Apr 6 03 4:22 PM

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From: jools (Original Message) Sent: 31/03/2003 02:37
Cross-dressing for Success
To celebrate her new album, Drag, k.d. lang decided to try something different ---- dresses! Charles Gandee talks to the gay icon about fashion, femininity, and fame. Photographed by Herb Ritts.
Two days before she's scheduled to sing five songs from her
new album, "Drag", with the Boston Pops, k.d. lang who may
have once looked like Elvis (according to her friend Madonna)
but who now looks more like Bryan Ferry, is sitting on the love
seat in her suite at the Four seasons Hotel overlooking Boston
Common. She's wearing big, and I do mean big, black boots,
an oversize sweatshirt, and a pair of overalls from which her
girlfriend, Leisha Hailey, the lead singer of the Murmurs, has
removed the bib. Somewhat uncharacteristically, lang, who's
normally as cool as Warren Beatty in "Shampoo" -- even when
wearing a patch reading HOMO on her jacket at the VH1 Fashion
Awards -- is as skittish as a kitten. Not about the concert,
which "The Boston Globe" will ultimately declare "breath-
taking", but about the fact that, for reasons she can't now
quite recall, she has agreed to fly to New York the morning
after and be photgraphed wearing evening gowns.
I'm a little nervous because, except for the Miss Chatelaine video, which was a complete send-up, I have never worn a dress in my adult life. Never! Not that I hate dresses or that I refuse to wear them as a social statement necessarily, it's just that I personally feel very vulnerable in them. I don't know why. So maybe it will be a good exercise for me to wear these "evening gowns." Maybe.
What's the worst that can happen? That I'll look completely uncomfortable and ridiculous, that I'll look like a drag queen waiting for his wig on Halloween. That would be bad.
Of course I understand that dresses can be very beautiful - when I see a gown worn in a spiritual sense, like a monk wearing a gown, it's very beautiful to me. So I've decided to go to this shoot with that idea in my head. Obviously, the challenge is to make it work in a pure and honest way, without being camp or fake. Which I think I can do. But it won't be easy.
Besides, I'm an artist, not a model. And I don't have a perfect body. I like my body, I'm comfortable in it, although there are times when I wish it was better, which I think is normal. But there's this whole thing happening now in marketing where artists are expected to be models in a sense, and it's tough for me. I've spent 35 years developing a strong sense of self and trying to portray that to the public, and not being, you know, stubborn, but also not being swayed--or compromised.
By the way, the new album is not about clothes--or dressing. It's a nonjudgemental study on smoking as it applies metaphorically to love and human need. Of course the title is provocative. Everything I do is bait. I'm an artist. Why conceptualize and emote for nothing? There has to be a conceptual core to something, with all these peripheral dimensions to it, or else there's no reason to do it.
It's funny. I guess to some people I'm in drag when I'm onstage in a Richard Tyler tuxedo. But to me it's not drag at all. It's what I feel comfortable in. It's just that society has this understanding of gender fashion lines, which is crazy to me, and yet I adhere to it as well, because women's clothes make me feel vulnerable. So it's all very convoluted.
But I do always see myself in a suit, no matter what. I hate to bring sexuality into it, but, honestly, I feel that I don't sing from a typical female perspective or a typical male perspective. I sing from a lesbian or a gay perspective, which is slightly different because it has a more--and I'm going out on a limb here--"balanced" understanding of the sexes. So for me to show up onstage in a dress would be to lean too much one way, because when I'm singing I switch from being Frank Sinatra to Eartha Kitt in seconds. I don't feel like a woman, and I don't feel like a man; I feel like both, simultaneously. Suits help me achieve some kind of balance, because I have a very voluptous, womanly shaped body--a Botticelli sort of body--and I have a mind and an emotional self somewhere in the middle.
But I have nothing against dressing in a feminine style. Actually, my mom, who was quite fashionable, used to make me wear dresses to church. But I stopped going to church when I was eight or nine, so I stopped wearing dresses. I felt silly in them. I think people have natural inclinations--you know, some little girls want to wear dresses, some little girls want to wear OshKosh. Well, I went for OshKosh.
I do remember trying on makeup one day and my mom saying, "You know, you don't need to wear makeup, because you have beautiful skin." And I never wore makeup again. Although now I do for photo shoots or videos. Actually, now I represent M.A.C. It's awesome that a company is so courageous that it would hire a black drag queen [RuPaul] and a dyke who doesn't wear makeup to represent them. They developed a lipstick called Viva Glam 11 for me, and 100 percent of the retail price goes to AIDS charities. It's only been out since February, and already it's raised over a million dollars.
