Q&A with Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields

Photo credit:
Marcelo Krasilcic

When I read that the Magnetic Fields were coming to Pittsburgh for a two-show performance of their latest album ‘50 Song Memoir‘ – I threw caution to the wind and requested an interview with Stephin Merritt. He can obviously have his pick of all the mainstream media in the region; I was hoping that his eschewal of expectations might incline him to invest a few minutes in a blog. Ledcat is a big fan of the Magnetic Fields. My hope and her fandom paid off in one of my more favorite Q&A’s.

I should admit that I wrote these questions in the midst of a deep depression which explains the meandering lengths and my obsession with the 2010 interview for The Advocate. But take note that even when you are depressed, people can be kind in granting you access. And music can still reach you.

PEOPLE WHO HAVE ALREADY COME OUT ARE ONLY PART OF THE STORY, AND THE ONES WHO WILL PROBABLY COME OUT LATER ARE VALUABLE TOO.

Your Name:  STEPHIN MERRITT

Your Pronouns: GUESS

How do you describe your identity? KINSEY 6

Please tell us about your very first impression of Pittsburgh. 

MOST OF MY TIME IN PITTSBURGH HAS BEEN INSIDE OF, OR WITH THE PEOPLE FROM, THE WARHOL MUSEUM. SO IN MY EXPERIENCE IT’S A GORGEOUS PLACE WHERE EVERYONE IS FASCINATING AND IT’S USUALLY JOHN WATERS’S BIRTHDAY. FEEL FREE TO CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG.

Are there any Pittsburgh performers (based here or born here) who influence you? Anyone you’d like to collaborate with? 

THE WORD “COLLABORATE” MAKES ME SNEEZE, AND BESIDES, EVERYONE I LIKE HAS SOMETHING IN COMMON: ANDY WARHOL IS DEAD. GENE KELLY IS DEAD. ZELDA RUBINSTEIN IS DEAD.

Who was the first LGBTQ person that you met and how did they impact you?

MY TRANSGENDER BABYSITTER TEVIA, AND HER GIRLFRIEND LEE, WERE EARLY ROLE MODELS IN AN ODD WAY. LEE WAS A GREAT BIG BLACK BASS PLAYER WITH AN AFRO WHO LOVED PROG ROCK. I LOVED THEIR BLITHE DISREGARD OF GENDER STEREOTYPES.

BUT REALLY THE MOST IMPORTANT FORMATIVE PERSON FOR ME WAS DAVID BOWIE. GENDER SHMENDER.

In 2010, you told The Advocate “There are plenty of gay men doing quiet music; they just aren’t in the club scene, so they’re forced into not being open about it.” That turn of phrase ‘gay men doing quiet music’ struck me as a metaphor for the experiences of LGBTQ people we are documenting in our #AMPLIFY archive (pghlesbian.com/amplify) – so many people living quietly gay lives, sometimes by choice but mostly not. While a lot of musical folks have strolled out of the closet since 2010, do you think there’s a
fundamental difference in the realities for gay musicians who are not in the club scene? 

IS THERE EVEN STILL A CLUB SCENE? NOW IT’S IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANYONE (OF WHATEVER IDENTITY) TO GET FAMOUS AT ALL, WHICH IS WHY ALL THE CELEBRITIES ARE SO OLD. THIS MUST CHANGE OR SOON ALL THE CELEBRITIES WILL BE DEAD.

Photo credit:Marcelo Krasilcic

I listened to my birthyear song (70) contrasted with the year I graduated high school (88) – and remember the my own first reaction to both Grace Slick and Ethan Frome was dismay, fear, and, angst. Is it fair for me to see a connection between the despair of disregarding the realities of atrocities and cruel fates? (That people see this as
simply autobiographical rather than a prophetic description of this 50 year period baffles me.) 

ON THE SUNNY SIDE: ALL FATES ARE CRUEL SOONER OR LATER. AND I LIKE TO COMFORT MYSELF WITH THE THEORY THAT IF MY TAXES WEREN’T DIRECTLY PAYING FOR THE DRONE ATTACKS THAT BLOW UP INNOCENT CHILDREN FAR AWAY, THE SAME CHILDREN WOULD BE DEVOURED BY CROCODILES TEN SECONDS LATER ANYWAY. WITHOUT THIS THEORY I COULD NOT POSSIBLY PAY MY TAXES.

I’m not a music critic and I’m not a gusher. I do think you have power as an openly gay man to speak through music to people who don’t have a voice. What would you choose as a ‘love song’ for LGBTQ youth? 

THERE IS ONLY WAYNE COUNTY AND THE ELECTRIC CHAIRS’S DEATHLESS CLASSIC, “FUCK OFF,” A/K/A “(IF YOU DON’T WANT TO FUCK ME, BABY) FUCK OFF.” THIS SONG TEACHES THE ATTITUDE WE ALL NEED TO CULTIVATE IN ORDER TO SURVIVE IN THIS COUNTRY, NOW AND FOREVER. (Editor note – the artist is now known as Jayne County.)

Back to that 2010 interview, you spoke about being described as ‘camp’ as homophobic code to dismiss you and your music. I’ve read other snappish commentary. I think it is lovely that you took some time to respond to a little lesbian blog in Pittsburgh. Thank you for that kindness. 

THANK YOU FOR WRITING A “LITTLE” LESBIAN BLOG IN PITTSBURGH. BUT ON THE INTERNET, IT’S ONLY LITTLE TILL THE SCANDAL HITS!

Who are some of the younger openly LGBTQ artists that our readers should be listening to, but might not know about?

I OFTEN WONDER THAT MYSELF. LET ME GO A TAD OUTSIDE THE GAY OVERTON WINDOW AND SAY: PEOPLE WHO HAVE ALREADY COME OUT ARE ONLY PART OF THE STORY, AND THE ONES WHO WILL PROBABLY COME OUT LATER ARE VALUABLE TOO. I CAME OUT AT THE START OF MY CAREER, BUT I DO NOT RECOMMEND THAT AS A STRATEGY. COYNESS IS A GLAMOROUS AND PERFECTLY HONORABLE TRADITION, AS WELL AS BEING A NECESSARY PART OF COMING OF AGE FOR MOST PEOPLE. WE SHOULD NURTURE IT.

Where can readers find you on social media?

PROBABLY THE USUAL PLACES. SOCIAL MEDIA IS A STUPID DRUDGERY I WOULDN’T WISH ON ANYONE. DIVEST!

Thank you, Stephin.

Note from MF management- the Magnetic Fields do indeed use social media! Come see their “50 Song Memoir” show at Carnegie Music Hall on June 19+20.
Twitter: @MagFields
Instagram: @MagFields

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