Essays — April 3, 2019 19:19 — 0 Comments

Lavender Country’s Patrick Haggerty On Music, Love And Life, Itself

I didn’t have the heart to tell Patrick Haggerty, front man and songwriter for Lavender Country, the first openly gay country band to release an “out” album, that I wasn’t gay, though he lovingly assumed I was during our conversation. But not telling Haggerty about my sexuality is beside the point, of course. As you’ll see in the interview, it doesn’t take sexual orientation to make for kinship. By the end we were saying “I love you” to one another. Haggerty’s is a story of artistic success devoid of financial gain. But, later in his life, after a series of events unearthing his talent and story, Haggerty’s fame is on the rise. I asked him about that and much more.

How did you learn to play and write music?

I stumbled into it. I don’t have much musical training. But some people are born with an ear and I guess to some extent I’m one of those people. But I’m not formally trained in music. And I didn’t spend a whole lifetime doing music. I did music at various points in my life. Before I made Lavender Country, I did music and now I’m doing a lot of music. But there was a whole space of decades in between when I was somebody else doing something else. And I wasn’t doing music. And those are the years that I spent in Seattle after I made Lavender Country.

I was a radical loudmouth activist. Shot off my mouth, made a lot of mistakes. But was a radical socialist. And I spent my activist years, 20-25 years, in Seattle being that. Being not a country music star but a screaming Marxist bitch. So, that’s my history in Seattle. So, to some extent, for this reason, Seattle has kind of changed gears about who I am and what I do.

But we did make Lavender Country in 1973 and I chose country as a venue because I grew up west of Port Angeles in a farm in the 1950s and that’s what I heard and that’s what was in me and that’s the only thing I knew how to do. So, we did Lavender Country. I think the most significant thing to say about Lavender Country is yeah I’m the author, yeah I wrote the song, yeah I sing the songs. I did do that. But Seattle’s lesbian, gay, Stonewall, rebel congregation of folks who did the initial Stonewall rebellion stuff in Seattle, those people made Lavender Country, produced Lavender Country, got the money for Lavender Country, helped me distribute Lavender Country. It was a community project. I never in a million years could have made Lavender Country without that. Without the Stonewall uprising in Seattle supporting what we were doing.

And the other thing that I have to say about it is that a lot of us were doing a lot of really creative shit at that time and a lot of people who were involved in that Stonewall rebellion, especially if they had a radical bent, and almost all of us who were out initially did have a radical bent, we frankly were a bunch of smart people who thought outside the box. We were. I wasn’t necessarily conscious of that at the time but the people who chose to come out and take that radical step and take that chance in 1970 were a bunch of radicals. And I think it’s really important to respect that history.

I was one of a whole ton of creative-like folks. And when we made Lavender Country, yes it was nice and yes it was appreciated and yes a whole lot of community effort went into making it and yes we loved it. But it was just one of many projects and symposiums and film showings and speeches and blah blah blah. It was just one of project that we put together and it lasted a couple of years and nobody in the world was interested in any gay anything, much less gay country, much less Marxist-Leninist revolutionary gay country. Like, there was no market.

Did you have a sense of what sacrifices you were making at the time when you made Lavender Country?

Yes. All of us who made Lavender Country and me in particular were aware fully aware of the sacrifices that we were making when we made Lavender Country and doing all the other projects that we did when we were out and nobody else was. We were all taking those risks. That’s the point. That was the requirement to get into the club was you had to risk everything to be out. That was the deal. So, we all did risk everything and it turned out that we all brought really enriching ideas to the table. But yes I would have loved to have had a career in country music. And I could have stayed in the closet and done that.

But in that way, you were a true, pioneering cowboy. How does that feel?

Yes. In retrospect, now I see that quite clearly because I am rural and I was raised on a farm by a really rural old school dad who happened to love me, and that’s a whole different story. But I’ll cut to the quick: my father saw what he had on his hands when I was five years old. He saw quite clearly that I was destined to be the biggest sissy in the country – and I was. And he loved me and he had my back and I could tell you story after story after story and all of them would make you bawl. But the point is: my dad’s permission to be who I was, to wear bathing twine wigs and go to the catholic youth organization talent show in drag and run for head cheerleader and wear ballerina outfits all day at the 4H camp in 1958. My dad gave me permission to do those things, which was like so unusual for the time and place, right? But I didn’t get that because he was so unassuming and down to earth that he didn’t me to know he was special. He didn’t want me to know. He convinced me that any dad would do that.

