Nellie McKay. It is a bit of a challenge to find a way to describe her using just words. Even her music – it is the performances (I’ve only seen her in video) that have a life of their own, more than the music but completely embedded in the music.
So I’m thrilled to have the chance to see her perform live next week at The Warhol on Thursday. Nellie was gracious enough to take a ew questions from me. When I am fortunate enough to interview folks, I poke around to find their Pittsburgh connection. McKay has offered a powerful performance work as Rachel Carson and has her own personal ties to the Poconos region of Pennsylvania. Reviews describe her a fusion of this and that – sass and charm among them – but I suspect talented and smart are a good starting point for me.
Her tour is promoting her new album ‘Home Sweet Mobile Home” which has a special fan gift pack on her website. I think you’ll really her music.
1. As an adult artist, what impresses you the most about Pittsburgh?
Your bridges, tenacity & large rubber ducky.
2. I grew up here in Pgh, moved away for my 20s and came back ten years later. I think people have no idea how truly rural Pennsylvania can be and how that shapes everything from state laws to poverty. What do you recall as most resilient about your rural neighbors in the Poconos?
They have a healthy skepticism – I don’t trust the feds either (though perhaps for different reasons) & they tolerate cold weather well.
3. I read several reviews that describe your social justice work,particularly “social injustice in which people who fall through the cracks are invisible to everyone else? How does music make injustice visible?
Music can make injustice bearable – Queen Ifrica’s Daddy is a good example of a beautiful, even danceable song about a wrenching issue.
4. Rachel Carson and Andy Warhol are both such iconic and still controversial natives to Pgh. Their bridges are side by side, just a block apart. What is it that draws (or drew) you to connect with both?
‘Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the people of the earth’ – Rachel Carson embodies Chief Seattle’s words – in her quiet, persistent way she demonstrated that life on earth means coexistence or no existence. Andy Warhol changed the way we look at & make art – from grim poverty on up both Andy & Rachel were beautiful outsiders.
5. What do you admire about the queer community?
See above! I admire gay men for their (general) appreciation of artifice & razzle dazzle – gay women for (generally) the opposite – I’d like to die & come back as a real human – at home I’m a dyke – in public I’m flaming.
6. When I first listened to “Beneath the Underdog” I began to weep. I’m a social worker and conversations about privilege are not often welcome among some of my circles. I read the lyrics to be caught in the middle between appreciate when privilege has to offer and yet finding some comfort in solidarity with those who are not privileged.Is that a fair assessment – navigating the “in-between” of being an ally?
Poor people have a better idea of what life’s about & they have the best music & parties. What’s so great about successful people? Ricky Gervais says there’s nothing interesting about successful people.
7. Tell me about the very first LGBTQ person that you knew and how that impacted you?
Back in high school I had a crush on someone I don’t even know if she’s out yet. Also we knew somebody on Broadway who used to live on Gower Street & will eat you alive (when he’s not at Joe Allen’s).
8. Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature?
Garbo in Queen Christina – those boots!
9. What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community?
Go vegetarian – Albert Einstein said nothing would benefit humanity more than the conversion to a vegetarian diet – a less violent, macho, hierarchical world is one friendlier to lesbians and gays.
10. Do you have any Pittsburgh based influences? Local or Pgh natives you’d like to work with?
Billy Strayhorn was from Pittsburgh! So was Mister Rogers! & Mary Cassatt! They’re the greatest!