The Indigo Ladies Look Again

The Indigo Ladies know full nicely they’ve been handled as a punchline — and it nonetheless hurts them. But it surely’s this lack of cool placidity that renders the alt-rock duo roguishly interesting.  Amy Ray, the dark-haired irascible one, and Emily Saliers, the strawberry blonde ocean of feelings, have by no means shied away from excavating their deepest emotions throughout their 40-year profession of hyperverbal acoustic ballading. And, rightly so, their vulnerability has been their biggest energy as artists and activists, even if vulnerability is precisely what (largely male) critics believed weakened them musically.  

For many years in popular culture, referencing the Indigo Ladies grew to become shorthand for razzing on a sure American archetype, the crunchy, feel-good, bleeding coronary heart, militantly earnest, 90s kind of social justice warrior in flannel who was both coded as queer or blatantly denigrated as queer. Truly, it was this sort of satire that first launched me to who these musicians even had been again after I was a baby within the 90s. And, the truth is, a 2015 TV sequence gently teasing their vanity increase rock, wherein a trans mom and her queer daughters sing alongside to their infectious “Nearer to Effective” in a automobile on their strategy to a woodsy wimmin’s competition, was what helped me fall in love with them, too.  

It is Solely Life After All

The Backside Line

The uncommon confessional rockumentary that envelops you want a mushy blanket.

Within the intimate and heartfelt rockumentary It’s Solely Life After All — an sadly longwinded and nonsensical phrase sequence when ripped from the context of the aforementioned track of its origin — filmmaker Alexandria Bombach tenderly coaxes Ray and Saliers into wanting again on their oeuvre, politics and partnership. Even I, who’s typically extra drawn to edgelord irony than guileless sincerity, was instantly swept into the narrative of how two queer feminine Georgian misfits, who first met in elementary faculty within the Nineteen Seventies, found the alchemical energy of their mixed songwriting skills and ultimately impressed a complete era of younger listeners to embrace introspection. I’m additionally only a sucker for rock historical past archival footage, and this doc is a seamlessly edited treasure trove of previous photographs, audio recordings, taped performances and video interviews from their youthful days. The hair! Their voices!

But, as loving a portrait as this movie is, it’s not fully hagiographic both and I don’t assume Ray and Saliers would ever let it’s anyway. All through the one-on-one interviews, you get the sense that these individuals are their very own greatest critics; Ray specifically chastises herself for her historical past of alienating anger administration points and publicly insecure responses to dismissive journalists. “I really feel like I used to be too exaggerated and ardent generally,” Ray acknowledges. “And did have some stagy self-congratulatory gestures that had been annoying to me now to have a look at.”

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As self-effacing as they every are wanting again at their previous emotionality, their present candidness stays the documentary’s revving engine. Viewers can simply observe how they steadiness one another, not as the sunshine and the darkish however because the uncooked and the wistful. Not like different musicians when requested to outline their legacy, the 2 are by no means boringly cryptic or mechanical whereas reflecting on their careers. As an alternative, they dive into subjects like envy and comparability. Certainly, it’s a delight to see them truthfully assess their early lyrics. Ray, who comes off because the mouthpiece of the duo, decries her track “Blood and Fireplace” because the sort of dejected and self-absorbed frippery one writes of their early 20s once they’re depressed in school. (Not realizing that’s precisely what makes the track and her visceral supply on it brilliantly relatable! I’m unsure I knew anybody who wasn’t depressed in school.)

Equally, Saliers, who Ray even describes as “elusive,” hilariously cringes on the ethereally poetic self-seriousness of her youthful days, laughing to herself as she admits writing pretentious songs concerning the Girl of Shalott. I imply, really, what artsy woman hasn’t? She is achingly humble, deflecting when pressured to contend along with her personal energy as a songwriter. The documentary made me think about the draw back of profession longevity for artists: An early work can hold you steeped within the disgrace of youthful folly since you’ve inadvertently immortalized a regrettable time in your life.  

The movie crescendos because it digs into how Ray and Saliers’ identities as lesbians had been important to their success, drawing numerous younger queer individuals to their music a long time earlier than LGBTQ+ acceptance was extra mainstream and corporatized. I’m certain each musical artist on the planet has saved not less than one particular person’s life (there’s gotta be some dude on the market who crawled his means up from all-time low due to Limp Bizkit), however it’s pretty clear from It’s Solely Life After All that the Indigo Ladies virtually invented a small cottage trade of offering even just a bit little bit of hope to queer individuals within the Eighties and 90s who had been coming of age whereas trapped in homophobic communities. As many fan interviewees word, the Indigo Ladies’ music was a device for his or her survival.

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Ray and Saliers don’t shrink back from addressing the sexism and homophobia that largely excluded them from extra standard reputation. They admit they by no means slot in with the mousy artists of the normal people scene, which at first made it robust for them to discover a bigger viewers. As Ray astutely factors out, “They’ll perceive Rage Towards the Machine, however they don’t perceive the Indigo Ladies.” In any case, when you really hearken to their lyrics, they’re no extra area of interest than different wholehearted wordsmiths like Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Stevie Nicks or Dolly Parton. They’ve a pure listenability. What made them controversial was their bundle: They had been brazenly lesbian, brazenly masc and brazenly left-wing.

After all, these signifiers could have been easier within the 90s, once they reached the heights of their notoriety. Saliers shares that she is usually sexually and visually interested in males, although stays emotionally interested in girls. Ray discloses she’s on the gender spectrum (and probably different spectra, too.) In 2023, is the phrase “lesbian” too inflexible to explain what might be thought of probably the most lesbian band of all time? Bombach and her topics don’t have solutions, however the Indigo Ladies aren’t too fussed on these distinctions anyway. As at all times, they’re embracing the liminal, the uncomfortable. Particularly the uncomfortable components of themselves.  



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