Black me out is a new Audible original from the company’s “Words + Music” series, written and narrated by Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace! and the author of the provocative music memoir transexual. And it is fantastic. It’s the musical memory I’ve been waiting for for years, even though I’ve heard it sort of before.
In 2016, I had the privilege of seeing Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace on a solo tour in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was, if I remember correctly, about 9 months before she published her memoir, transexual. I had seen Against me! before, of course, and I had also seen Grace play solo. But it was something different – an evening of intimate storytelling, with stripped-down versions of songs from Grace’s entire career, with interludes from her reading the diary she kept throughout her time with the band. .
Against me! had started as a folk-punk project, with Grace on guitar and a friend on a bucket, and quickly exploded, thanks to her caustic and poetic lyricism. The group was billed as a big torchbearer of anarchy and tinkering – which was a lot of pressure and set them up for even more criticism. They were accused of selling themselves as soon as they spread to a full range of groups; then again when they signed with an independent record; and when they signed with another independent record company; which of course got worse when they signed with a major label, making it into the Billboard Top 100.
This story alone is enough to make an interesting memoir. But it was much more interesting – and much more humanize – by the fact that Grace had publicly appeared as trans in the pages of Rolling stone in 2012. While she may not be a household name, she was one of the first established public figures to do so. And that context was a central part of the story she told on stage that night. Grace candidly revealed the depths of her struggle with gender dysphoria in these historic diary entries, shedding new light on songs fans thought they knew. The stress of rock stardom – and those “clearance sale” accusations – has only made her mental health issues worse over the years. In some ways, she admitted, she was overcompensating, hoping that she could stamp out her thoughts of femininity by becoming a fabulous male rockstar – which, of course, only made matters worse.
This 2016 performance was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen in my life, even though that’s not how it was conceived or conceived. I even brought a friend, who was not at all familiar with Grace’s music or story, and only vaguely knew her as a trans icon; he too was moved to tears by the sadness and euphoria of his performance that evening. There is a lot of darkness, but there is also an incredible amount of hope at the end.
Black me out is basically an audiobook version of this show that I saw 5 years ago. Grace tells the story of her life, from the Army kid dropping out of high school in Naples, Florida, to being arrested on tour and finally exploring her gender identity. The “chapters”, so to speak, are each interspersed with a new acoustic rendition of songs from his entire career. Even if you don’t particularly care about Against Me !, this makes for a compelling storytelling device, as it reveals the ways she’s hinted at her trans-being throughout her career and the ways she’s tried. to hide it. She talks about songwriting as an art and a craft – and the act of creation has helped her learn to finally be true to herself. (My wife, as a stage artist, was taken by all of this, even though she only knows Laura Jane because I’m talking about her; my wife admittedly did not understand the depths of the ‘clearance sale’ accusation. ! ”From the punk community.)
Black me out only lasts about 2 hours, and you can listen to it for free if you’re an Audible Plus member. I highly recommend it. There’s also a delightful story about Springsteen coming to a show to congratulate Grace on coming out, and she’s absolutely freaking out about it. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Picture: Alex Guibord / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)