Beautiful. And rare.

Yeah. My dad drove me to and from a catholic youth organization talent show in Port Angeles in 1958 and I was in full drag. Full convincing head-on everybody thought I was a girl drag. He drove me there and back. Criticized my performance, told me how I could do better.

What was going through your head at that time as a kid? You were having fun, being yourself?

Yeah and he was so unassuming about it and he gave me such license and such permission that I just thought that it was normal. But of course it wasn’t. But I like to bring this up because there are reasons why I ended up making the first gay country album ever. And he’s why. My dad is why. There is a little blip called the Saint of Dry Creek that StoryCorps produced and you can Google it. Because StoryCorps interviewed me and they did the animation of the interview and you can see that animation just by typing in the Saint of Dry Creek, which is the small community I grew up in west of Port Angeles. You’ll get a snippet of what I’m talking about with the dad thing if you spend three minutes looking at that. But if you see that, then you’ll know how it came to be that I did what I did. Of course, I was as country as they come, milking cows barefoot, blah blah, no money, ten brothers and sisters. I am country, hook line and sinker, full barrel. I grew up just like Dolly and Loretta. I know all about how they grew up. So, I’m like certifiable. You can’t challenge me on that. Because those are my roots.

You were in the Peace Corps later in your life and discharged. How did that shape you as an artist?

It affected me big time. I got kicked out of the Peace Corps for homosexual behavior in 1966 and it was not the Indians who did that. I was in India but it was the American Peace Corps medical psychiatric staff. I’ll spare you the gory details but, you know, I got kicked out for sucking dick, okay? You got it? It’s my claim to fame. The doctor showed up and said, “What have you been doing?” and I said, “Sucking dick.” And I was out of there. I went into the Peace Corps being a country boy who was petit bourgeois, aspirant, middle of the road democrat, golden child. I went into the Peace Corps being that and I ended up two years later transformed by that experience from petit bourgeois pretty boy middle of the road democrat to screaming Marxist bitch. Oh, yeah. Big time.

Then I went to Cuba in 1970 to top it all off and cut cane for Fidel for four months on a radical education project called the Vince Ramos Brigade and I’m a socialist revolutionary, man. I’m in that camp. That’s what I do. I’m a Trotskyist-Marxist-Leninist traditional Communist Red flying all the banners.

To cut to the quick, the radicals led the movement for lesbian-gay rights for the first 8-9 years of our existence in Seattle and then the Democratic party coopted the movement and they took it over hook line and sinker and they sucker punched a whole couple of generations of people into thinking they were the saviors and we were the nuts. And I know you know the difference, of course, or you wouldn’t be on the end of the phone. Hi.


So that’s the history of it. And Lavender Country is part of the movement that’s moving the culture to the left and the right, the center is pulling apart and people are moving radically to the left and the right by the droves. And you are one of them and I already know that. So, you like get the historical context of this but I made a decision in 1973 to forego a career in music because I was going to be a Trotskyist radical instead. And I gave up a dream in order to be an activist and I was an activist and I never regretted my decision. But to be able to use Lavender Country now when I wanted to do country music and sing all along but nobody would let me – get it – because I was the person who wrote Lavender Country nobody would let me sing until now. To have the last laugh, to be able to use Lavender Country to not only advance my musical career but to get out a revolutionary message, which is why I wrote the damn thing in the first place, to be able to do that now, you can’t imagine. It’s like so far beyond any kind of dream come true story. Are you kidding? I’m going to sing “Cocksucking Tears” in Nashville and rub it in your face and you’re going to have to eat it and smile, oh honey, I love it!

That’s tremendous! And let me ask you about your 1974 PRIDE experience. What was that like for you?

I can remember that experience as clearly as the day is long because we were ecstatic that 400 people came out for the lesbian-gay pride march of 1974. We were like super impressed with ourselves. We were so thrilled that 400 people showed up. You could not believe how happy we were. It was at the fountain in Seattle Center and I played Lavender Country to that crowd. And we all thought that we’d died and gone to heaven. It was hugely successful in our minds. And then came the modern Gay Pride when Lavender Country sang to 400,000 people.

What was PRIDE like in 2000 when you played?