Fashion is a strange thing. I kind of go on and off it. Sometimes I rebel against it very strongly, because I really was quite naive when I first got into it. When Ingenue hit, my stature rose quite swiftly, and designers were courting me a lot, flinging clothes at me. And I didn't want to wear just one designer, so I guess I pissed off a lot of people. But for me, it's more piece by piece. You know, not every painting from one painter is going to be your favourite.
It's funny, but when I go to fashion shows my mind races. It's exciting and putrid at the same time. I'm thrilled and disgusted. The core of my clothes are men's, but sometimes there are women's pieces mixed in. So it's very much to my advantage to be aware of both men's and women's fashion. Certainly I'm attracted to women who wear dresses. Leisha loves Miu Miu. I think if she could afford it, she would probably dress in Miu Miu all the time.
I like Miuccia Prada very much. Not just her clothes, but her. I wear the men's stuff, although this season it's all cut too narrow for me. I also like Richard Tyler a lot. But for me, some of the Japanese designers are more at, and I hate to use this word because it's been abused, the androgynous centre of fashion--you know, where it's just this kind of beautiful clothing. I think Helmut Lang is trying to do that right now as well. I also like Gaultier because every time he does something, it's different. He's out there. He's an artist.
I kind of like buying my clothes rather than having them given to me. I think you appreciate them more if you have to really make a choice that you like something enough to pay $1,000 or $3,000 for it. Besides, then it's legitimate.
But I'm not rich. At all. I don't sell that many records, plus I don't get played on the radio, and that's really where you make your money as a songwriter. I'm a lot more famous than I am rich. Which is kind of a bummer because it's hard to be famous and not rich.
Besides, I'm famous for doing things other than selling records.
Doing Ellen was fun. I mean it's nice to be part of history. But one thing I want to make clear is that many, many people came before to allow Ellen to do what she did. And I'm talking about people before me, before Martina Navratilova. There was Julie Andrews in her own little way in Victor/Victoria, and before that, there was Marlene Dietrich.
Postcript: The morning after the shoot, I tracked down lang in New York and asked her how it felt to be photographed wearing a few choice selections from the New York fall collections.
Pretty uncomfortable. What shocked me is how unglamorous it is to put those things on: You have to sort of dive up into them. It's like this weird little cocoon that you throw yourself into. To me, it's far more glamorous to put on a suit, because there's all these layers and it's just very ceremonial. I think it will be a while before I put on a dress again. But who knows? Inspiration can zap at any time.


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#1 [url]

Jan 13 08 1:50 AM

Canadian Composer 1985

heh heh ... having a look through the old posts and realised that the wrong article had been copied above. Luckily, i found the original (saves me having to type it up again) image
From: jools (Original Message) Sent: 06/04/2003 08:06
The K.D. Lang success story involves much more than luck
Richard Flohl
Some people say K.D. Lang is lucky. How else can it be that the 24 year-old singer from Consort, Alberta (population, 650) has signed an international contract with one of the most successful independent record companies in the world?
She must be lucky. After all, didn't she spend a month in Japan this summer, playing at Expo, and making a documentary that had her performing in country music clubs and Buddhist temples, not to mention the streets of Tokyo and a folklore festival with a team of traditionalist Japanese drummers?
And there's got to be a lot of luck to getting all those rave reviews in newspapers from coast to coast, not to mention Rolling Stone ("a kinetic performance, do-si-do-ing primly around the stage at one moment, and bellowing into the mike with the rage of Johnny Rotten the next") and the Village Voice ("a satisfying beginning"). Best of all, how about the luck of winning a Juno for "most promising female singer"?
And if you want to talk about luck, how about the fact that she sells out Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom (1,000 seats) for four nights, weeks in advance. And the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton with the Edmonton Symphony, for heaven's sake. And the Riverside in Winnipeg, and the Diamond in Toronto, and the you-name-it in practically every town in Canada with a bigger population than Consort.
* * *
K.D. Lang has become, in the relatively short time of a little over a year and a half, a major Canadian star. Her cropped hair, cut-off cowboy boots, insouciant grin, and Goodwill dropbox clothes are as well-known as her music, a full-cry, off-the-wall mixture of rock and roll, old fashioned country, and punky attitudes. If you've missed hearing the music, it's been almost impossible to miss hearing about it, thanks to hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles - every one of them a delighted rave about the happy freshness and joy of her live performances. And next year, with her debut on the Sire label - distributed internationally by Warner Brothers - the music will catch up to the image and the press clippings.
