for a man who isn’t effeminate, but is gay. It’s a really hard road, and that’s why I made it (the song) specifically about guys. It’s something I wanted to talk about because it’s something I see a lot where I live.

AE: The closing track, “Let It Ring,” is the sound of someone trying to wrestle their God back from the Christian Right, and it has this gospel fervor to it.
AR: I started it after a pro-choice march and then merged it into gay rights issues, too. Because (laughs) often when we’re doing something that is pro-choice, we also get picketed by people who are anti-gay, too. They conflate the two for some reason. I have a lot of friends who really struggle because they want to go to church but they don’t feel like it’s their place anymore. There is not enough reconciliation.

I have people in my family that are gay and really religious and struggle with wanting to be a part of a religious community, but also feel like they need to boycott it if it’s not going to accept them. I wrote it thinking about them and wanted to start out with this caustic, sarcastic thing, because I remember the women’s march in D.C. and one of the most striking images was these young, almost punk kids with the pro-life signs with pictures of the dead fetuses standing on the sidewalk that were part of a big church group. It was striking to me that their parents had passed down all this hate and fervor to them and they were just taking the torch up. I got the idea for writing the song being really sarcastic and then letting it move into a place that was about love.

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