You stepped off a cliff here and I don’t know if you want to get into this or not but since you asked, I’ll tell you. In 2000 where Gay PRIDE was at was they wanted popular disco hip-hop heterosexual known people to show up and play at Gay PRIDE. That’s who they were after. That’s who the Gay PRIDE Committee focused on that’s who they wanted to move forward. If you were a gay singer that meant you were sidelined. Do you understand? That’s the way it was and it wasn’t that way just for me. It was that way for all of us, especially the men. The lesbian women who sang and were trying to make some kind of music had the modern women’s movement to buoy them up and they had some success but we gay men were who just singing gay music from the early 70s all the way 2000 and beyond were a lonely isolated group walking down a real lonely highway for a long, long time. And we were excluded.

Even in 2000?

Yes, even in 2000 it was too early. So, nobody was ready for Lavender Country in 2000. In 2000 the editor of the Journal of Country Music, the house publication for the Country Music Hall of Fame. The woman who was the editor of that wrote an article about the history of gay people in country music and she printed it in Nashville in 2000 and featured me and several other gay country artists who were out singing. And she was fired. That’s a very interesting article and there’s a lot of interesting men who sang gay country in that article and nobody knew about us. And the gay community was much more interested in promoting straight, heterosexual well known artists at Gay PRIDE then they were promoting us.

But you played PRIDE in 2000, didn’t you?

We did play in 2000. Let me tell you how that worked. Again, I don’t know how much you want to get into. This is dicey politics. I haven’t been known for my ability to shut up, so here’s what happened: they found out about Lavender Country in 2000 and the Gay PRIDE committee got ahold of us and the guy who was running the outfit who had the actual decision making power about what musicians would play, contracted Lavender Country to play for an hour because he found out that Lavender Country was in this journal. So he contracted us to play an hour. But, like, 10 hours before the event, he contracted to do a show with an up and coming young black artist, who was a wonderful artist, don’t get me wrong. She was not to blame for any of this. She was just out there doing her music trying to get over like anybody else. This is not about her. But they located her at the last minute and stuck her up on the stage and gave us like 5-10 minutes and then they threw us off the stage.

So, you didn’t really play it.

That happened a lot to a lot of us, especially the gay men artists. And you came up in a whole different age and you have a whole different view of this and some of it may be appalling to you and frankly it is. But that’s the way that I was for decades. You could sort of be gay, you could be a gay character on TV, you could be a doctor and be gay, you could win elections and be gay, but the last taboo, I’m telling you, the last taboo is to get up and sing about it. That’s it. And all that has busted loose since this Lavender Country stuff has materialized. I can’t tell you how, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s like a snowball rolling down the hill on it’s own. I’m certainly not in control of it.

When did it start?

It started in 2014. I was happy to be singing at all. And I know a lot of old country songs so I was running around the senior communities of Kitsap County singing “Your Cheating Heart” to old people and loving it. I was thrilled to be working finally again in music at all. I had a partner and we did a lot of senior shows, a lot of them, 1,000 or more, a lot of shows all over Kitsap County. And I was doing music and being happy to be able to even sing. Somebody put my song, “Cocksucking Tears” on YouTube, I didn’t know that. A music aficionado in Chicago heard that song on YouTube and said, “What is this?” and went to Ebay and found an old, used vinyl from 1973 for sale, bought it, played it, realized what it was, went to an upcoming folk-hip-straight, North Carolina new label and asked, “Don’t you want this?” and then all of a sudden this record company was calling me up and offering me a contract to re-release Lavender Country. You write about music, right?


Then you know that never happens, man!

Very rarely. You’re like Rodriguez!

Yeah, people have likened the story to that. You’ll appreciate this because you’re coming from where you’re coming from. You’re young and gay and hip and aware and politically astute. Here’s really what happened: 50 years ago when we made Lavender Country the straight white men in the industry were not about to hear Lavender Country. They were way to bigoted. Way too homophobic and most of them way too racist to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Okay, the headset, the ethos, the dynamic that produces straight white men to go to music in 2018 and 2019 in America, those men, music men, straight white music men who’ve been running the music industry all this time, and who, frankly, are some of the best musicians, everybody knows that. Those men. I didn’t change. Lavender Country didn’t change. Those men changed.

The headset of the guy who goes into music, whether he’s an artist, whether he’s writing about it, or whether he’s booking people or being an agent. Whatever straight white men are doing that in the industry, they’ve dealt with their basic racist and homophobic fundamental ideas and are already on the path. A whole pack of ’em. The whole pack of ’em. Everybody that knows anything about American music knows that black people are the heart and backbone and bloodline and heartbeat of American music. We all know that. And they are. And it’s the truth. And anybody who’s in the industry either knows that or they’re really dumb fucks, okay?