K.D. Lang is, to a large extent, the unique creation of a woman who is considerably less publicised, and certainly less well known. Kathy Dawn Lang is as different from K.D. as anyone could imagine; K.D. is a role she has invented, and plays to the hilt - a role fashioned firmly on love, affection for the music she performs (often with tongue in cheek), and a need to present a performance that is uniquely her own.
Consort isn't the sort of place most young people stay in. And Kathy Lang, whose dad ran the drugstore and whose mother was a schoolteacher who insisted that she play the piano - which she did until she stole her brother's guitar and started to play that instead - was an eccentric who loved high school athletics, writing unusual songs, and who wanted to go to art school.
And so she did, and in Lethbridge she began to perform her unusual songs to tiny audiences who were frequently unsure of what she was doing. After all, she played an acoustic guitar, so she must be a folk singer, but what are these songs about - Barney Clark's artificial plastic heart, and a recluse who eats garbage? This was not the kind stuff that Joni Mitchell, that well-known escapee from the Prairies, had become famous for.
A chance meeting two years ago in a small Edmonton recording studio changed all that. Hired to sing backup for a country singer's demo tape, her clear voice and pleasant, subdued manner attracted the attention of Larry Wanagas, owner, engineer, administrator and floor-sweeper of Homestead Recorders ("the only studio in Alberta not petitioning for bankruptcy," he jokes "but I'm trying to sell it"). Over coffee after the session, Wanagas and Kathy Lang discussed a recording project - a mixture of country music and the strangely ecelectic music she wrote and performed. They also began a freindship that remains close - Lang was his "best person" when he married last summer - and continues to supercede their business relationship (he has been her manager since their first coffee meeting).
Her single is now a collector's item
With the decision made to start the "K. D. Lang project", she went back to the studios to cut a single with a band led by star guitarist Amos Garrett - and the resulting seven-inch single (pressed on white vinyl, and now an impossible-to-find collector's item) was a portent of things to come. On the B-side, a tune by Maggie Roche, of New York's Roche Sisters - and on the side that was designed to be played by country radio stations, a song called Friday Dance Promenade, complete with it's reference to country singer Patsy Cline and a musical quote from that singer's 1961 hit, I Fall to Pieces.
Using her "underground" reputation as a performance artist, and the record as a calling card, Lang began to perform locally with her own band, which she christened The Reclines in homage to her favorite country star. The Edmonton press was enthusiastic, and so there were trips to Calgary, where singer Ian Tyson became a vocal enthusiast - "Why don't you people dance," he shouted at a mystified audience in one local club, "this band's fantastic!" In Vancouver, a debut in the Railway Club - an alternative music joint attended by a small audience who loved the singer's looks, but were initially confused by the country music - won some modest reviews, and a chance to return.
* * *
Slowly, the legend was building, but Lang and Wanagas both knew it would take a full-scale album to do the trick. Wanagas had the studio, but money was not in great supply - and the first album by K. D. Lang and The Reclines, titled A Truly Western Experience, was a $5,000 effort that gives little idea of the power of the singer's voice, or the breadth of her material. On the simple cut-and-paste cover, which Lang designed herself, was the singer, in all her Goodwill finery, balancing on a farm fence. Nearby, looking out of the window of the barn, was Patsy Cline. And on the back cover, a single line of type at the bottom reads "and the wind drifts through my soul, say hi to Patsy for me."
The songs on the album were mostly originals by Lang and/or members of The Reclines, but there were three tunes associated with Cline and one - Hooked on Junk, by an old art school friend - which is a reminder of her days as a solo performance artist. By the skin of it's teeth, the album came out a day before her appearance at the Edmonton Folk Festival in August 1984.
It was the performance at that event that turned the tide. Scheduled to perform for 25 minutes, her set turned into double that length when the next act was delayed on it's way to the site. Wearing her cut-off cowboy boots, a cream-colored suit circa 1955, and wing-shaped glasses (without lenses), Lang tore through her repertoire, winding up by responding to a standing ovation with an acappella version of Amazing Grace which segued into I'm Saved, an old R&B standby which had been written by Leiber & Stoller for Lavern Baker back in 1960. As Lang stormed around the stage banging a parade marshall's bass drum, the crowd gave her another standing ovation.
Within three days, she had been booked into Albert's Hall, a blues bar in Toronto - partly as a result of two musicians from Sylvia Tyson's band telling the club's booker that they had been blown off the stage by "this crazy woman with cut-off cowboy boots who sings country and rock and roll like her life depended on it."
