All-star recording sessions are nothing new, but there has probably never been one with such a common heart as when Meg Christian recorded her latest album, "Turning It Over." Every major performer in women's music (Cris Williamson, Mary Watkins, Teresa Trull, Margie Adams) appeared as a musician or backup singer. It was a sign of love and respect for Christian, who has been at the cultural heart of the women's movement for more than a decade.
An inspirational figure to a movement whose music has been intentionally "comforting and nurturing, an antidote to the alienation and isolation that goes on in a lot of our daily lives," Christian feels that "we remind one another of what's real, what's true and what's possible in our lives."
Meg Christian came home yesterday. Not to her family's home, which is staid Lynchburg, Va., headquarters of the Moral Majority, but to the city where she came to acknowledge and expand her emotional and political consciousness 11 years ago. Oddly enough, she credits David Frost for the flash of recognition that started her on her way to becoming the best known artist in the women's music movement.
The feminist stance had previously been "subconscious," "experiential," Christian said yesterday before a concert at the Bayou. She first came to Washington in 1969 after attending school in North Carolina. Politically naive, she entered the Mr. Henry's bar circuit, covered material from Joni Mitchell, Burt Bacharach and other easy-listening favorites. Sitting at home one off-night, Christian watched Frost host feminist authors Ti Grace Atkinson and Robin Morgan.
"They were trying to explain their political analysis and he was laughing at them; they walked off and I remember sitting there alone, pounding on the table, saying, "They're right, now I understand everything.' " Christian laughs warmly, remembering her late entrance into sexual politics. "Things were never the same after that. I even wrote to David Frost, that was my first political act."
The sudden truth had immediate consequences: she tossed out most of her repertoire. "The words had never been important, they were just something to do with my mouth while I played the guitar," she says. Christian started writing her own songs, or borrowing from fellow feminist songwriter Cris Williamson, trying to portray women's lives in "a loving, honest, positive way."
Soon it was Christian who was being tossed out of jobs at nightclubs, uneasy about audiences increasingly composed of women (who didn't buy as many drinks as men); club owners also seemed uneasy with the lesbian thrust of the music (including "Ode to a Gym Teacher" and "The Road I Took to You"), though the singer is quick to point out that "each of us who defines ourselves as part of the women's music scene treats these issues differently."
Frustrated, Christian set up alternative venues at any place that would let her perform: in the basement of the Women's Center on R Street, at Back Alley theater, in coffeehouses up and down the East Coast. In 1973, she and Williamson came up with the "idea for a women's business that would create jobs and put out a useful product." First they organized women-only concerts; then they created the highly successful women-only Olivia Records, which was based in Washington for several years before moving to California.
Olivia has spawned alternative opportunities for women in distribution, production and promotion, all male-dominated facets of the entertainment industry. More importantly, it has solidified the emotional impact and value of women's music, Christian feels. "Survival to me has always meant finding out I'm not alone. The women's movement showed me that the way I was feeling about myself -- as a woman, as a lesbian -- was not unique to me." Last year Christian appeared on a folk bill at the New York Folk Festival. "It was interesting to hear 90 percent newcomers to my music singing along to 'Here Come the Leapin' Lesbians.' It was a trip."
It's a long strange trip that's not yet completed. In fact, the growing national conservatism is a worry to a wide array of people, she says, especially feminists and gays. "People are scared . . . and angry," Christian insists. "The overwhelming thing I feel is 'You're not going to put me back in my closet.' I just wrote a song about it: 'I have seen the vision and I can't turn back.' "