Thursday, January 24, 2008

Shelby Lynne: The Advocate Interview

The January 29th issue of The Advocate.

Note: Update posted 2/24/08, see bottom of post for details

Since posting this item about Shelby Lynne and her New York Times Magazine profile a couple weekends ago, I've been asked by several Googled-out lesbians for help locating the singer's latest interview with The Advocate. The article (written by Michele Kort, the Laura Nyro biographer and author of Dinah!: Three Decades of Sex, Golf, and Rock 'N' Roll, whose Portia de Rossi interview is one of the best I've read in The Advocate) isn't online yet, so to read the whole thing you'll have to go out and buy issue 1001 of the magazine, currently on newsstands. Out of the small amount of kindness that remains in my mostly-shriveled heart, I've assembled the gay-centric bits for you shameless gossip whores.

First, you must understand that this is no ordinary Advocate interview. Most Advocate interviews consist of a fawning reporter asking a Z-list celebrity what it's like to be a gay icon. By the second paragraph of Kort's three-page Lynne piece (five if you count all the photos), you know you're in for something different:
Doing press is "kind of a nightmare" for Lynne, and when The Advocate ventured out to take some pictures and talk about her new CD, Just a Little Lovin' -- on which she covers songs recorded by the timeless gay icon Dusty Springfield -- Shelby self-medicated, shall we say. Throughout the long afternoon and into the evening her emotions ebbed and flowed, from insecurity to confidence, petulance to intimacy. One moment she was hugging me, the next walking off in a huff with my tape recorder. "Don't worry," said Lynne's manager and friend, Elizabeth "Betty" Jordan, "she'll bring it back."
Cranky note: The nature of Lynne's relationship with Jordan (then known as Betty Bottrell) was first questioned by a brave reporter in 2001, and it didn't go over well with Shelby. Kort is more delicate in her approach to the subject:
In Elizabeth, Shelby found a manager, executive producer, and best friend. "It's very important. Very personal," Lynne says of their relationship. "I guess we were just there at the right time for each other. My life at that time was completely uprooted; all I had was that record that I was making. We've depended on each other now for eight years, for everything in life. And that's all there is to that."

I suggest that however Shelby describes it, the partnership seems primary. She agrees. "Primary is a good word, actually. Things that are that important you keep close as you can. You're so lucky if you ever get something that important."
Another Cranky note: So far, so good, right? Shelby hasn't broken a bottle of Southern Comfort over a pool table and challenged Michele to a rumble yet. Unfortunately, trouble is brewing:
But talking about whom she loves, even in the most generic terms, turns out to be off-limits, despite The Advocate's understanding going into the interview. In Palm Springs, Lynne got downright combative when I gingerly approached personal territory. "What's the question?" she asked several times. But when I asked, "Are you in a relationship?" she immediately interrupted with "I don't talk about my personal life." It was confusing: Shelby seemed to be demanding that The Question be asked even as she fended it off.

So now, on the phone, I bring it up again. She still stonewalls, but more gently. "I just don't think I want to ever be a part of a group of people who want to make announcements about their personal life," she says. "Because, you know, that's all you have."

"Do you hate labels?" I ask, because I'm sensing what may underlie her reluctance.

"Tell me, do I? You already know the answer."

When I call her a few days later for some follow-up questions, I ask one last time, in the gentlest way I can imagine, whether Shelby could subscribe to the sentiment Dusty famously expressed in a 1970 interview: "I know that I'm as perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy."

Shelby's just not having any. "It's fine that you keep wanting me to go there, but I just don't believe I need to," she says firmly. "I give away so much in the songs, man."

"But did you not think The Advocate would ask such a question when you agreed to do the interview?" I finally ask.

"But it's not anybody's business who I sleep with or who I fuck!" she says, as frustrated as I am. "I don't give a shit what the magazine is. People are going to come up with whatever they want to come up with on their own; I don't have to make announcements. Come on!"
Cranky again: Oh, for fuck's sake. The only thing I hate more than the closet-closet is the walk-in closet, that strange space that allows someone to acknowledge her "primary relationship" with another woman without using the word gay, while also giving her room to turn around and snap that she won't "make announcements" about her personal life. Lynne is right that it's nobody's business who she fucks (though asking whether someone is gay or straight or bisexual, or merely averse to labels, is hardly the same as asking for their partner's name, date of birth, and social security number), but she didn't have similar meltdowns when reporters assumed that person was male. And perhaps she's making things a bit more complicated than necessary. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure her sister was able to acknowledge her relationship with Steve Earle without doing a "Yep, I'm Straight" Time cover.

(Special thanks to H.M.C. for the magazine hookup.)

2/24/08 UPDATE - You can now read the complete article at Michele Kort's website.

And Now a Word from Our Sponsors