Lang's week in Toronto won her national attention. The publicity hype made careful mention of the range of the music, the on-stage antics of the artist, and the singer's clothing, but left it up to the newspaper writers, intrigued by the possibilty of something new, to discover the voice itself. By this time, Earl Rosen and Sylvia Tyson, who had both seen Lang at the Edmonton Festival, and who were involved in running Video-FACT, had recommended her for a video - and MuchMusic was programming Hanky Panky, in which Lang lurches and leaps around the stage at a country barndance.
With Toronto conquered, Lang pressed on - to Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, and Halifax. The reviews were ecstatic everywhere she went. The stage was set for the next part of the breakthrough towards the goal of - in Lang's words - "becoming quite well known."
The next phase was to attract some interest from the record industry. Several companies offered to distribute (and in one case, repackage) the existing album, but there was a mixed response to offering a deal for the future. Some, like WEA's Bob Roper, were intrigued by the act and the performance, but worried that it might fall into the gulf he percieved existed between rock and country. Some could only offer a Canadian deal - and others, CBS, Island, A&M and RCA included, got on the wire to their headquarters in New York, Nashville, London and Los Angeles, urging them to check out the artist. However, getting a show-case date in the United States was difficult, and Larry Wanagas was discovering that American record company people had no idea where Edmonton was, "I mentioned Wayne Gretzky to them," he recalled later. "They'd never heard of him, either."
Eventually, thanks to various contacts in New York, a tentative date at New York's Bottom Line, on a bill with two equally unknown bands, became a possibility - and one solidified by the fact that a friend of Wanagas and Lang from Edmonton was working at the club as an assistant to booker Alan Pepper. In Toronto, Murray McLauchlan's manager, Bernie Finklestein, mentioned Lang to a Rolling Stone reporter - and that encounter led to a three-quarter page color picture spread in the magazine. The Globe and Mail's Liam Lacey - by now a confirmed fan of the singer and her band - went on the road with Lang as they wended their way towards Toronto for another week at Albert's Hall, and then on to New York; the result was a two-page article in the paper's national edition.
Back in Toronto, the club experienced line-ups starting at 6 p.m. for the first set at 10; the local newspapers were even more enthusiastic this time around. And in New York, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and several newspapers noted the phenomenon from Edmonton.
It took a second visit to the Big Apple to finally convince the American record companies that this was a serious artist, with a unique appeal. Some passed, eventually - like CBS, Island and Warner Brothers. Others like RCA, came very close to making substantial offers. The New York trip followed a third visit to Toronto, where Lang played an ill-attended folk festival, a country music picnic, and Canada Day celebrations at Harbourfront - within two weeks, Lang had played for more than 25,000 people in the city.
At the Bottom Line, it took Seymour Stein, the diminutive founder of Sire Records, to make the move everyone had been waiting for. After her first set opening for NRBQ, a tough rock and roll band from Boston, Lang sat on a battered couch, dog tired and covered in sweat. "Do you know Alberta Slim?" Stein asked. "You mean Montana Slim," Lang countered, "In Canada, we call him Wilf Carter. And sure I know his music."
"Well," said Stein, "you are what country music would have been if Nashville hadn't screwed it up." From then on, it was love at first sight. Stein made Wanagas and Lang an offer they couldn't refuse - and Lang for her part, has been impatiently waiting to start recording for the label. Back in Toronto, lawyer (and songwriter) Stephen Stohn hammered the final draft of the agreement together - about which all the parties remain quiet, except to say that it guarantees two albums, plus options, and numerous other benefits. Stohn calls it "a real star contract"; Lang just grins.
The next problem was to find a producer - a producer who could take the dispirate threads of Lang's music and put it together. Tapes were sent to Dave Edmunds in Britain; Nick Lowe, Edmunds' one-time playing partner, heard Lang when she opened for him in Hamilton; and he passed too. Brian Ahern, who had produced Anne Murray's early albums, and had later gone to Los Angeles to produce (and later marry) Emmylou Harris, was interested, particularly after watching her in action at Toronto's Diamond Club, where a post-Juno date crammed well over 1,000 people into the 700-seat room.
* * *
Offstage, Kathy Lang is as different from her on-stage persona as it is possible to be. Instead of the abandoned, rowdy, cut-up person one would expect, Lang is almost painfully quiet, very shy ("I'd rather not go to industry parties; all they do is tell you how good the show is, and I never know what to say"), and restrained in nature. She doesn't drink, smoke, eat meat or dairy products, and wouldn't go near "recreational drugs" with someone else's 10-foot bargepole. Lang's idea of a good night on the town would be a meal at a macrobiotic restauarant, followed by an early bedtime. Off stage, her clothes tend to run to scuffed desert boots, old sweat shirts, and jeans, topped by a plastic raincoat.
