In 2003, folk singer Michelle Shocked re-released her 1988 breakthrough album, Short Sharp Shocked.
Don't be fooled by that title: the double-disc reissue is tediously long. Among its 21 bonus tracks is a previously unreleased song from early in her career, “Campus Crusade.” In it, Shocked—whose lesbian fanbase was instrumental in launching and sustaining her career—mocks evangelical Christians who try to convert students on a university campus. Included are zingers like, “Every spring they seem to invade / Oh my God, it’s the lunatic fringe on parade” and, “With the likes of you campus crusaders up in heaven / I think hell is gonna be just swell.” The song’s most curious couplet, though, is also eerily prophetic: “Out came the sermon on rock stars in hell,” sings Shocked, “Now can you imagine John Lennon singing ‘Imagine there’s no heaven’?”
Fans are now having to imagine Shocked as a fundamentalist homophobe. She’s given them every reason to. On March 17, during a performance at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, she delivered a confused, confusing tirade to a friendly crowd that turned increasingly incensed. The following statements are what got the hate-ball rolling:
"I was in a prayer meeting yesterday. You’ve got to understand how scared folks on that side of the equation are. From their vantage point—I really shouldn’t say their, because it’s mine, too—we are near the end of time. And from our vantage point, we’re gonna be ... I think maybe Chinese water torture is gonna be the means, the method. Once Prop. 8 is instated, and once preachers are held at gunpoint and forced to marry the homosexuals, I’m pretty sure that that will be the signal for Jesus to come on back. You said you wanted reality! If someone could be so gracious to tweet out, 'Michelle Shocked just said from stage, God hates faggots,' would you do it now?"
Per Shocked’s instructions, people did indeed tweet her words. Soon the rest of her tour had been canceled in protest by club-owners around the country. From there, things got uglier. Days later she issued an oops-I-shit-the-sheets apology in which her non-defense boils down to a single sentence: “I don’t always express myself as clearly as I should.” She goes on to prove this point throughout the rest of her statement, which makes zero fucking sense and does nothing to clarify her previous hate-speech word-salad.
In fact, it makes it worse. She claims that during her onstage meltdown she was being “neither literal nor ironic” and that “I was predicting the absurd way my description of, my apology for, the intolerant would no doubt be misinterpreted.”
So let’s get this straight: While making this seemingly spontaneous onstage outburst, she was nesting her thoughts—and the possible reaction of the crowd, and of the Internet in the indeterminate future—in recursive layers of meaning? By condemning the intolerant by apologizing for the intolerant by appearing to agree with the intolerant? But it wasn’t ironic?
Don’t sell yourself short, Michelle. If irony were an Olympic event, you’d be Oscar Pistorius. If irony were a guitar, you’d be Marty McFly soloing at the school dance. If irony were folk music, you’d be Michelle Shocked.
Shocked’s cat-and-mouse game with herself—and with her own conflicted image as an artist trying to have her lesbian cake and eat Jesus too—couldn’t come at a worse time, for her. California’s gay-marriage-banning Proposition 8, which she either supports or doesn’t, will have its constitutionality argued by the Supreme Court today. Last week, Colorado—which only went blue in 2008—officially became the ninth state in the nation to legalize same-sex civil unions. The week before that, Ohio’s Rob Portman—who in 1996 co-sponsored a federal ban on same-sex unions—became the first Republican senator to switch his stance and come out in support of gay marriage.
And Shocked is even being shown up by shitty, shitty pop stars. Carly Rae Jepsen, the merciless perpetrator of “Call Me Maybe,” has been given a stay of execution by music critics earlier this month after canceling her performance at Boy Scout Jamboree in protest of its discriminatory policies toward gays—and then quickly signed up to headline the gay music festival White Party T-Dance.
Not that all cheesy pop singers have suddenly become as enlightened as, um, Rob Portman. Alan Osmond—former member of The Osmonds and an older brother of Donnie and Marie—is marching on the Capitol today with members of his Mormon brood to show their support for Proposition 8. Joining him is his son, Nathan Osmond, who -- believe it or not! -- plays country music. Conspicuously absent will be Donnie and Marie, who, unlike their washed-up brother, still have careers in showbiz to protect—and images to cultivate, and contracts to fulfill, and fanbases to consider.
Ultimately, it’s the cynical calculation of the pop-star mentality that’s become Shocked’s most shocking revelation. She’s always been ambiguous about her sexuality, but the issue isn’t, “Is Shocked really gay?” Owning an acoustic guitar and a strident voice doesn’t give anyone all the answers, even when it comes to one’s own orientation. Neither does it matter if that self-definition, or the lack thereof, has changed over the years. That’s her right, and it’s no one else’s business.
What is everyone else’s business is her hypocrisy. In her apology, Shocked maintains, “My views of homosexuality have changed not one iota.” But she doesn’t fully explain what those views are, particularly in regard to same-sex marriage. The bottom line is this: There is no way any sane person can reconcile the acceptance of gay people and accepting that the Bible is gospel. The harder one tries, the bigger the cracks grow. Dancing around that contradiction can’t change the fact that Shocked—an artist who has sung for, publicly identified with, and greatly profited from large audiences of lesbians—feels she must reconcile her old, gay fanbase with her new, fundamentalist one.
On the recording of her outburst at Yoshi’s, Shocked can be heard turning away from the microphone and yells, “I am sick of Christians filled with hypocrisy hiding behind the symbol of a cross!” It sounds as though she’s shouting at no one but herself.