Pride Month: k.d. lang – Makeover
I got a package in the mail this week from an old colleague of mine, Michael Benton (nee Krahn).
If you lived in Victoria in the early to mid-90s, you might remember Michael as the tall, lanky brunette who worked at Lyle’s Place, the town’s venerated indie record shop.
Michael had dreams of working in the music business in Los Angeles, and to his credit, he damn well did it.
Just recently, some 25 or so years after his stint at Lyle’s Place, he posted a note on his Facebook page saying he had a present to give away to whoever could tell the best story about early memories of k.d. lang.
I posted something like this:
The first time I ever went to Little Sister’s, the gay bookstore and de facto queer community centre in Vancouver, it was to buy a copy of the issue of the Advocate, the gay news magazine, in which k.d. officially came out as a lesbian. I can still remember the trepidation going up the steps. Little Sister’s had been firebombed at least twice in relatively recent history, so I was looking for suspicious packages in the stairwell.
K.d. was pretty well the only out lesbian in the mainstream at the time. All the other queer woman singer-songwriters were part of the women’s music scene. So K.D. was kind of an icon to all of us coming out in that era.
My partner and I had a four-foot plaque-mounted poster of her on our bedroom door and a clause in our fidelity contract that said that we were officially allowed to cheat if either of us ever somehow had a shot with her (this appeared to be a common thing among lesbian couples in that era).
I probably do – or at least did – own all of her records (though I’ve lost some in break-ups and format changes). I’ve seen her live several times over the years. But really her importance in my life is about more than music.
She was the soundtrack to my formative years as a queer woman, and she remains to this day, an icon of queer women of my generation. Which is to say, these days, she’s an icon of us middle aged dykes. And I think that who she is — the veganism, the Buddhism — is kind of a symbol of how all of us are trying to give expression to our values in ways that make sense to us and are separate from the oppressive, often Christian, values we grew up with.
I won the “contest,” and this week, Purolator showed up at my door with a meticulously wrapped package containing a copy of k.d.’s new album, Makeover, and an autographed flat, a 12×12 image of the album cover traditionally used in record store displays.
The album, which features k.d. on the cover in a dress and make-up in a high femme pose (am I allowed to say she looks hot?), is not new material. It’s a collection of the club mixes of k.d.’s songs that were popular in the queer clubs in the 90s.
Talk about a nostalgia kick! It’s a throwback to both queer women’s culture and queer club culture all at once. Because when we weren’t listening to Shadowland on a steamy date, we were at the Lotus dancing to “Rhythm is a Dancer,” “Crucified” and yes, dance mixes of lesbian icons like Annie Lennox and k.d.
Of course, in order to appreciate this walk down memory lane, I realized I had to first find a piece of 90s technology upon which to play this old-fashioned round disc. Fortunately, I still have a dusty old laptop with a CD drive in it.
There are 14 tracks on the album but only eight different songs. Six of them are remixed twice, frequently by the same producer, and it’s interesting to contrast the takes.
The Close to the Groove edit of “If I Were You” and the album’s opener, the appropriately-titled Club Xanax Mix of “Lifted by Love,” lean a little toward the chill-out sound popularized by London’s iconic Heaven nightclub in the late 80s and early 90s. The latter was produced by Junior Vasquez, who along with Shep Pettibone, was responsible for remixing a huge number of pop stars of the day, including Madonna, Janet Jackson, Prince and the Pet Shop Boys.
The U.K. team Love to Infinity contributed two mixes of “The Consequences of Falling,” one a classic disco club track of the era, the other incorporating elements of retro funk.
And Chris Brann did two remixes of “Summerfling” in 2000, one dreamy and one beat-heavy and punctuated with vocal effects.
For my money, which, to be fair, was none in this case, the coolest track on the album is the DJ Krush Full Mix of “Sexuality,” which incorporates static, bass and distant vocal effects to make the song sound like something you could totally get it on to – the soundtrack to your own private porno.
For all of her talents, k.d. was never particularly strong at writing catchy melodic hooks, and the songs on Makeover all come from her more recent, torchier, adult contemporary material. They aren’t songs that lend themselves readily to the remix treatment, but back in the day, if you slipped one of these on between “Vogue” and “Little Bird” in a club, you were probably reading the room just right.
As a rule, we no longer need to worry about our establishments being fire-bombed. Kids growing up today don’t recall a time when marriage was a gendered institution. There is still a tremendous amount of oppression facing trans people, but we also have a generation of younger people who recognize the need to respect gender neutral pronouns.
Many of these songs date back to a much shittier time – but one in which we supported each other through our own close-knit community and built a kick-ass culture that these songs harken back to.