She does have a sense of humour that runs to the bizarre, and her taped messages for the answering machine at Wanagas' office are almost worth the long distance call to Edmonton to listen to. She does interviews with as much grace as she can muster but is now fed up to the teeth with questions about her psychic connection with Patsy Cline, and once gave a backstage interviewer at the Winnipeg Folk Festival a one word answer to the standard question about where her music came from. "Heaven," she responded. another reporter, Sony Walkman recorder at the ready, asked where she planned to take her music, and got the same answer. But when a third person asked whether there was anywhere she hasn't played yet that she'd like to perform, expecting a similar response, she said; "Loretta Lyn's living room."
Her live show usually runs well over an hour and a half - and it's a non-stop affair that can include a greater-than-usual degree of audience participation - "okay, let's have a dance contest!" she urges, as the band hammers out some old dance fad tune like Mashed Potato Time (Ontario Place officials were aghast when she invited 4,000 fans onto the stage during her summer show there - but amazed when the number was over and they all trooped dutifully back to their seats). Amid the originals and the old country standards, Lang will include material that could charitably be described as eclectic - a send up of Goldfinger, the title song from the Bond movie, and a hilarious, blonde-wigged impersonation of Nancy Sinatra.
Her labors with songwriting, while considerably more private, are equally exhausting. She approaches the task of writing with some trepidation, waiting until everyone involved with her career gets on her case. It might be Wanagas, Stein who wants to see more material, or even the band members, who urge her to write new material so they have a chance to play something different. Apart from that, guitarist Gordie Matthews, bassist Dennis Marchenko, drummer Dave Bjarnason and keyboard player Teddy Borowiecki all write too - and their input into the final arrangements of the tunes that Lang writes is invaluable.
When she does write - a task she can only tackle only when there is a week or two off the road - she can produce good material in a minimum of time, even if she won't say how much effort and sweat went into the song ideas before the actual writing process. "Guess what," she told friends after a concentrated two week effort last summer, "I've just done eight more songs." Three of them are now part of the finished show. Meanwhile, she is thinking about more songs, prior to the recording sessions - so far, she is only certain that one of the songs from the original album will be re-recorded. "That's Pine and Stew," she said recently. "I guess it's my favorite, and I know I could do it a lot better now." Favorite or not, it's the song that Peter Gzowski plays regularly on CBC Morningside, and calls "the quintessential Canadian country tune."
Lang has no doubts whatsoever about her future. Doubt - even the sort of ordinary questions one might ponder in the quiet hours before sleep - never enters her mind; she knows as surely as the fact that it will be light in the morning that she is going to be a success. Is there a market for her country-influenced rock and roll in the mid-80s? Will radio play her records? Will audiences in other countries - from grandparents at country music picnics to punkers in alternative music clubs - be as responsive as they are in Canada, night after night after night? Lang doesn't ask herself the questions - she knows that she will be successful, and pondering on these matters is a waste of time and energy. "I just know that everything will turn out well," she says, looking at you with her intense almond eyes. "I don't want to sound cosmic about all this, but it's ordained." And that's quite definitely that.
Her sense of humor lets her down occasionally. "They didn't get the joke of the wedding dress, did they?" she asks, referring to her acceptance of the most promising female singer award, wearing a full-length wedding gown, and then making a number of public promises - a promise to deserve the award, a promise to work hard in the coming year, and (most importantly) a promise to "always sing for the right reasons."
"I mean, you make promises when you get married, don't you? But even Peter Gzowski didn't get it - he told me it hit him three days later. But you've got to make the effort, right? Heck, there are still press people who ask my why I call the bacnd The Reclines."
* * *
The last year and a half has been a non-stop effort - to become established, to succeed, to entertain the audiences who see her. Now the real work is about to start - with the recording and the Spring release of the new album, the promotional push and the live appearances that will follow.
Lucky? Well, maybe luck has something to do with being at the right place at the right time - and, given the realities of the music business, with the right music. Maybe luck has a connection with the amount of talent you're born with in the first place. But after that, the K.D. Lang success story has little to do with luck, and a great deal to do with character and personality - and an enormous amount of hard, slogging work. For the woman from Consort, Alberta, the old WASP virtues - hard work, honesty, value for money and more hard work - still stand. By this time next year, we'll all see what those virtues have done for her.

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