Holly Near was born on June 6th, 1949 in Potter Valley, California, a remote enclave in Mendocino County, and grew up on a farm where her father raised Hereford cattle, chickens, and pigs. Music was central to her family’s life. Together, they listened to Benny Goodman, Lena Horne, Leontyne Price, Miriam Makeba, and Edith Piaf. Much later, Holly realized that the music of her childhood helped establish her belief system, a system based on choosing curiosity and fascination over fear.
When Holly was 13, her family moved to “the big city” of Ukiah, California. As part of the move, her family bought their first television. This was how Holly witnessed the Civil Rights Movement in action. The songs from the era also taught Holly that an idea could be expressed through music. This understanding would underpin Holly’s decision to join Jane Fonda’s Free the Army (FTA) tour, and to become a feminist. After her FTA experience, Holly headed to Hollywood to focus on her acting and songwriting; but no record companies were interested in her sound. Fortunately, around that same time in 1971, Holly joined the Indochina Peace Campaign tour with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. Through the Campaign, Holly recorded several songs, and eventually opened her record company Redwood Records in 1972. While on tour, she met Meg Christensen who asked her if she had ever written a song about just women. Holly hadn’t – so she wrote a song about her older sister, Timothy, titled You’ve Got Me Flying. In the meantime, Holly and Meg fell in love. Holly first came out at Michigan’s Womyn’s Festival, then later on in People Magazine.
In the 1990s, Holly wrote her autobiography Fire in the Rain, Singer in the Storm. She and Timothy subsequently produced a one-woman show based on the book. The show was featured at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A., Union Theater off Broadway in New York, and at the San Jose Repertory in San Jose, California.
In April 2004, Holly made an appearance at the March for Women’s Lives where she performed “We Are A Gentle, Angry People” and “Fired Up.” In 2018, she released her single 2018 which reflected on the environment, aging, domestic violence, and the storm damage done in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria. That same year the biographical documentary Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
Today, Holly has a discography of twenty-nine albums, and lives in Ukiah again where she enjoys her semi-retirement. She believes when people as individuals can better themselves, and bring their best selves to the table to do the work, that’s when everyone will become their superpower. Now, living as a self-described elder-in-training for the LGBTQ+ community, Holly hopes the next generation can take the work that has been done to create a united political force.
Andrew Lush: [00:00:00] I'm starting the record recording on the computer. There we go. Blackout screen.
Holly Near: And just to remember, although I don't know how to use it. We do have hotspot, if we need to pause and solve a problem, you want me to push, allow?
Andrew Lush: Yeah. Just do that. And we'll be all set.
Andrew Lush: [00:00:30] And just push on the left side of the check pad there?
Holly Near: I did. The options have gone away.
Andrew Lush: Perfect. Okay. I'm going to turn my microphone. Is the screen blank?
Holly Near: Nope.
Andrew Lush: Oh, no.
Holly Near: Still seeing myself. Try it again?
Andrew Lush: [00:01:00] Try, try one more time. Yeah, I know Michael said it depends on the side ...
Holly Near: Now its gone blank.
Andrew Lush: Okay. So I'm still here. I'm going to [inaudible] camera and do some editing, but if anything goes wrong, let me know. I'm [inaudible].
Betsy Kalin: Thanks Andrew. So Holly, just one thing to keep in mind -- and I know you've done so many interviews --
Betsy Kalin: [00:01:30] is that my voice won't be heard. So if I ask you what you had for breakfast today, don't just say, Oatmeal and eggs. Say, I had oatmeal and eggs for breakfast today. Just kind of rephrase that in your answer.
Holly Near: And if I fail to do it, feel free to interrupt and ask me to redo it.
Betsy Kalin: I'll call you on it.
Holly Near: Yep.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. Yeah. That's great. And then you just know that on my end, there is a little delay with you. So if things seem a little stilted,
Betsy Kalin: [00:02:00] there's a little video delay. So we can always get started with the same thing. If you could give your full name, date, and place of birth on camera and that would be great.
Holly Near: Sure. My name is Holly Near. I was born in Ukiah, California on June 6th, 1949. So I'm 71 years old today. I mean this year.
Betsy Kalin: [00:02:30] Thank you. Congratulations. We are exactly forty years apart.
Holly Near: Yeah. I turned 71 in June and
Betsy Kalin: And I am kidding. I am completely kidding.
Holly Near: Oh, well you could pass for 30.
Betsy Kalin: Thank you. Let me just say that I listened to Imagine My Surprise! when I was in college. It was not long after it had come out.
Betsy Kalin: [00:03:00] So, why don't you tell me a little bit about your parents and your siblings and growing up and what that was like?
Holly Near: I grew up on a farm in Northern California, a little town called Potter Valley, and my father raised Hereford cattle as well as chickens and pigs. And, you know, the farm thing, we had milk cows, we had horses and at first we didn't have electricity,
Holly Near: [00:03:30] we had a generator. And then we got the generator, which was very exciting for my mom because when it came on, there was light in the house. It's very hard to do chores and cook in the dark. We had a woodstove and a fireplace, and then electricity happened and we got ... It's just, it's kind of one of those things I look back at and wonder, and realize that my grandmother on my mother's side,
Holly Near: [00:04:00] she actually went from horse and buggy to jet airplane, right throughout a lifetime. So I look at my life as going from rural,, no electricity, party line on the telephone you had to make sure nobody else was using the line all the way to this technical, digital world that we're living in, which includes the complexities of our time
Holly Near: [00:04:30] like COVID-19 and like the rising again of political issues that one hoped had gone away during the struggles before this one. But I value my, my rural upbringing a lot. I feel as if it gave me a big understanding of people outside of political ideology, you had to co-exist with farmers and ranchers and farm workers,
Holly Near: [00:05:00] indigenous people wealthy city people who were moving in, who had no consciousness about the land and that kind of diversity, which is not the same as urban diversity set my mind up for thinking in terms of collaboration's coalitions and a kind of respect for difference. You want me to do more about childhood and my mom and dad where they came from or that's enough?
Betsy Kalin: [00:05:30] No, I think that's enough. I think the thing that I want to get to now is like your interest in music and how that was developed within your family.
Holly Near: I had four ... Well, there were four ... Let me start again. My parents had four children, as well as visiting cousins who would come both from the East coast and from Los Angeles in the summertime. And at first we didn't have television,
Holly Near: [00:06:00] but my parents loved music. My dad ordered the very newly developed kit to create stereo. Stereo was very new. It had arrived and he set up a speaker on this side of the living room and that side and put on the demonstration tape of a train running through the house. And with stereo, of course, the train came in the side and went out the other side and we'd never even seen or heard a train. It was extraordinary. It was like going to the moon.
Holly Near: [00:06:30] It was so exciting. And they also somehow found catalogs of music so that we had everything from Benny Goodman, Lena Horne, Leontyne Price, classical big band, as well as pop music. We had Miriam Makeba, Edith Piaf, all these different singers and styles of music, Belafonte and Odetta. It was like living in a musical heaven
Holly Near: [00:07:00] without having any idea where all these people came from. I learned that later, but their music set up for me -- along with my parents belief systems, I guess -- to go to fascination before you go to fear, you know, be curious before youre afraid. And that has served me so well throughout my life. And I really do attribute it to the music and the kind of music my parents brought into the house.
Holly Near: [00:07:30] Also, if we went down to San Francisco, which at the time was like a five or six hour drive in an old station wagon, we would point at people who look different from us. And my mother, instead of slapping a hand and saying, don't point, shed say yes, isn't that interesting that person, wears a turban or that person has to get around by being in a wheelchair. And it was, again, that curiosity and interest rather than shame or guilt. And that doesn't mean that I didn't grow up with my share of racism.
Holly Near: [00:08:00] I can remember being in a friendship with a girl who'd come up from Mississippi. Her dad had gotten a job up there and we were discussing race. And, of course, I was horrified by some of her standards. And I said to her, Well, I'm not a racist, I'm from the North. That was what I knew when I was 13. Of course, that's not true, there is a lot of racism in the North. But the fact that I actually knew it was a question to ask or to consider at that age,
Holly Near: [00:08:30] came from the music and came from my parents, refusing to let us use racist language at home or anywhere, did not let us ever point a gun at anybody. There were certain established moral rules in our household and they have been with me ever since.
Betsy Kalin: [00:09:00] That's fantastic. Thank you. I actually, I hadn't read that, so that was all new to me. So that's great. And we're noticing less slight wiggle with the table. So do you know if you're touching ...
Holly Near: I did put my hands on it and as soon as I did, I took them off. Sorry. I promise I wont do it again.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Okay, great. Thank you. Can you tell me how you first heard about the civil rights movement and then later the anti-war movement? How were you first made aware of this?
Holly Near: [00:09:30] My parents had a newsletter that they got from I.F. Stone, who was a political writer. It came in the mail every week. So we got some from that, got some from just the discussion around the table explaining why we didn't use the N word, talking about ... I didn't know any black people, but we talked about racism more in terms of indigenous people who had been the people who lived on our land before the white invasion.
Holly Near: [00:10:00] And my mother became friends with indigenous women. In fact, at one point in time, I think she worked with them to understand how white contracts worked because they were being asked to sign things that they didn't feel was appropriate for the tribes to sign. And my mom worked with them. I think we just saw by example, our parents sense of inclusion,
Holly Near: [00:10:30] and also being told what language we couldn't use and why. But I don't really think I saw the civil rights movement until I was 13 and we moved into a slightly bigger town called Ukiah and we got to a television and it was 1964. And I think that was the first time that I saw Jim Crow,
Holly Near: [00:11:00] that I saw black people being hosed with huge fire hoses, that I saw the protests happening. I think seeing dogs on the end of leashes, being used to tear down and frighten gatherings, there was something about seeing it on television that made a huge impact on me, different from reading about it.
Holly Near: [00:11:30] And then slowly I started hearing the songs that were coming out of the civil rights movement, songs that ... Some of the songs I had heard before, like Paul Robeson, some songs from Belafonte and Odetta, but the most poignant civil rights songs I learned a little bit later. And there is something about an idea being expressed through music that undoes me every time,
Holly Near: [00:12:00] unless it's a very rhetorical song. If it's a rhetorical song that has like 30 verses about fuel rods, I probably turn it off after the second verse, but a song that really comes from the heart and comes from spirit and challenges those behaviors which we know deep down in our souls are wrong and introduce ideas that are replacements for those negative thoughts. So much of that has come to me through music
Holly Near: [00:12:30] and for my siblings, I think it's come through other creative doors, my older sister's a director and an actor. Do you need me to say that again cause the thing that went on outside, I think the garbage truck just came by. Want to hold on a minute. You don't hear it?
Betsy Kalin: I actually dont hear it.
Holly Near: Okay. Really you don't hear that. That's amazing. Okay. I'll keep going.
Betsy Kalin: [00:13:00] Andrew now hears it. Now he said, Yes, please hold.
Holly Near: Yeah, they have about four bins.
Betsy Kalin: [inaudible] I can't
Holly Near: They'll be gone soon. Yeah, we're just waiting.
Holly Near: [00:13:30] Okay. Now it sounds like you've got them all. Don't have your lunch in front of our driveway
Betsy Kalin: And this is not my real background, so I'm not really in the garden in Japan.
Holly Near: Oh, it's a beautiful background, but it's just,
Betsy Kalin: Thank you.
Holly Near: [00:14:00] That's okay. That's all right. Okay. I hear them. I think they're still there. It's so hard in a rural environment to find a place to do something like this because it's that balance between finding internet and finding quiet. There's a lot of ... And today happens to be garbage day, so ...
Betsy Kalin: [00:14:30] Yes. Oh, I know. I hear the truck.
Holly Near: Yeah. And I think that COVID is really so much complicated things out here, everywhere, but we've all been trying to figure out how to see each other and stay outside.
Holly Near: So the fact that we couldn't film this outside, and my sister and her husband and I all have health issues, and we mask ... This is the first time we've all been inside together
Holly Near: [00:15:00] and I think it made everybody a little nervous cause we usually only socialize outside. And then the smoke came and there was no way to be outside. So then we just couldn't see each other, you know, you couldn't be outside, couldn't be inside. Anyway, I really appreciate my sister bending her rule just a little bit for this to be inside. But we don't know, I mean, science hasn't caught up yet to tell us exactly how to behave, and we're all elders and we all ... Oh, there they go. Bye!
Betsy Kalin: [00:15:30] We were talking about the music of the civil rights movement, I believe was the last thing that you were talking about.
Holly Near: There are many doors through which people can be moved by political ideas. My older sister is an actor and a director. My youngest sister was a dancer and started a dance company. She was part of a dance collective, Wallflower Order Dance Collective,
Holly Near: [00:16:00] up in Eugene, and then I came into this through music. So all of those forms I have watched each of us express our ideologies, our reactions to political situations through our particular art forms. And it's powerful, whether it's a painting, whether it's a poem, whether it's a book, but this artistic way of getting inside of ourselves
Holly Near: [00:16:30] Out of our heads and into our hearts is such a powerful thing. And the civil rights movement and the labor movement both really understood that. And I don't know exactly why the movements that came after have not maybe done quite as well as finding that heartbeat in terms of great crowd moving singalongs.
Holly Near: [00:17:00] But what has happened is that songs have been written since the early and mid sixties that had never been written before because of the opening up of social consciousness to feminism and to gay lesbian rights, which later became gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, queer questioning.
Holly Near: [00:17:30] Those subjects had not been taken on in music in the early days of labor and the civil rights movement. So the addition of those ideas, as well as the environment, as well as more consciousness about children. And in many ways, I attribute this to feminism and lesbian Feminism, the early singer-songwriters in those movements that it's almost like they opened up Pandora's box and said, there is nothing
Holly Near: [00:18:00] we can't talk about because as women, it all affects us and we are going to lay it on the table. And I don't think that shows like Oprah could have happened if just before that, there hadn't been artists opening up those doors, letting out the ghosts and letting out the secrets and the normalization of those conversations that came through music and came through theater and came through through art,
Holly Near: [00:18:30] allow there to be a discussion on national television about those ideas.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Great.
Holly Near: You froze.
Betsy Kalin: It's so true. Yeah, you froze, bro. I couldn't tell him that I lost audio.
Holly Near: But did we get it on camera? We can keep going or ...
Betsy Kalin: [00:19:00] Yeah, I think it's all on camera. Cause he hasn't ... He'll notify me if anything comes up. So how did you first experience like your feminist consciousness? Like when did you realize, you know, that you were a feminist?
Holly Near: Well, I grew up around big women. I didn't know what to call it, but farm women, dairy women, indigenous women, these were not fragile people.
Holly Near: [00:19:30] So my images of what a female ... How a woman could walk, how a woman could dress came from farm people and rural people. But I think my first acknowledgement that I was a feminist happened when I was on an antiwar tour called Free The Army. It was a show that had been put together based on the writings of soldiers, mostly soldiers
Holly Near: [00:20:00] who had returned from Vietnam and were trying to tell the truth about the war that was going on there. And their truth, what they saw, was considerably different than what, say, Nixon was saying, or Johnson. So when I went on this trip, we went to the Philippines, Okinawa, Japan, Hawaii. I saw how war affects women. For example, in Hawaii,
Holly Near: [00:20:30] the soldiers would be told when they were taking a break from being on the front lines in Vietnam, they got to have what they called rest and recuperation (R&R). Some of them were sent to Hawaii and there were a lot of bases in Hawaii. And so the men would arrive. Having been told that some beautiful Hawaiian woman was going to greet them and put a lei over their neck. Well, that didn't happen. And then the sadness,
Holly Near: [00:21:00] this disappointment, this battle weary energy that they had, combined with alcohol, they'd be on the beaches, they maybe would come on to Hawaiian women, the brothers and boyfriends of those women would fight with the GIs, and violence would take place in that moment. And the assumption on the part of the US government and the people buying those R&R tickets to Hawaii was that women were available for them.
Holly Near: [00:21:30] And not to mention where those bases were put. On whose land did those bases land? It was most clear to me in the Philippines when we went there. I met with a woman who had been a farmer growing up in a farm family. The base came, took their land, put the military base on the place where they had been farmers. She had to go into the city to make a living, couldn't find any work and ended up becoming a prostitute. But she said to me,
Holly Near: [00:22:00] I go to the ships. I pick up a soldier that's come off the ship. I work, do my work. Meaning, I have sex with this person. I take the money and I give half to my family and I give the other half to the Filipino revolutionary organizations that I work with. And I was astounded at the fact that she had, in the situation she was in, found a way to organize against the abuses that happened as a result of militarism.
Holly Near: [00:22:30] So I began to understand, from meeting people like that, what a military industrial complex meant, and what it meant to women when the war machine arrives. And again and again, in every country we went to, I started listening more intently to how women were describing the consequences of the arrival of the military. So it was through that international door that I came to my feminism.
Holly Near: [00:23:00] And when I got back to the United States, I felt this compulsion to write songs, even though I didn't think of myself as a songwriter, I was an actor. I started writing because while I was on the trip, I didn't have the right songs to sing. I didn't have a tool box that I could open up and say, Yep, I got a song for that situation. Yes. I got a song for that situation.
Holly Near: [00:23:30] I was leaning on two songs that had been written by Beverly Grant that were part of the sketches of the show. One was called, I Can't Be Yours and Still Be Me. And the other one was called I'm Tired of Fuckers Fucking Over Me -- she wrote it that way. And also FTA, we called it Free The Army, but that's not what the soldiers called it. So I came back and said, I'm empty handed here.
Holly Near: [00:24:00] I don't have the material that I need to be of service to be a social change singer, to be called on as needed. And that was really startling to me. I didn't like that, that feeling. And of course there were musicians on the trip who did have material to sing and at their fingertips, but I wasn't one of them.
Betsy Kalin: [00:24:30] And then can you talk about how ... How did you get involved in the women's music scene? Like, how did that develop?
Holly Near: When I came back from the Free The Army show, I wrote a lot of songs to try to express how I felt about that trip.
Holly Near: [00:25:00] And I began singing those songs. At the same time, I was still in Hollywood, still trying to work as an actor. And I tried to get a record contract, and none of the record companies were interested in the lyrics that I was writing. Some of them liked my voice, but they said I'd have to change the content of the songs, or they would find songwriters for me to give me material to sing.
Holly Near: [00:25:30] Others said, Well, you have a nice voice, but there's not enough element of submission in it for a pop singer. We really have to change your sound. And after meeting with three or four different companies that liked one thing but not another, I found myself sort of doing this, having to turn myself into a pretzel in order to satisfy somebody else's idea of what kind of an artist I would need to be. Fortunately around that time.
Holly Near: [00:26:00] I joined a group called the Indochina Peace Campaign. Jane Fonda had been part of FTA along with Donald Sutherland and several other people. Interestingly enough, four women and four people of color on that trip. In 1971, it astounds me that Francine Parker, the director, had the awareness to have a diverse group of people, especially if you're going to sing for soldiers. Because if we had gone as an all white group, it would have been like, what are we doing?
Holly Near: [00:26:30] There were so many people of color in the military. There were also people of color in the military who were resisting from within the military, this was called the GI movement. There were soldiers who were resisting war and racism. There were soldiers who were resisting war and racism from within the military. If you can imagine how much courage that took, and a lot of people being thrown in stockades for their resistant behavior. In some places, black men were put in jail for doing a black handshake.
Holly Near: [00:27:00] It was seen as an act of subordination, insubordination? Insubordination. It was seen as an act of insubordination. So, I think that I kind of gave up on the record business thinking that this is not going to work out for me, but I really wanted to have these songs available because Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden had started a tour called the,
Holly Near: [00:27:30] Indochina Peace Campaign. And they wanted me to be the cultural arm of that tour. So I wanted to record these songs. So I just did it myself. And then I found out, Oh, you, you can't just sell records. You have to have a business license. So I got a business license and then I had to have a name for the company to put on the label. So it became Redwood records. And my mom and dad helped me put it together. And when I was out touring with the Indochina Peace Campaign,
Holly Near: [00:28:00] I would slip away and tear out the record store pages of the yellow pages and send it back to my parents and say, would you write to these stores and let them know if they get any requests for my music, that this is how they can can get it, is by writing to you. So it really all started as little tiny steps. I didn't know what I was doing, and it's the best thing ever to not know what you're doing, because if you know what you're doing, it might seem too scary. It might seem like, Oh, I can't pull this off.
Holly Near: [00:28:30] But I didn't know, so I just dove right into it. And because I was getting more and more well-known traveling with Jane, 5,000 people would show up to hear her, and then I'd sing four or five songs. So all of a sudden there were these people who had heard of me, it was an amazing jumping off spot for my career. And I would meet people, and there were young women in college who said, Would you come and sing at our school? And I'd sing at the dorm. Maybe 50 people would come.
Holly Near: [00:29:00] And then those 50 people told their friends, and the next time I went back, there was 150 people there. And it just started growing like that little bit by little bit. So one day I ran into some women who were doing something called ... What they were sort of calling women's music. And well, what is that? And I started having conversations with them about women identification. And someone said to me, it was Meg Christian, I think, was one of these women working with the Olivia Records Collective said,
Holly Near: [00:29:30] Have you ever written a song just about a woman? I said, Duh, of course. But then I went back and looked through my material and I hadn't, there was always a male character in every song, whether it was the patriarchy or a father or a lover or an ex lover. And that really stumped me. I thought, my goodness, what would I say if I were going to write a song just about a woman, what does woman identification mean?
Holly Near: [00:30:00] So that question came to me around the same time that I was meeting musicians like Meg Christian and Cris Williamson, later on Mary Watkins, Linda Tillery, June Millington, Margie Adam. And it was a tough question for me, but like I said, I look at fascination before fear, and instead of jumping in defense of my material, I went, Huh! Well, let's see whether I can write a song about a woman.
Holly Near: [00:30:30] So the first song I think I wrote that was really about a woman, was about my older sister, Timothy, who knew sign language. She'd worked with the national theater of the deaf. And she had shown me some of her sign. And I wrote a song called You've Got Me Flying. And she signed it and it was beautiful. It's a wonderful thing.
Holly Near: [00:31:00] But writing from a woman identified place became a really strong centerpiece for all my work and continues to be so. Whether I'm writing about race or class or the weather or a rainbow or a baby or a lesbian relationship that it's all coming from a woman identified place.
Betsy Kalin: That's amazing. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. Again, that was information
Betsy Kalin: [00:31:30] I had never heard, especially about you trying to write from a total women identified perspective. Like, as in film, we call it the Bechdel test, whether a movie has two women talking about something other than a man, you know, and I think it was like 90% of our movies fail that test.
Betsy Kalin: [00:32:00] Well tell me what was Women on Wheels and what that experience was like for you. Oh, I'm sorry, we're having an issue. Andrew's here.
Andrew Lush: Hi. May I interrupt?
Holly Near: Yes, please.
Andrew Lush: Holly, could you actually bring in Michael because I lost connection with the camera view on the camera computer.
Holly Near: Does that mean that this hasn't been filmed or just that you lost connection?
Andrew Lush: [00:32:30] No, just that I lost connection. It's probably still recording right now.
Holly Near: Yeah. A sign has come up that says set proxy.
Andrew Lush: Oh, Oh. And we're back and we're still recording. Thank you so much. Whatever you clicked ...
Holly Near: I didn't click a thing. I just told you what's there and then it went away and now it says ... You want me to hit allow again?
Andrew Lush: Yeah. And maybe if you could hit that do not ... Okay. It's good.
Andrew Lush: [00:33:00] We're good. We're recording. Great. Keep [inaudible] where we can't see it.
Betsy Kalin: God, technology.
Holly Near: I know. Let me tell you one other thing on the last question. And then we can go on. In the first recording I did, which was a record called Hang in There. The songs that I wrote when I came back from the Free The Army tour, there is a song on there that's called It's More Important to Me, and for people in the left,
Holly Near: [00:33:30] I think it sort of stood out like, what is this doing on an anti-war record? But the sentiment of the song was it's more important to me that we not fight because of a man that we stay friends. And that was a relatively new idea for me, which was planted in my head on the FTA tour because the women on the tour had a discussion about whether we should make a policy among ourselves,
Holly Near: [00:34:00] that none of us would have affairs with any of the men on this tour that it could end up being divisive. And it could end up distracting people from what our purpose and our goal was. And it could also be dangerous because we were going into a martial law in the Philippines and various things and we needed to stay unified. Well, I had never heard of any group of women sitting down and deciding that they were not going to have affairs with men
Holly Near: [00:34:30] for the safety and integrity of the women on the trip. That was, I mean, people now might say, well, so what, 1971, 21 years old had never heard of that kind of a conversation. So that song was part of my antiwar perspective for this record, because it was the war between women. Now the song doesn't particularly say that, but it does say it's more important to me that we be friends rather than fight over a man.
Holly Near: [00:35:00] That was really early feminism for me because when I'd been in high school, my best friends and I, wed plan to go out on Friday night, go to the drive-in whatever. And if, Friday, three o'clock in the afternoon, one of us got asked out by a guy, we thought it was no problem to abandon our girlfriends to go out on a date with a guy. That was just part of the deal.
Holly Near: [00:35:30] None of us got mad at her or felt shame ourselves if we were the one, and look back at that now. And I go, how rude to not be able to say to the young man, Well, thanks. I'd love to another time, but I have plans with my friends. So that song, I think, I would say it was my first woman identified or feminist song, even though there were male characters in it, but it was early feminist consciousness about
Holly Near: [00:36:00] what it takes to really start to undo the patriarchy in from the inside out. It's not an easy job. Is it?
Its not. What was Women on Wheels? And how did that change you?
Holly Near: I had met Marianne Schneller, who was the producer of Women On Wheels when she was in Ohio and she worked on the Indochina Peace Campaign tour, we met there.
Holly Near: [00:36:30] Later on, she moved to LA. The Los Angeles Women's Building did a big fundraiser to raise money for a women's building that was in LA. It was Lily Tomlin and myself, Meg Christian, Margie Adam, Cris Williamson, the Alice Stone Lady Society Orchestra. It was a lovely, lovely gathering, really wonderful concert. And there were sketches and songs and sold out way in advance.
Holly Near: [00:37:00] But in putting it together, the women who were sort of major contributors to it were the women from Olivia Records. But also The Furies, which were a group of radical feminist writers who were looking at the theory of patriarchy and how does one undo that? And in many ways, in order to think clearly from anything, you have to step away. Separatism is part of ... Black people had to step away from white racism.
Holly Near: [00:37:30] Children have to step away from parents. Deaf people stepped away from the hearing culture. Everywhere you look, it happens. And sometimes it's called separatism, some not. But for me, I had to sort of step away from whatever it was had its foot on my neck in order to think clearly. And I think that's where Olivia was coming from in their theoretical world. And so the question was posed, as they were putting together who was going to be in this concert, is why did they need to have me
Holly Near: [00:38:00] because I was heterosexual girl. And they felt why can't we just for once have all lesbians on stage and had I not been there that would have been true. I heard about this discussion. I just thought, well, you know, that's a worthwhile question. I'll just step back and let them work it out. In the end, they felt, to sell tickets, that I was more well known in the broader social change movements and the peace movement. And they wanted people to buy tickets from that community
Holly Near: [00:38:30] to help with the women's building. And so I ended up being included and invited to be part of it. And I think singing together when, when Margie and Cris and Meg and I sang together, we sort of fell in love with each other's voices and with the harmony and the sound of it all. So while we were singing, whatever political differences we might've had seemed to just sort of trickle away. It always came back down to talking about logistics and money and politics,
Holly Near: [00:39:00] and the fighting would come back in some way or another, not fighting like fist fighting, but the political disagreement and discord and issues of race and class and sexual preference would come up. So, for me, when Marianne Schneller came back around and said, to all of us who had been part of the Women's Building event, Could we take a part of this show, the singing part, the Chris-Holly-Meg-Margie part,
Holly Near: [00:39:30] and do a seven-city tour in California and let other people in the state see what happened in LA, because it was quite extraordinary and we all agreed, and so that became Women on Wheels. We ended up doing two shows in every one of the six or seven cities; one which was open to the general public and one which was open to women only. Well, of course, that raised a big stink as well.
Holly Near: [00:40:00] How dare you perpetuate discrimination? You should know better. And the lack of understanding of how amazing it was for predominantly lesbian feminists to all be in a room, 1500 women in a relatively safe and unique situation. And I thought it was great. I had no problem being one of the four. I never came out as a heterosexual.
Holly Near: [00:40:30] I just ... People said, Well, are you a lesbian? I said, Well, that's not really the question. The question is, you know, we are all women identified and we are here to present women identified culture. And it was a great tour. It was a great tour. My dad, he and my mom went to the one that was in Sonoma County. And they went to the general population one, which was the early show. And then dad stayed in the car and waited for my mom to go to the women only one.
Holly Near: [00:41:00] And I think back about it, I just love their commitment to fascination rather than fear. My dad read some of the material from The Furies and he said, Oh, this is the most interesting stuff I've read since Marxism. So growing up with that kind of enthusiasm for ideas, was really a gift, was really great. But a lot of people feel the need to be right, and I fell prey to that myself. I started digging in
Holly Near: [00:41:30] during some of the later battles within the women's music scene. And I looked back at that with regret, you know, really feel ... Did I lose you? Oh, there you are. Someone called, I just declined them. I look back at that with regret, the idea that I had lost some of my fluidity,
Holly Near: [00:42:00] some of my flexibility, and I own my share of why that ended up being disruptive. I dont think we benefit from digging in our heels. Im still thinking about it, trying to write about it, see if I can leave some wisdom about it. I guess I'm not quite ready yet to know exactly what that is,
Holly Near: [00:42:30] but I would definitely say it has been part of the struggle within the lesbian feminist community to get it right around issues of class, race, gender, age, children, not children capitalism, not capitalism, how money might feel differently to a woman of color
Holly Near: [00:43:00] than it might a middle-class woman. There were women in the feminist movement who felt, Finally, I have a right to go to work. My husband can't keep me at home. That was a big deal, for a woman to have her own credit card, to be able to have her own job. My mom never had her own job while my dad was alive. And when she got her first paycheck after that, it was like, she was breathless with enthusiasm for it. You know, it was great. A woman of color who's always had to work,
Holly Near: [00:43:30] who always had to leave her children with somebody else might think that was really not the most important argument in the journey towards women's liberation.
Betsy Kalin: So when you're talking about when you kind of dug in your heels ... What specifically?
Holly Near: [00:44:00] Well, when I first started doing music with Meg Christian, she was one of the Olivia Collective members. She was in a relationship with Ginny Berson, who's also one of the Collective members. Ginny had worked with radical politics in Washington, DC, and Meg and I ended up falling in love with each other,
Holly Near: [00:44:30] and that threw a hammer into the wheels, as you might well imagine, a lot of hurt feelings. And it took us a while to get past that. And when I look back at it in hindsight, it was inappropriate of me to participate in that relationship before Meg had done closure with Ginny. And it breaks my heart because Ginny and I now, we're friends,
Holly Near: [00:45:00] I think she's a brilliant thinker, and I would have loved to have been best friends with her back then. And I think had we been best friends, some decisions would have been made that are different than happened because we ended up getting separated by my mistake. The fact that Olivia maintained a certain kind of radical lesbian separatism made it difficult when Meg and I were touring.
Holly Near: [00:45:30] Meg didn't want to sing to a mixed audience, but I came out of the left. I came out of the anti-war movement, and there were a lot of people in the left and anti-war movement who were interested in hearing some lesbian, feminist music. They were interested in hearing Meg, but she wanted to provide the women only space. So, how were we going to tour together? And for a while there, we were like a lesbian Valentine. You could hear the first 10 rows sigh when we'd look at each other on stage, you know. People hadn't seen women lovers on stage before,
Holly Near: [00:46:00] you know, it was a big deal. But it was logistically complicated. It was really, really complicated. And I'm not sure that I always made the right decisions. We were at a Women's Music Festival, Meg and I were gonna do a set together and she wanted to ask men not to come. It was at a college, it wasn't legal to have a women only space. When we did women only spaces,
Holly Near: [00:46:30] we had to do it within the bounds of how you could do that. The women who were producing the event already had problems up to here because they, it was the national women's music festival and Kristin Lems, who was the founder of it had been excluded from so many male identified folk festivals. She said, Well to hell with you, I'm going to have my own festival. And it's going to be a women's festival. That's sort of where the festival came from. It was just her being pissed off. But now to add to that, when she was trying to maintain a relationship with the university,
Holly Near: [00:47:00] Meg comes along and doesn't want men to come into the audience. And I guess because I was in love with her, I took her side. But it wasn't my politic, it was my codependency, and my wanting to hold up the more radical perspective that she held, but it wasn't the right perspective for that festival. It did not take into consideration Kristin Lems and the women who were producing it.
Holly Near: [00:47:30] So Malvina Reynolds, who was an elder folksinger, was there, and we, somehow in the process of that, got pitted against each other. She said, Well, men will always be welcome at my concerts. Even though she wrote a song called We Don't Need the Men (until it's time to move the piano). You know, it's not like she didn't understand the concept, but she was militant about there should be men allowed in the concert. So there I was standing
Holly Near: [00:48:00] in between Malvina Reynolds, who I adored, and Meg Christian, who I adored. And I didn't know where to be or where to stand. And you only know what you know, when you know it. I'm sure I did the best I could at the time, but had I known then what I know now I would have directed the conversation differently and I would have come up with other solutions.
Holly Near: [00:48:30] That's the blessing of being an elder that you've got. I have 50 years behind me right now, of dealing with these issues. I was 25, then. I only had four years behind me to deal with these issues. That's one tiny little example about how we can make mistakes along the way.
Holly Near: [00:49:00] Olivia, for example, hired a transgender woman to be a recording engineer, and they had been very adamant about not working with men. All of a sudden, their record started sounding better than other people who were working with all women, because the trans woman had been raised as a man and had learned all the recording skills in Hollywood that women had not been allowed to learn.
Holly Near: [00:49:30] And that in hindsight might not have been a big deal, but at the time it threw everybody because if you've been saying we have to all work with women -- and it's a good idea, if we don't hire ourselves, who will hire us -- but it had been pretty strict expectation. And then all of a sudden, without telling people this happened ... It was just the process, it wasn't wrong.
Holly Near: [00:50:00] I mean, we all love Sandy Stone. She's still alive, and a really important part of women's music legacy. But it put her in a terrible position. It put everybody in a terrible position. It just, the process hadn't gone very smoothly. We had arguments about ticket prices. We had arguments about whether to spend what little money was coming in at the door on childcare. There were women who said, Look, I chose not to have children. I'm a lesbian. I didn't want to have kids. And other people said, Well, I'm a lesbian and I did have kids. And so that became a conversation.
Holly Near: [00:50:30] Were we going to spend money on American sign language so there was always an interpreter on the stage? All these things cost money. All of them took work. What was more important than something else? And amidst all of that, we created something so beautiful, something so magnificent. Those songs changed women's lives,
Holly Near: [00:51:00] changed people's lives. There were men who are now still playing that music to their young daughters, right? There were women who put those cassettes in their back pocket on their way to work, and they would play these songs right up to the door, and they'd play those songs the moment they got out of the door, to keep themselves sane when they were having to work in a really abusive, sexist environment. There were women who came out to those songs. There were women who explained their lesbian lifestyle
Holly Near: [00:51:30] to their parents through those songs. There were people, when they got separated, had fights over who got to have the record collection. I mean, this music mattered to people a lot. And so when I hold dear that when I hold onto the idea that we created record companies, distribution companies, concert producers, lighting designers, sound people, engineers,
Holly Near: [00:52:00] more and more women started playing drums and bass and not the traditional piano and flute. There was radical poetry written and music written to that by women music artists, there were classical artists like Mary Watkins, who started writing operas and symphonies, there were just ... I could go on and on of what happened, there were women's choruses that started up all over the world that sang women identified and political music.
Holly Near: [00:52:30] It was a massive cultural influence. And I hold that dear, even though I still feel a lot of pain at the mistakes I made along the way, where I lacked judgment, I lacked sophistication, I lacked patience, I lacked compassion. And maybe that's just how life goes.
Betsy Kalin: That is exactly how life goes.
Holly Near: [00:53:00] I hope I didn't take too long to explain all of that? I know some of it might seem petty, but ...
Betsy Kalin: No, that was fantastic. I almost gave you like [inaudible] several times. That was amazing.
Holly Near: Do you need me to do this allow again?
Betsy Kalin: I think we're okay. Andrew hasnt said anything.
Andrew Lush: That would be great actually. Thank you so much.
Holly Near: Oh, I just clicked ... My picture would come up there. Yeah. Okay, we can go on. You tell me if you're not getting what you want, will you?
Betsy Kalin: [00:53:30] I will definitely tell you if I don't get it. So now let's go on to like you falling in love with Meg and what was that like? And what was your relationship like and all of those things and coming out? Yeah.
Holly Near: [00:54:00] I was a fairly committed straight person, open and interested in the new lesbian friends I was making. My first pianist, Jeff Langley was a gay man. I didn't have big issues. Mostly, I had ignorance. And when I met these lesbian musicians, I was learning that
Holly Near: [00:54:30] they had been singing these songs in the privacy of their homes, kind of the way lesbian novels were being mailed out in Brown paper packages so that the letter delivery person wouldn't know what they were sending. But I found the music so beautiful. And when I first started singing with Cris and Margie and Meg, Cris and I had done a show together, I think Cris and I played together,
Holly Near: [00:55:00] The Troubadour, we did a show. And we had trouble getting booked there because they said, Oh, we can't have to have two women headliners. And we said, Why? And they said, Well, you know, you have to have a male comic or a male folk singer or something, and then the female. You can't have two women. And we said, Why? And they said, Well, who would go first? And we said, One of us. You know, its like you dont understand. So we finally talked them into letting us book a show there.
Holly Near: [00:55:30] And people were hanging from the rafters, that place was filled with people. And Cris and I didn't have any problem deciding who would go first. And the same thing happened when I did a couple shows to stop the oil rigs off the coast of California. I did some shows with Bonnie Raitt, and she insisted that at one of the shows she opened, and then second show, I did. It was just easy. It maybe wasn't understood to the audiences necessarily, but that kind of competition
Holly Near: [00:56:00] just didn't feel like it was the dominant force of the work. So the four of us started singing together. Each of us had played with different people, different combinations, but it was the first time all four of us had sung together. And we got about six notes out, and we all fell apart. It was so beautiful. It was just like ... And it's a real tragedy that I don't think there's any good recordings of the four of us singing at that time.
Holly Near: [00:56:30] It was 1974, 1975. Why isn't there a good recording? So finally, Lynne Littman made a video, or I dunno what you call it back then. It was for the local public television station in LA, and it was called come out singing. And it is a film of Margie and Meg and Cris and I singing. It's quite lovely. I hope you can find it and include it in your archive.
Holly Near: [00:57:00] So we were touring, we were tired, we were doing this big tour all over California, and the last show was going to be in a women's prison in Southern California. And I was standing in the wings, next to one of the guards, an African-American woman in uniform and Meg started singing her song
Holly Near: [00:57:30] that she'd written for Ginny, called Valentine's Song, just a gorgeous love song. Oh my goodness. And I've been listening to it all week, but for some reason, standing there, I looked nervously over at the guard and she was mesmerized. She said, Oh, the girls are gonna love this one. And I thought, Is she talking about the women who were in the prison. And she was,
Holly Near: [00:58:00] she was talking about the incarcerated women sitting out there. These girls are gonna love that one. And I looked up and I went, I love that one. Oh my goodness. I adore Meg. And it just sort of hit me. It came over me in a very unique way. And it wasn't part of my plan at all. I didn't grow up as a little girl/child who knew from birth I was a lesbian, Meg talked about that.
Holly Near: [00:58:30] I'd never heard of anything like that. She knew she was a lesbian when she was four. She didn't have a word for it, but she knew who she was gazing at when she was four years old, who she was infatuated by. And I never had that. And I didn't feel that I was in love with women. I felt like, Oh, I'm falling in love with Meg. I later on
Holly Near: [00:59:00] came to fall in love with women in a much bigger way. Not in a way that ... I think, again, in hindsight, I didn't know what to call it. I didn't know what to call it because I didn't feel like I was genuinely from birth up a lesbian. I didn't have that life experience.
Holly Near: [00:59:30] What was it? What do you call someone who is heterosexual, who is in love with a woman? I mean, what was the language for that? What do you call it? When thousands of heterosexual women fell in love with themselves as a result of feminism? All of a sudden, that self-hate that had been there started to melt away, and in the process, many heterosexual women had relationships with lesbians
Holly Near: [01:00:00] and then eventually had to decide whether they were lesbians or was this part of their love for themselves, and part of their falling in love with women. And it was interesting. We didn't have a language for it. I remember being teased by some of the lesbian comics, So what Holly, now we can't just say I'm a lesbian? We have to say, I'm a lesbian who sleeps with women? You know, it was like the language didn't help us out, at all.
Holly Near: [01:00:30] And maybe in the long run, people wouldn't care, but you have to go through the stages of all of those steps. And so when we left the prison, I was sitting in the back seat next to Meg and our hands found each other and we were just holding hands. And I thought, Well, we're just two musicians who had a really moving experience at the prison. But, you know, I was just trying to talk myself out of something that was happening.
Holly Near: [01:01:00] I knew it was not a good idea. She was in a relationship with someone else. So was I, in a relationship with an actor in New York? And it just came over me and I was pretty -- what's a positive word for devastated? I was undone. I was undone and I didn't know what to do with it.
Holly Near: [01:01:30] And the two days later I had to go on tour, I think -- or a week later -- with Jeff, and we were up in the Northwest and I got really sick. I just ... And my agent called Meg and said, Holly's really sick. Can you give her a call? And nobody was saying what it was, everybody was using, you know, secretive language. But my -- it wasn't my agent exactly, kind of my manager -- but she knew what was happening.
Holly Near: [01:02:00] And Jeff knew what was happening. And Jeff was standing in the next room going, You've got to come out and talk about this. So I guess I wouldn't come out of the hotel room. I was just like ... So it was a big deal. It was a really big deal, not coming out to the world. You know, I had already come out as an anti-imperialist to the world. So my career was already shot. I didn't think youre gonna get much worse, coming out as a lesbian. But it was coming out to myself, you know, that transition.
Holly Near: [01:02:30] And to this day, I'm not sure what the language should be because ultimately many, many decades later, I ended up back in a relationship with a man. But I wasn't in a relationship with a man the way I had been prior to being with women, I'll never be the same person. I'll never be heterosexual. I can't ever go back to that because of having loved a woman.
Holly Near: [01:03:00] Having touched a woman and been touched by a woman, and gone through that whole ... That tenderness, as well as that defense that has to happen. That fear of the world that's going to hurt you. That walking out of a bar and wondering if your tires will be slashed. The trying to figure out how to tell the hotel clerk that you want one double bed,
Holly Near: [01:03:30] not two singles. You know, all those little details that just can make your heart pound again and again and again, back in 1975. I'll never be the same person. And the women's movement, and in particular, the lesbian feminist movement, has been my major source of support, as well as where I have given that support. I feel that lesbian feminists and some feminist straight women
Holly Near: [01:04:00] or whatever they want to call themselves, that's my family. And especially the ones who are within that, that also are doing anti-racism work, work around class, work around global imperialism, work to change the world in all that that means. But again, through that woman identification.
Holly Near: [01:04:30] Approaching all of those struggles, but from the point of view of a feminist woman, and probably from the point of view of a lesbian feminist woman. Because lesbian feminists love women, you know, and I don't know how you get to that if you've never loved a woman, but I think there are some women who have gotten to that. I'm not speaking for everyone, but it's a ...
Holly Near: [01:05:00] So Meg and I were together for three and a half years, something like that. And I still adore her. We're still in touch with each other. We're now two old women who have known each other for 40, 35, 40 years. And I don't think we were meant to stay together. I would have tried, but she had a different path
Holly Near: [01:05:30] than I, and good thing we were wise enough to take those paths.
Betsy Kalin: Thank you. Thank you, Holly. So when, when did you come out publicly? Like when did you say, Hello? I'm here, I'm an anti-imperialist and a lesbian.
Holly Near: Let's see if I can put a date on that. I think I must've come out
Holly Near: [01:06:00] at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival to the larger women's community. I'd come out to individuals. But, I'm trying to think. I wrote the song, Imagine My Surprise! and I think I sang that for the first time, maybe at Michigan. And you know, it was funny, there was some women in the audience just looking at their watches saying, Well, it's about time.
Holly Near: [01:06:30] I came out to my parents pretty quickly. Once Meg and I decided to be together and we left our respective partners. And then people ... Not People Magazine ... Well, yes, People Magazine. And then People Magazine wanted to do a story on me coming out as a lesbian. And I thought,
Holly Near: [01:07:00] Why me? I'm not really people magazine material. But I realized quite shortly after their requests, nobody else would. We're still in the early seventies, there aren't any famous lesbians or about to come out. I mean, Rita Mae Brown. I don't know when she started writing. And then there might've been one or two others. I don't know when Billie Jean King came out. I don't know, but in general,
Holly Near: [01:07:30] they hadn't been able to find anybody in Hollywood who would come out. Not that there weren't lesbians in Hollywood, but they weren't coming out. I think they felt like their careers would be ruined, and they would've, they would've been. The same reason Rock Hudson and people like that, Johnny Mathis didn't come out. They felt like their careers would be ruined, and they weren't wrong. But as I said, I didn't really have anything to be ruined,
Holly Near: [01:08:00] so I did the magazine. I was with a woman named Nancy Vogl, another musician, she worked with a group called The Berkeley Women's Music Collective. I asked her if she was okay if she was mentioned in the article, and she was. And it was nice, it was short, it was sweet. Didn't actually do me much harm in general, and then slowly the harm began. It didn't come from Hollywood.
Holly Near: [01:08:30] It didn't come from the mainstream. It came from the left. I think there was such a historic fear of people being homosexuals during the McCarthy era. It had been seen as a personal issue that it shouldn't be a public issue. You know, it's a private thing. And I think some people on the left thought I just kind of lost my mind to come out
Holly Near: [01:09:00] and then just start working with women. Some of whom were lesbian separatists and it they didn't like it. They didn't like it.
Betsy Kalin: Besides the people in the left were, what were the overall reactions to you being a lesbian? Like what [inaudible].
Holly Near: I didn't really have any consequences from a larger perspective.
Holly Near: [01:09:30] I mean, nobody attacked me in the street or anything like that, but the left was my audience, and they stopped coming. It's hard to say they, there were a lot of people who kept coming to concerts. You know, I don't want to make generalizations and those beautiful men that hung in there and respected women's anger. You know, I respect the anger of people of color.
Holly Near: [01:10:00] Id think they were odd if they weren't mad. How can you not be mad at racism and lynching and not being able to vote and having your houses burned down? You're supposed to be mad. And how can you not be mad as a female for being raped and not being able to have your own credit card or not being able to run for office? Not being able to keep your children, if you're a lesbian, how can you not be mad? And so the men that were able to hold women's rage were beautiful men.
Holly Near: [01:10:30] They knew to step back, when they had to step back. They moved in when they could step in. But they didn't blame women for their anger. And I think those men continued to come to the concerts when they were open to the general public, but they did get harassed. I know there were some women who would go to men who were in the line to come into the concert. They said, we don't want you here. Well, that wasn't me speaking. That was somebody who was out of line speaking on my behalf.
Holly Near: [01:11:00] And maybe they didn't want them there, but it wasn't their right to intimidate the men. And the men didn't know whether to hang in there and come in or whether to step back. And that was a really messy time. That was really messy because I couldn't control what women said to the men on the line. And they didn't know where that message was coming from. And they were trying to be respectful. And it was just a messy time. But I would say that it used to be ...
Holly Near: [01:11:30] I mean, it's always been, even when I was playing for the left and predominantly straight -- well, I can't say predominantly straight because there were a lot of gay people in the left -- but I felt like there was always more women in the audience than men, even before I came out. But there that shifted a lot. And for several years after I came out, I would say, there'd be like 95% women
Holly Near: [01:12:00] and 5% men in the audience. And that was hard on me. I loved the women who were there, but I also ... There was a little light bulb that went off, in my head, that said, We're going to pay for this. That when women, in general, in the world, do not stay connected to the men.
Holly Near: [01:12:30] There is something about our animal that if men are not in the village, they go off and misbehave. There is a matriarchal element to our animal and I've learned this from indigenous women. I've talked to clans women, and I said, Well, why aren't you the chief? And they said, Because we choose the chief.
Holly Near: [01:13:00] Why do you think we are a step down? And that was my Western assumption. They saw themselves as completely being in the mix in a matriarchal way of working with. They watched the children, they see a diplomat, that's going to be a chief. They see a warrior, a troublemaker, they're going to send them on a task
Holly Near: [01:13:30] that requires warrior courage. They see an artistic child to direct them to be shamans. You know, the women knew how to create an environment that would keep their community safe. And I think we are ... I don't think we're living like that right now.
Holly Near: [01:14:00] And I think it's dangerous. I don't blame women for not wanting that job, but I think we will pay for it.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. We're paying for it now, actually. So going back to Imagine My Surprise! Let's just talk a little bit more about the impact it had. I mean, for me, it was huge, and I know for so many other people.
Betsy Kalin: [01:14:30] So can you talk a little bit about that song and just how meaningful it was for people.
Holly Near: It was a song. Let me start that again. Imagine My Surprise! was one of my early attempts at trying to write a lesbian identified song, but I didn't have much experience being a lesbian as I
Holly Near: [01:15:00] didn't have that identity from childhood. I was pretty new to understanding what it meant to be a lesbian, what it meant to be a woman identified woman. So I was just getting my feet wet and deciding that I needed some material that reflected that, but I didn't have much practice. So Imagine My Surprise!, the chorus could easily have been a love song
Holly Near: [01:15:30] with very intimate verses, but I wasn't there yet. So it's an intimate chorus, and then it goes to reflecting on various early literature that had been written about women loving women and the chorus comes back, Imagine my nice surprise. I love that I found you. I love that I have found these women in history and in literature
Holly Near: [01:16:00] that were there before me. And I think that it resonated with a lot of women who were in the process of discovering those that had come before them. It anchored us in a way in history rather than as if lesbianism was some new idea. And it kept coming back around with the chorus that allowed us all also
Holly Near: [01:16:30] to have a love affair with those women and with ourselves and with our partner. So it served kind of a lot of emotional needs. And I have to say, when I started touring with Meg or with other women, we used to stay in people's homes because we didn't have the money to stay in hotels. That Imagine My Surprise! album was in every home
Holly Near: [01:17:00] and that was sort of mind-boggling to me. I just, Whoa. You know, it was like everybody had that record. They all had Changer and the Changed. A lot of women had lavender loves women, or is it lavender women? It was Alix Dobkins record. I'm sorry, Alix, I'm not getting the title right.
Holly Near: [01:17:30] It was kind of an amazing time. You know, there were these brave women who took on the job of distribution. And I remember when Olivia Records put out an album called Lesbian Concentrate, it was in reaction to the iconic orange juice commercial gal, who was so homophobic, Anita Bryant.
Holly Near: [01:18:00] So Olivia decided they had to do something in reaction to this woman's blatant homophobia. And so they put out a record, it's a big white record with an orange juice can and it's called Lesbian Concentrate. And they had different women from the lesbian music world contribute a song to it. Can you imagine being a 23 or 25 year old woman walking into a major record store and saying,
Holly Near: [01:18:30] not only would you carry this record, but would you display it in the window? I mean, those women are my heroes, I'll say. That courage, that it took to take this out joyful perspective to a place where, for most people it had been a dark secret, you know, I am astounded. I did a concert, and I heard from my tour manager
Holly Near: [01:19:00] that there were these two elder people who wanted to come backstage and see me. And so after the concert, they were escorted back into the dressing room. And all I remember is them being very bundled up, you know, it was cold out and they had their coats on and they sat on the couch and they said, We were about to disown our daughter. And she said to us, Would you please first go to this Holly Near concert?
Holly Near: [01:19:30] And they did, and they came backstage to say that their understanding of Lesbianism ... Their daughter had come out, she was out in San Francisco. The only information they'd ever had about it was when he was in the military, in the fifties. There were magazines of women having pornographic sex with one another for male magazines. So they thought that their daughter was getting involved in porn
Holly Near: [01:20:00] and they were very moral and religious people, and they didn't understand what was happening. So they came to this concert, and they looked around the audience. The bravery that they would even come to this concert if they thought it was a porn event, I mean, these people must have really loved their daughter. I got to tell you, they walked in and there's all these happy, polished, clean looking gals,
Holly Near: [01:20:30] all joyful in the audience. And then throughout the concert, singing together, you know, and they came back and they said, Thank you. We didn't know anything about this. And you have saved our relationship with our daughter. Now, I don't think I did. I think that audience did. I think them being able to readjust their image of what a lesbian does -- the big question. Part of what lesbians do is, they enjoy each other,
Holly Near: [01:21:00] and they sing together, and they laugh together, and they build community together and they organize together. And these two elder people got to see this and experience it. But I'm astounded at their courage, just astounded. I just love them.
Betsy Kalin: That's amazing. That's a great story. So kind of keeping on the theme of that,
Betsy Kalin: [01:21:30] you know, lesbian culture really exploded during this time. So it wasn't just, you know lesbian singer-songwriters, it was like cafes. And it was like, you know, I even know of auto repair place, women doing it and, you know, housing, I mean, can you talk a little bit about that?
Holly Near: [01:22:00] There was a huge collective movement going on, anyway, doesn't get talked about much in progressive communities, but I know up in Eugene, Oregon, for example, and all the way down the coast on the West coast, there were a lot of collectives. And as you say, from auto mechanics to bookstores, to bakeries, and I think that as in any social change group, people were looking around for how to make a living and also how to make a difference
Holly Near: [01:22:30] without having to go into traditional workforce. So they had to build things where, where they could be out. And also be of service to the lesbian community. So it makes total sense to me. But within the arts, there were film companies and certainly, there were bookstores, there were dance collectives, there were bands, rock bands. There was a great band called Be Be KRoche on the West coast.
Holly Near: [01:23:00] They didn't last very long, but they were so advanced far advanced in their kind of approach to music as a band and clearly a lesbian band and very working class. They came before grunge, you know, they're just slippery, sexy, dirty, wonderful music. I was really sorry. They didn't stay together longer.
Holly Near: [01:23:30] Linda Tillery produced their record and Olivia Records distributed it. So this was happening all over the country and in Canada and in Europe, I don't know so much about Central and Latin America, and in Africa, China, I sort of only know about the more Eurocentric places Australia had, Judy Small and Margaret Roadknight, were two out lesbians who were doing music down there.
Holly Near: [01:24:00] Then the music festivals started happening and those were great gathering places for lesbians to come together. And women traveled long distances to be able to hear a lot of different lesbian artists in one place, because the United States was a fairly big territory for individual lesbian artists or bands to cover everything. I mean, you'd be out on tour always, if you were going to get to every town. And so the festivals were a place where I don't know, 30 artists could perform.
Holly Near: [01:24:30] So somebody could come from Kansas city to a music festival and see a lot of lesbian and lesbian feminist music. So they were kind of our watering hole, the place. And then they started having workshops, about lesbian sexuality, about lesbian motherhood, about organizing in your community about how to be an out civil worker, you know, whatever anybody wanted to talk about, how to start a lesbian magazine,
Holly Near: [01:25:00] how to start an auto mechanics collective, like whatever. They were just these wonderful short term universities. I thought the music festivals were an extraordinary Petri dish for women to come together and build and learn for themselves -- cause they were in all these distant places -- learn for themselves what it was like to think outside the patriarchy, not just to organize out of it,
Holly Near: [01:25:30] but how to think outside of it. That's a big deal, to figure out how to think outside of something that you've known all your life.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. I mean, definitely. And I wish, you know, I wish they were all still there. You know, like I wish the younger generations have the chance to really experience that.
Holly Near: [01:26:00] Well, you know, you build what you need. If people start to need these festivals again, they will build them. We won't know until after COVID what people decide to build, but we built them out of necessity. And if the next generation needs something, they'll build it. And it feels to me like technology has kind of run amok, there's a lot of it, but it hasn't necessarily made us a better people.
Holly Near: [01:26:30] It gave us more opportunities to reach each other. Somebody who's 7,000 miles away can have access to a song, to a film, to a book. But there's nothing quite like being in the same room with each other or the same field outside. And when COVID is over, I feel like people are going to be desperate for that. And hopefully the next generation is anticipating
Holly Near: [01:27:00] that moment. And they're starting to think about, Well, what do we want? What do we want to have? What do we want to build? And hopefully they won't know too much, because you can talk yourself out of doing something with knowledge, much better to just jump in and see what happens. Do you want, you want me to hit set proxy, Andrew?
Andrew Lush: [01:27:30] Sure. Oh yes. I don't know what keeps happening on the recording computer. Are we good? Did you hit it already, Holly?
Holly Near: Yeah. I'm still on the screen, but the proxy thing has gone.
Andrew Lush: Oh, I see. So now its [inaudible]. Well I think [crosstalk].
Holly Near: We're recording? Yeah. If it comes up again, that word allow
Betsy Kalin: [01:28:00] We're good. Okay, good. Let me check. There you go. So can you talk now about your song written for Harvey Milk, and Singing for Our Lives and the process of that and what that meant to you?
Holly Near: [01:28:30] I was driving from Ukiah down to San Francisco to be part of a demonstration responding to the death of Harvey Milk, and my friend, Tori Osborne, who was working with me at the time was in the car, and I just didn't have anything really specific to sing in this situation.
Holly Near: [01:29:00] And there's always the good standbys that come beautifully out of the civil rights movement and the labor movement. But I hadn't really written anything. One of our public people hadn't been assassinated yet. You know, this was first for a lot of us. And so I just started writing it in the car ...
Holly Near: [01:29:30] We are a gentle, angry people
And we are singing, singing for our lives
We are a gentle, angry people
And we are singing, singing for our lives ...
Holly Near: [01:30:00] And it just kind of kept going over and over in my head. And the reason I use gentle and angry was that I wanted to be able to sing to the audience that we gather out of our tenderness, but in an instant like this, we bring with us our rage. And that rage is not a bad thing. It needs to be acknowledged and felt. And that tenderness
Holly Near: [01:30:30] and gentleness and anger were not mutually exclusive. And that's about all I had. And then I started thinking, well, I'm going to have to have some verses, you can't just see those two lines over and over again. So then verses like, We are gay and straight together. Actually, the first ... Let me say that again. So the first verse was, We are gay and lesbian people. And then I went into,
Holly Near: [01:31:00] We are a land of many colors. We are young and old together. And then it ended with, We are a gentle, loving people. But over the years, people have added all kinds of verses. I heard some women who were Greenham Common in England who were protesting the nuclear weapons that were arriving there and they sang a verse, We are the witches of Diana. The song has been sung in prisons in Latin America.
Holly Near: [01:31:30] People have told me about where they've heard this song and then people don't even know I wrote it, which is great, that means it's a song that has its own wings and it flies where it needs to fly. But it has had many verses added to it. Similarly, there was a song I wrote for the Memorial after the Kent state students were killed by the national guard. And I was,
Holly Near: [01:32:00] again, traveling. I was going towards Ohio, having been asked by Dean Keller, had been shot and survived. He was paraplegic from the bullets. He'd asked me to write a song for it, and everything I'd written, I didn't like -- just seemed like bad songwriting. And so I'm on the plane and going, okay, what is the difference between a rhetorical song and a personal song
Holly Near: [01:32:30] or a good singable song? And I thought, Oh, personal. That's a big reason. Started thinking about how to personalize it, and the phrase came to me, It could have been me. These were students who were going to school at Kent state and they got shot down by the national guard. That could have been me. I developed a chorus around that, It could have been me, but instead it was you,
Holly Near: [01:33:00] but I'll keep doing the work you were doing as if I were to. And over the years, there was the Kent state verse. There was a verse about Karen Silkwood in Oklahoma. There was a verse about Victor Jara in Chile. I wrote a verse after the attack on the dance hall in Florida, recently of a gay community. So I call these kinds of songs like workhorses. They're just there, they're solid -- they are.
Holly Near: [01:33:30] And they can carry the weight of whatever's going on in the moment. I've called on them a lot. The most recent working song that I've written probably is a song called I Am Willing.
Holly Near: I am open and I am willing
For to be hopeless would seem so strange
[01:34:00] It dishonours those who go before us
So lift me up to the light of change
Holly Near: And then there are all these verses that can come in and it keeps coming back to that idea of being open and willing. And I think that line came to me because people said, Well, what are you? Are you a lesbian? Are you straight?
Holly Near: [01:34:30] Are you bisexual? Are you a communist? What are you? I've never been able to answer that question. I keep saying, isn't it interesting that the English language has never given us a word that says I am all of those things and none of them. So, I finally said to myself, Well, what I do know is that I'm open and willing. I'm here. And so that song has given me a lot of mileage.
Betsy Kalin: [01:35:00] That's another one of my favorite songs, so two of them. Thank you. Actually, I have my notes out here and I have each one of those written down as something to ask you about and you covered it all.
Holly Near: Yeah. Good.
Betsy Kalin: Can you talk now about when you wrote your first book, when you wrote Fire in the Rain- Singer in the Storm, and what prompted you to write that?
Holly Near: [01:35:30] I was, let's say 40, maybe, when I wrote the book. My friend, Tom Hayden, who's since left this planet, said, You're too young to write a book. You can write a book, but don't write a biography, not yet. But I looked back at it and it's sort of,
Holly Near: [01:36:00] I don't know, I look at it lovingly and say, I'm really glad I wrote it. Because I would not have remembered those events that I write about the same way now, as I remembered them then. They were very much alive. They didn't have any hindsight sophistication. They didn't have the current wisdom that I carry now, but they're raw stories that really come from the moment.
Holly Near: [01:36:30] So the book is called Fire in the Rain- Singer in the Storm. It's out of print, but there are copies floating around. The title came from when I was living on the ranch farm with my family, we went out on the front porch and there was a fire in the distance. It was just raging. I think it was a barn that was burning, and at the same time it was raining. And so I remember asking my parents
Holly Near: [01:37:00] if water puts out fire, how can there be a fire in the rain? And that image stuck with me for a long time. I liked it, the idea that there is some fire that can not be put out. And so that became the title of the book. And then my sister, Timothy Near, and I began working on a play with music that took the stories from the book -- some of them, not all of them --
Holly Near: [01:37:30] and weaved it into a play, a two act play. She directed, and I performed at the Mark Taper Forum in LA. We went to the Union Theater off Broadway in New York. It opened up in San Jose at the San Jose repertory theater. And it played in San Francisco. It was a very hard show to do, lots of songs, lots of physicality. I had to work out
Holly Near: [01:38:00] for quite some time and go back to taking very serious singing lessons, to be able to pull it off because in these theaters you do eight shows a week, and I couldn't really have an understudy. Although Sharon Lawrence who became quite a well-known actor in Hollywood ... In LA, it was union rule to have an understudy, so she was my understudy. She said she lit candles every night, praying that I would not get sick because it was really an unmanageable show to do on the spot like that.
Holly Near: [01:38:30] So we enjoyed doing it. It was good. So I think ... Do I want to say this or not? It's always difficult to say something ... I'm writing a book and my father said, Why do you ever tell anybody you're going to do something until you've done it? Cause otherwise you don't have to tell people why you don't. But his wise words just went out the window and I'm telling you, I'm writing a book.
Holly Near: [01:39:00] So I'm hoping to write about the next, let's see, that was when I was 40, and I'm 70. So now the next 30 years that went by, and kind of close out my participation on this planet. Its been an extraordinary journey. I tell this story from the stage sometimes, this is the only planet we know of that has life on it. We get to be here.
Holly Near: [01:39:30] And I try to keep that sense of awe, as terrible as things get. And right now, the Trump administration and the conservative Republicans have just lost all sense of protocol and integrity and respect for the law. And I keep thinking it can't get any worse and then it gets worse.
Holly Near: [01:40:00] So I just try to remember that terrible things have happened to people over the last thousands of years. Poverty and plague and war and abuse and floods and, you know, on and on. Human beings sort of land on this planet, and then they have to deal. Maybe they arrived during the potato famine, but we arrived here. This is the time we arrived on, and it's been an extraordinary time.
Holly Near: [01:40:30] So what are we going to do with this time? What are we going to do? There's this spectrum that I see humanity being in, and it's our most horrific and our most extraordinary. And every day I wake up and I have a choice of where I want to stand on that arc. And some days, all I want to do is go to bed and put the pillow over my head, but there's other days where I go and say, Okay, I can be here. I can rise to this occasion here. And when people have asked, Well, how do you keep going? Or why do you do this?
Holly Near: [01:41:00] I think, well, I'm a social being. I wouldn't want to hang out with fascists or white nationalists or war makers. I'm sorta with the people I like. And when we get together and we get organized, we do amazing things and we have fun doing it. And I hope that people who have been stuck in their homes will eventually be able to come back and go back to the idea of making posters with real paint
Holly Near: [01:41:30] and with their hands and having potlucks and getting to know each other in a neighborhood and all the nice parts of political organizing that bring people together that allow us to become friends with like-minded people or rub shoulders with people who are unsure, and they are open to hearing our perspective and vice versa.
Holly Near: [01:42:00] I can't imagine having a life without being around people who care about the world. I think it would be kind of boring.
Betsy Kalin: And sad.
Holly Kalin: And sad. Lonely.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. I mean, I'm also an activist. I teach social impact documentary to students, and I love seeing them get excited about changing the world. I mean,
Betsy Kalin: [01:42:30] I think it's so important today, you know, to really keep striving for that world that we want to see especially in these times. And I'm happy to report, I asked my students yesterday and every single one of them had voted already.
Holly Near: That's so great. That's great.
Betsy Kalin: [inaudible]
Holly Near: Yeah. I just taught a class for Sally Roesch Wagner with her students yesterday. I don't know if you've crossed paths with her, but she's a wonderful scholar
Holly Near: [01:43:00] who discovered Matilda Joslyn Gage as being one of the suffragettes who was kicked out of history because she did so much anti racism work and was very close to the Onondaga nation. And she didn't think Lincoln should fight the war for any other reason but to defeat slavery. And so she sort of got written out of the story,
Holly Near: [01:43:30] and Sally has discovered her, brought her back as a living museum on the freedom trail back East, which is Matilda's house. She teaches social change movements. This week they were looking at feminism, so she asked me to come on and take her class. It was really wonderful to talk with the students. They had great questions. But it takes some training.
Holly Near: [01:44:00] It takes some training to become an elder. I feel like I'm an elder in training. I don't know as much about what's going on in the GLBTQ community as I used to. I'm a little bit in semi-retirement. I was going to do an election tour, and that got canceled. But after the election tour, I was going to really back away for a while. I just needed -- I don't think it was rest, exactly --
Holly Near: [01:44:30] but I needed to step back and get some perspective and make some decisions about what to do with the next 20 years, if they're there for me. It's a privilege to even be able to pause and make a decision. You know, I understand it's a very privileged place. But since I had it, I'm on social security, and I don't have to work.
Holly Near: [01:45:00] And I want to figure out since I don't have to, what would I like to do? But I'm not as informed about the next generations perspective on gender and identity language. I feel a little old fashioned.
Betsy Kalin: But that will come, you know, whenever you start asking again, open and willing, it'll come.
Betsy Kalin: [01:45:30] My question it leads perfectly into is, what are you most proud of about being part of the feminist movement, the LGBTQ+ movement, and then, the peace and anti ... I mean, you have so many names, so why dont you just talk about things that you're really proud of.
Holly Near: [01:46:00] I'm very proud of my commitment to what I think people now call intersectionality, I think that's the word, the connecting of issues. Because one can't just say, well, you have your gay people over here and black people over here. What does that do for gay black people? We aren't divided up that cleanly. It's all this mishmash mush
Holly Near: [01:46:30] that makes us the wonderful people that we are. And I refrain, throughout my career, from joining a group. I would go in and do a fundraiser for, or I would acknowledge in support of, but I, myself never took a group identity and it allowed me to be very fluid and move in and out of all the various identity organizations.
Holly Near: [01:47:00] But ultimately I would love to see us all be trained to be able to rise together and organize together so that we are a stronger power together. Even if we don't want to be together. I want us to learn that we can all come to the table and bring our full selves to it. But when you come to the table, it doesn't mean there'll be agreement.
Holly Near: [01:47:30] It means that we're willing to give and take and work in order to reflect the power of the whole. There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to have political power when there's so many of us in all these different social change organizations. So my great hope for the next generation is that they can do better than we did or take from what we did and make it even more
Holly Near: [01:48:00] so that there can be these times where without agreement, we can say we still are one force, one political force. And I'm actually quite pleased with my attempt throughout my career to keep my eye on that prize. Didn't always do it well, didnt always do it right.
Holly Near: [01:48:30] But I did know that when I fell down that I had a choice to stay down or to get back up again. Sorry, I'm shaking the table. Let me say that again. But I did know that if I fell down, I had the choice to get back up again, that if someone insulted me in a given moment, that I would try to move into that insult and see what is the gem of knowledge
Holly Near: [01:49:00] that they were really trying to give me. So if somebody called me a racist, I'd get nothing out of saying, Oh, well, I'm not a racist. The only thing I can get out is to say, Tell me more. Doesn't have to be that I agree with them, maybe they're just angry, maybe they're absolutely right and they see something I haven't been able to see. So I feel as if I have learned over the years
Holly Near: [01:49:30] to say to people I work with and to say to myself, and to say to any spiritual world I have, Tell me more. I'm interested.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. That's great. So at the end of the interview, we always have like four short questions that we ask people. So the first one is, if you could tell your 15 year old self anything, what would it be?
Holly Near: [01:50:00] If I could tell my 15 year old self, I think I would tell my 15 year old self that I'll get more out of listening than talking. I was quite a chatty person and I took a lot of leadership.
Holly Near: [01:50:30] I don't think it's bad to take leadership, but leaders more than anyone need to listen. And I didn't listen as well as, I know now, I wish I had.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. And do you think there's such a thing as a queer superpower? Like a queer superpower that you would have, and if so, what would it be?
Holly Near: [01:51:00] You mean personally or in terms organizationally? Say the question
Betsy Kalin: [inaudible] Do you think there's such a thing as a queer superpower? And if so, what is it?
Holly Near: I don't think there's a queer superpower, but I think that
Holly Near: [01:51:30] if one develops a certain kind of respect for oneself and spends time in the presence of others who have respect for self, that that gathering, as more and more people come into the gathering, becomes powerful because of the presence of people who bring to the table, their best selves. And I've seen the GLBT community organize whether it's around gay marriage
Holly Near: [01:52:00] or gays in the military or any number of things and do really well, but those are issue oriented successes. And to me, the great success will be when we bring our powerful selves to the table in great numbers to rise, not around an issue, but to rise on behalf of humanity.
Holly Near: [01:52:30] And a lot of the GLBTQ organizing that I know has been very issue oriented and in some ways, nationalistic, because there's still GLBTQ people around the world who are being abused in the most extraordinary ways. So the work is not done. If we focus on a single issue and say, Ooh, took care of that, any more than we think when Roe vs Wade took care of feminism,
Holly Near: [01:53:00] you know, you just can't have an issue, identify your success. It's when we, each as individuals, keep growing and building up self-respect and building up our skills and building up talents and building a vision and wisdom. And then we bring that to the table and we make lots of room for new young energy that may or may not be wise yet to come in and keep us all ...
Holly Near: [01:53:30] It's like the wind between, the wind beneath my wings -- what is that song that Bette Midler sings? It's a Julie Gold song, I think. That youthful energy that comes in and just lifts the Eagle. And when we learn to do that on behalf of the planet, then maybe we're a superpower, then maybe we've become a superpower.
Betsy Kalin: [01:54:00] That's the best answer to that question ever. So thank you. So why is it important for you to tell your story?
Holly Near: I tell my story mainly because I'm an artist, and that's what artists do, artists are storytellers. They might tell other people's stories. I have a lot of songs that are about other people. I try to get into other people's shoes and be a voice where someone else might not have a voice,
Holly Near: [01:54:30] but I'm a storyteller. I just try to have it come through my own body so that it's genuine. And so that it doesn't come in a plastic wrapping. Even if I'm writing about an Appalachian woman, her story has to come through me. We have to be twins while I'm singing that song.
Holly Near: [01:55:00] And in terms of my own personal story, if it can be of use to someone, I'm not terribly afraid. I seem to be willing to take risks than some people because of their situation may not be able to. And if I can voice something that will help them just by virtue of having an opportunity to do so. I'd like to have my music and my work be of service.
Holly Near: [01:55:30] And sometimes the work just does better when it's about me. It keeps it from being rhetorical, it's that it could have been me part, that part of the storyteller that cannot, under any circumstances, pull themselves out of the story. When I'm in the middle of singing a song or telling a story, even if it's about other people, it is attached to my bones.
Holly Near: [01:56:00] And the moment I forget that, the work starts to not sound very genuine. It's telling my story because that's the best venue, the best palette for the work I do. It's not because my particular story is worth telling, it's that my story is worth telling because it's not just about me.
Betsy Kalin: [01:56:30] Fantastic. Thank you. So the last question is about OUTWORDS. So OUTWORDS is the first national project to capture and share our history through in-depth interviews. What is the importance of a project like OUTWORDS? And if you can please mention OUTWORDS in your answer.
Holly Near: [01:57:00] I believe we've come to a time in the GLBTQ community where we have enough information to begin archiving. Archiving with a bigger perspective to put it in a large cauldron.
Holly Near: [01:57:30] And that's not to say archiving isn't important prior to that moment, but we've come to a moment where our GLBTQ community and our wealth of knowledge about what came before us, as well as what's going on right now is huge, and that to me, is an invitation for archiving. I got very moved when I heard that OUTWORDS was doing this massive project,
Holly Near: [01:58:00] because if we don't tell our story, nobody else will. And when we hold dear the details of our lives, we're gifting the next generation something very precious. I mean, imagine what it was like when women first found those little letters that women out in the Prairies sent to each other in great loneliness,
Holly Near: [01:58:30] surrounded by a dust storm and the howling wolves, just holding those letters was so emotional. My work is at the Schlesinger Library, which is a women's archive connected to Harvard Radcliffe. And when I went there, she said, No, don't throw anything away, send us everything. And I said, Well, receipts and stuff? I'm going to show you something. She took me deep into the belly of the archive, and she pulled out this little tiny paper booklet,
Holly Near: [01:59:00] little notepad. It was written in pencil. And it said, Hotel 5 cents, train 10 cents. Dah dah, dah, dah. And I said, What is this? And she said, This is the receipt book of the first African-American doctor who got on a train and crossed around the Eastern coast, visiting black communities that had no medical care. And I started weeping. I started weeping holding this little book,
Holly Near: [01:59:30] and it gave me such a profound understanding that when we're alive, we throw things away that we think don't matter. But a hundred, 200 years later, 300 years, 400, it can mean something huge that we can't even imagine yet, of what our lives are going to mean to people who come after us. And it's not for us to decide what will be important
Holly Near: [02:00:00] and what isn't. So we write it down or we record it. It's not going to be in mainstream documentation, but if we leave a trail, the researchers of the next generations will find us. And hopefully our stories will be of use to them.
Holly Near: [02:00:30] You've gone frozen.
Holly Near: Are we? I've lost her. Andrew.
Holly Near: [02:02:30] I see you, but you're frozen.
Holly Near: Yeah, but I think we're done. Waiting, waiting. It seems fine.
Holly Near: [02:03:00] Yeah. And Andrew's been watching it. They're still up by the lights. So Have you guys been Having to be quiet in there? Have you been outside?

Interviewed by: Betsy Kalin
Camera: Andrew Lush
Date: October 27, 2020
Location: Home of Holly Near, Ukiah, CA (Remote)