Notes & Queeries: Returning to the Indigo Girls

I first heard of the Indigo Girls back in the early ’90s, when the possibility that I was gay began to push at the edges of my consciousness. Everybody seemed to know that the Indigo Girls were gay, though it was only whispered at the time, not declared out loud. I remember the magenta cover of their album Rites of Passage, which was handed around my college dorm like a flag marking those of us who were contemplating switching sides.

I did listen to "Closer to Fine," but the song that I remember most from those years is "Galileo," with its chorus that demands, "How long till my soul gets it right? Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?" They’re not exactly the most comforting questions for an 18-year-old whose soul has suddenly started to question what she had always thought was true.

For whatever reason, I didn’t continue to listen to the Indigo Girls; I was more drawn to Tori Amos and her Little Earthquakes at the time. But I did know that the Indigo Girls were practically synonymous with lesbians. In 2004, that status was cemented by an episode of The L Word, "Looking Back," in which the girls go on a mini road trip from Los Angeles to Dinah Shore weekend in Palm Springs. On the way they bust out the Indigo Girls’ "Closer to Fine," and everyone sings along somewhat inaccurately.

Like Alice and Jenny and Shane and Tina, I didn’t really know the lyrics either. I had vague notions of what the song was about based on its happy tune and eminently singable chorus — "closer I am to fi-i-i-i-ine" — maybe it was about seeking out something really beautiful, something precious. I imagined it might be a girl.

But after Tuesday’s concert, I looked up the lyrics. I realized that instead of "Galileo" — though a fine song in its own right — it might have been more useful for me to listen to "Closer to Fine."

When I was first coming to terms with coming out, everything was excruciatingly painful. There were few moments of calm: My life was a bumpy ride, and it all hurt. I sought the advice of friends; I went to therapy; I wrote volumes of impassioned journal entries and poetry bleeding with despair — not to mention healthy doses of teenage angst.

Everyone finds their way out of these emotions in their own way. But maybe instead of listening to Tori Amos, I should have given the Indigo Girls another spin. Instead of crucifying myself, I might have learned that "there’s more than one answer to these questions," and that "the less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine."

Tuesday night at the concert, the giddiness of the girls dancing in the aisles was contagious. Amy and Emily, even when singing serious songs, had a joyful quality about them. When they sang "Power of Two," they interrupted themselves and dedicated it to the California Supreme Court, which ruled last month that same-sex marriage is legal. There was an openness about them, a sense of possibility, a feeling that goodness might not be cheesy so much as necessary.

Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As we left the concert, a car full of fans went speeding down the street, the passengers loudly singing the chorus to "Closer to Fine." The smoke from the fires was now obscured by the dark, and yet another sprinkler had turned on, dampening the sidewalks with water. The night was calm; we drove back listening to an Indigo Girls CD while I nodded to sleep on the empty road.

At home, possessed by a burst of so-tired-I’m-loopy adrenaline, I began singing the chorus to "Closer to Fine" and making up the lyrics as I went along. My girlfriend corrected me: "The less I seek my source for some definitive," she said, laughing at me. I know the words, now.

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