Saying goodbye to 8 Inch Betsy with “The Mean Days”

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I lived in Chicago during a time when 8 Inch Betsy played almost every queer function in town. They opened for bands like The Gossip and Amy Ray, played benefits and fundraisers for LGBT organizations and at festivals like Estrojam (later renamed Decibelle) and Queer Fest Midwest (of which I was an organizer). Between 2004 and 2012, frontwoman Meghan Galbraith and bassist Eli Burke unapologetically spearheaded the city’s queercore music scene and brought their fun brashiness on tour with them around the U.S. 

Last January, Meghan passed away from an undisclosed illness at the age of 35. Reading the news on my Facebook feed, I was among many who felt the world had truly suffered a loss. Even someone like me who didn’t know her well but enjoyed ever interaction we’d had—interviews, conversations at the bar she worked at, small talk at dance parties—could know that Meghan had made a mark on the world. Last week, 8 Inch Betsy released its last album, The Mean Days, originally recorded in 2009 but taking several years to get finished after their long-time drummer left the band.

Eli & Meghandoodle in pittsfieldcredit: Bill Wright

“There is truly only one word to describe this,” Eli said of the album release, “Bittersweet. Meghan should be here to enjoy it. She worked really hard on this album in every sense and I know that the delay in getting it released was a big disappointment for both of us. In a way, it feels like another loss.”

Eli said the the release day, last Friday, had depressed them.

“It was an accomplishment, sure. But my partner in crime was gone and it felt strange,” he said. “I feel guilty, in a sense., for being here. It was like this second wave of loss for the band. The music. All those experiences. I am trying very hard to not dwell in self-pity or feel sorry for myself. I am grateful to have had such a friendship and such experiences in my life. “

But considering how much Meghan wanted to see the album get finished and put into the world has helped family and friends of hers to work through the painful parts. 

“For a long time I did not listen to it,” Eli said. “The day that Meghan said to release it I started listening to it again. I was super excited that she wanted to release it. It was put on hold for so long. I just had no idea what it meant. I really felt like a renewed hope. Listening to it now, it is all about memories. It is difficult for me to detach and not have a million memories.”

meanfront backcover

Those memories include a tour where the band went on the road without a drummer (“I think those times were some of the most hilarious. It was like we were a team and we were going to make things work no matter what.”) and just being together in a van.

“The conversations, the things we got to see together, the people we go to meet—it changed me,” Eli said. “Those times stand out.”

It’s hard to be sad when you think of someone like Meghan, though. She was the kind of person whose optimism and goofiness were infectious. And the fact that she was out and proud to be part of an all female, dyke band had its affects on the world.  Eli, who has since transitioned, said he thinks that the world has “shifted” since 8 Inch Betsy used to actively record and tour.

“I think that in general people are opening up to a wider range of how one can ‘be’ in the world,” he said. “I think that with music and most things there is always a push and pull. Each time there is a push we advance just a little. We see specks of queerness in mainstream acts whereas before I think you had to read into it. ” 

The Mean Days signals an end of an era; a passing of the baton to the bastion of new queer and women-led bands who are hopefully faced with less opposition than they would be if bands like 8 Inch Betsy hadn’t demanded the space and time they deserved. The album is a Dear John letter of sorts—a parting gift designed to stay with fans forever.

“I I guess I hope that people will be able to enjoy this music for a really long time,” Eli said. “I hope that people will get to hear and appreciate Meghan’s talent; how real she was in her music. It is hard to think about it objectively.”

Meghan had a one-of-a-kind voice; a raspy, raw call that spanned a large range that she utilized to get her messages across. Spirited quick-paced songs tinged with anger or sadness or love, The Mean Days is arguably the 8 Inch Betsy’s best album. It’s hard not to hear the melancholic chords and lyrics in it now, and the softness in songs like “Water.”

8inch

What Meghan wanted most, Eli said, was for people to be able to relate and find comfort in the music, “like she did when she was a kid.” 

“To know someone was listening to it and it made them feel better or maybe just helped them feel anything would make her happy,” Eli said. “She always loved playing the shows with the queer kids. Like I think it made her realize that there were a lot of kids just like she was and that she was giving them something. I think she would want people to be able to be themselves and if anyone had a problem with that well that was their shit. You do you.”

Eli now lives in Arizona where he is more focused on art, but is also part of a new band.

“It is hard sometimes because I become overwhelmed by nostalgia,” Eli said. “I think in time I will be able to fully embrace it again. And bring along all of the cool experiences I shared with Meghan. I believe that Meghan would want that. I don’t think she would want me to put my life on hold or be sad. I am working on that.”

meghanphoto by Jesse Burke

It helps, though, to consider Meghan’s family, especially in the release of The Mean Days and how its going out into the world would mean they all could share something even after losing someone so special.

“I I thought about how this wasn’t just for me but for her family and her friends and fans,” Eli said. “I just made myself do it. I would stop and cry for a while and then keep going. I allowed myself to get lost but always returned to getting it done, even though it took a long time. And for her. It was for her, too.”

Mean Days is available now from 307 Knox.

 

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