So, all these men are like tuned in and they’ve already been to Gay PRIDE and they already know gay artists and they’re in the industry and they’re writing about the arts and they know gay backwards and forwards and those men are the ones who selected me, those are the ones who chose me, those are the ones who contacted me to reissue. It didn’t come from the gay community. It came from the powerful straight men in the music industry. They Lavender Country and when they did they told all their other straight white friends who are in the industry to look at Lavender Country and all of them looked at Lavender Country and they all wanted to write about Lavender Country and they all wanted to show the whole world what side of the line they were on because they were seeing what they were coming politically and they were ready to stand up. All of them. Straight white, I don’t care what they did last night, they were upset about what was going on in the country and they wanted to make sure everybody knew what side of the line they were on. And they called me and said, “This is perfect. I want to be the author of this article. So everybody will know who I am. And furthermore I’m going to tell all my buddies about this and we’re going to kick Lavender Country to the stratosphere. Because we have the connections and we know how to do it.” And that’s what happened. They kicked it out of the fucking gay ghetto. Because they have the power and this time they came down on the right side of the line. Listen, the straight, white men who have approached me about Lavender Country in the music industry and there have been a lot of them, they’re lovely. They’re magnificent, they’re together. They’ve got it, they get it. They understand. They don’t need further instruction. They’re ready to roll. It just changed the whole dynamic. And because you are who you are and you write about music, I know you’re appreciating this story.

And it’s not because gay people didn’t like Lavender Country, they did. And it’s not because women and lesbians didn’t like Lavender Country, they did. But we didn’t have the power to mainstream it and to kick it into all the places that it’s gone. Two-three cross-country tours and 100 articles and written up in Rolling Stone two or three times and being more on tour and having the Lavender Country ballet. Do you know about the ballet?

No! Are you working on new music?

Yes, I have a new album, it’s called Blackberry Rose and we’re trying to put it out as soon as we can and we don’t know whether we’re going to go independent or try and get a label. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I’m just stumbling forward. But yeah I picked up a bunch of songs from my past that were sitting on my desk for 40 years that I’ve always wanted to put out but I never had an opportunity and I wrote some new stuff.

The dynamic of being forced out and marginalized by the gay democrats of Seattle ad it’s not just me, they marginalized all us radicals. There’s a bunch of gay men down at Freedom Social Party, radical men and women who’ve been there for decades on every front line; they’re just marginalized. Not recognized for the contributions that they’ve made all along. Because the gay democrats marginalized, demonized and otherwise character assassinated radicals. That’s their job. It’s what they do – a lot. I know you hear me, right?

Yes, indeed.

So, that’s fine, that’s politics. But all of us who are radical and gay and who’ve been it in since the Stonewall rebellion, we’re all over town and we all know who we are and there’s 40-50 of us left and we all know what happened and we’re all comrades in the struggle still. I mean, we’ve been there all along, doing what we do, being activists and coming out to demonstrations and organizing and making phone calls and contributing money and blah blah. Everything that radicals do, we’ve all been doing it all these years. I think it’s really important for people to remember that.

Let me ask you one final question, Patrick. What does the idea of love mean to you today?

I have two things to say about that. I’ve been with my husband for 31 years and you can bet on the fact that I love him. I only hope that I die first because I don’t want to deal with what’s past him, okay? The second thing that I have to say is, and this is a Che Guevara quote, “The true revolutionary is motivated by deep feelings of love.” And I think that’s beautiful. And if you want to talk about love and revolution, just quote Che. It’s a great quote. “The true revolutionary is motivated by true feelings of love.” A bunch of us were coming from there and we’ve been coming from there all along. It’s great that Lavender Country is getting recognition now. I’m thrilled about it. Yes, there is a full on ballet and 3 nights in San Francisco at the end of April and it’s got professional ballerinas and I’m singing live at it. It’s a big San Francisco production and there’s a guy in Hollywood drumming up the billions of dollars, or whatever it takes, he’s already got a screenplay and he wants to make a biopic, or whatever you call it. It’s blowing sky high. And the reason for that is because everybody has tuned into the life and times that we’re facing. And Lavender Country is a great tool for reorganizing and motivating and organizing. It’s an organizing tool. It’s a really great organizing tool. I love to be using it for that. That’s what I did for all that time. Now I get to use Lavender Country to – this is about the movement. This is about what we’re facing. The shit that’s coming down that we have to respond to. I’m still coming form there. We’re all coming from there. You’re coming from there, you know what I’m talking about. So, welcome aboard! I love you already.

I love you too, Patrick!


Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney