I asked Mike Sauter, music director and midday on-air host at WYEP (91.3), what he thought of reports that folk singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked verbally attacked gay people during a concert in San Francisco.
Have station staff members discussed the incident?
“We’ve been definitely talking about the situation at the station. Shocked’s behavior is very odd, because it doesn’t really square with what we know about her. She performed at our Summer Music Festival in 2005, and I drove her and her band around a little bit. During that period of time she talked quite a bit about various social justice issues, so it seems bizarre that she would be seemingly so hateful.
“I remember when she put out a live gospel album about six years ago, she discussed a little bit the problem of homophobia in her church. I looked it up one of these interviews yesterday, and shared it with my colleagues.
“I don’t really know what to think, what could possibly explain this outburst. I sure hope there is some explanation beyond what it seems to be.”
Is this the sort of thing that would get her yanked from WYEP’s playlist?
“The way our music system works, older music is generally at the discretion of the individual DJ. So we’ve never made any station-wide decision to not play an artist. I think that the same will hold true for this situation, that playing her music will be up to the individual DJ.”
Should the quality of her music outweigh her personal viewpoints?
“Our music selection process is based primarily on aesthetic criteria. We do our best not to let anything other than the music, and our listeners’ reaction to the music, affect airplay. Many musicians over the years from Elvis Costello to Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) to John Mayer have said things that were very offensive to some. Other artists have acted in odious ways. This is a very difficult decision to make in each case, and different DJs will arrive at different conclusions.”
Any other thoughts?
“There’s a musician I know from NYC (now based in Scotland) named Lach who knows Shocked from her brief time in the NYC music scene in the ’80s. Here’s some verse he posted today, apparently about the situation. He seems to be perplexed and worried about her.”
Here are the opening lines of Lach’s poem:
Woke from dreams by a friend’s odd behavior
Insanity seems a desperate cry for a savior
The ticking time-bomb of childhood trauma
And now the whole world is a courtroom drama ??(read the rest…)
(Update, March 21. Sauter emailed me to say, “One update to my previous comment about Michelle Shocked: after hearing further information from colleagues and some musicians whose opinions I value, I can no longer say that Shocked’s comments don’t really square with what I know about her. Apparently, she has said similar things in the past, but I was not previously aware of them.” Sauter isn’t the only one. Shocked’s history is full of confusing statements about her stand on LGBTQ rights. She’s contradicted her own statements, sometimes in the same interviews.)
And there’s more: According to blogger Chris Willman at Yahoo! News, one audience member who was at the March 17 concert says Shocked’s comments were far more subtle than reported.
“One thing I haven’t seen reported is when Shocked said that she was tired of ‘Christians that hide their hypocrisy behind a cross,'” Colin Epstein, who was in the audience, told Willman. “It was that statement that led me to believe the some of her others were ironic.” Epstein continued:
I took this statement as ironically mocking the extremist stances some liberals expect from Christians. Obviously, though, that went over like a sack of bricks, and the tone got ugly.” Before long, “she said something about ‘now y’all can tweet that Michelle Shocked said God hates f–s,’ but I heard that as resignation to how things were being misread, as opposed to an actual boast or opinion, as it’s been reported elsewhere.
Shocked is also engaging her fans on Twitter—as well as some pretty hateful Twitter users who make her comments seem tame by comparison (over the past two days she’s been called “hasbeen,” “dumbass,” “c-nt”). While some of her responses have been enigmatic, they add credence to the idea that her “outburst” was a failed attempt at ironic social commentary:Her attempts at dialogue may be too little, too late. According to Billboard, 10 of her next 11 concert venues have now canceled her appearance, and her June 23 appearance at Colorado’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival also has been canceled.