I recently reached out to Michelle Shocked’s publicist, requesting an interview with the disgraced singer in hopes of clearing up the confusion that still surrounds the remarks she made earlier this year when she told an audience in San Francisco: “God hates fags.”
To my surprise, a few hours later, Shocked replied directly to my email, saying: “Feel free to suggest a conundrum that mystifies you about the Yoshi’s kerfuffle.”
Kerfuffle? Interesting choice of word.
She continued: “In my estimation, Queerty was a significant contributor to the social media lynch mob that gathered. The rush to judgment was enlightening and rather than me answering your questions, I have a few of my own for you, CitJo!”
Then she invited me to Tweet her the following Monday. She concluded the email by writing: “See you in the funny papers.”
CitJo? Funny papers? I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be insulted.
“I’m curious how you feel Queerty’s coverage contributed to the problem, and what we and other media outlets got wrong. As I mentioned in my first email, I’ve felt this was probably a misunderstanding from the beginning, and that’s why I’m hoping to sort things out. I should mention, many of us at Queerty are fans of yours, which is why we were so confused and disappointed by what happened. But I’m of the belief that rather than getting upset, it’s better to get to the bottom of something, which is why I wanted to reach out to you.”
A few hours later, Shocked replied:
“Sorry I missed you on Twitter this morning. Matt Breen from The Advocate did his best in your absence and now we also have a lunch date on Saturday before my sojourn to SF for “Proud of Bradley Manning Day” Parade. Care to join us? His Twitter cartoon is quite handsome!”
Shocked was originally slotted to perform a free show at San Francisco’s Gay Pride celebration on June 30, but earlier this month officials announced they were canceling the concert, citing her “antigay comments.” Instead of a concert, Shocked’s website indicates she will be back at Yoshi’s, participating in a flash mob in support of Bradley Manning. The price to attend, her website says, is “priceless.”
After sifting through the Twitter feed between Shocked and Breen, and trying to make sense of her disjointed ramblings, occasional racism, and odd attempts at humor, I learned their lunch date appeared to be happening at a hot dog stand in Los Angeles.
I politely declined the invitation:
“I had a chance to read your conversation with Matt Breen on Twitter. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join you on Saturday because I’m covering SF Pride all day that day. How about an interview via Skype? Alternatively, we could do an email interview. What do you say?”
Shocked replied two hours later to say she would only speak with me over Twitter, and that is where our conversation ended.
So I’m reading the tea leaves of her past here to get a better sense of where she went wrong.
Shocked’s last charting single was On the Greener Side, which reached #16 on the US Modern Rock charts in 1989. By industry standards, she peaked over 20 years ago.
At the apex of her career, she enjoyed a string of successful folk-rock albums, and even managed to nab a Grammy nomination in 1989 for Best Contemporary Folk Album. (She lost to fellow lesbian Tracy Chapman). During that time, Shocked also developed a healthy fan-base, consisting primarily of women.
By the mid 1990’s, however, Shocked’s career was on the decline. She was still a working artist, recording albums and performing live shows, but her popularity diminished, like many mid-career artists. Still, her loyal gay fan base stayed with her, buying her records and showing up at her concerts.
Behind the scenes, Shocked was going through a religious conversion. As her career was stalling, she joined the choir of the cultish West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, she became a born again Christian.
For the most part, she managed to keep her religious beliefs and her career separate from one another. At least until March 17 of this year, when she briefly made national headlines for launching that little antigay rant at Yoshi’s, a small but stylish concert venue on historic Fillmore Street in the heart of San Francisco.
Standing in front of an adoring crowd, many of whom were gay, Shocked announced:
“I live in fear that the world will be destroyed if gays are allowed to marry.”
As if to drive home the point that she was not joking, she then said: “Go on Twitter and tell people Michelle Shocked hates fags.”
The tirade lasted almost 20 minutes when the Yoshi’s crew got fed up and shut off her microphone.
Then came the backlash. Queerty was among the first to post about the episode. The remainder of Shocked’s tour was cancelled.
But this strange and erratic behavior is not uncommon for Shocked. In response to her cancelled tour, she staged a bizarre sit-in at a concert venue in Santa Cruz, protesting by wearing a piece of tape across her mouth that read “Silenced By Fear.”
Fear of what, exactly?
When that failed to win people over, she appeared on Piers Morgan, where she insisted she was not homophobic. She professed her support of gay rights and of gay marriage, even if she no longer in any way, shape, or form identified as lesbian:
“I am, for the last 10 years, so deeply in love with a man, that the idea of living my life without him is impossible. I know how much I love him, and knowing that passion that I have for him, would I ever want to deny that to anyone else? Absolutely not.”
She also issued an apology, claiming her comments were misunderstood. In a statement, she said:
“I do not, nor have I ever, said or believed that God hates homosexuals (or anyone else). I said that some of His followers believe that.”
“I’m very sorry: I don’t always express myself as clearly as I should. But don’t believe everything you read on Facebook or Twitter. My view of homosexuality has changed not one iota. I judge not. And my statement equating repeal of Prop. 8 with the coming of the End Times was neither literal nor ironic: it was a description of how some folks – not me – feel about gay marriage.”
So was she parodying the wingers or mimicking them?
And why the heck is she mouthing the views of gay haters in any case? It’s not as if they lack a microphone.
Under normal circumstances, I would be inclined to believe a person in Shocked’s situation. Judging by interviews she’s given in the past, as well as by her Twitter feed, it’s clear she isn’t the most eloquent public speaker. She rambles and struggles to make her point. So it’s not outside the realm of possibility that she misspoke and was misunderstood.
But then again, isn’t that the same excuse Mitt Romney used during the 2012 presidential election when he said 47% of Americans were lazy and entitled?
Ultimately, the statement reeked of a public figure in crisis mode. Shocked had been caught trying to have it both: Evangelizing gay people while simultaneously trying to get them and their indie friends to pay for her concerts.
Not going to happen.
The other problem: What happened at Yoshi’s wasn’t the first time Shocked made inflammatory statements against homosexuality.
At a concert in 2011, she told an audience of 1,700 people: “Who drafted me as a gay icon? You are looking at the world’s greatest homophobe. Ask God what He thinks.”
And in 2008, when discussing her status as an “honorary lesbian,” she told the Dallas Voice: “I’m a dug-in-the-heels fundamentalist who’s not too happy about it.”
As more and more stories of Shocked’s homophobia came to light, her fans left in droves.
It’s safe to say at this point that Shocked’s career is over. She can’t book a venue, and even if she could, there wouldn’t be anybody there to listen to her sing… or rant… or recite a poem… or do whatever it is she does these days.
It seems the only thing Shocked has left now is a prayer.