A rough road leads Laura Love to a life of music and activism
On her latest CD, You Ain’t Got No Easter Clothes, Seattle funk-folk singer/ songwriter/electric bassist Laura Love can sound upbeat, from the gospel of “Satisfied” to the playful folk (with a hint of a yodel) of “Good Enough.” She can even get hip-grindingly bad-ass, as on “Freak Flag,” featuring the extremely sexy Dobro playing of Orville Johnson. Throw in a little calypso, country, jazz and bluegrass at times as well, and Love’s blending of musical styles is always fresh, creative and truly hers.
The lyrics, though—that’s where the soul of Love’s music lies, compelling storylines pulled straight from her experience as an African-American child growing up poor in 1960s Nebraska: (from “You Ain’t Got No Easter Clothes") “He said, ‘You ain’t got no Easter clothes/ You ain’t got no pretty things—no!/ You ain’t got no Easter clothes/ What you got is diddly-squat!'”
Love’s mother Wini figures largely in her life and work. One gets the sense of a profound nostalgia as a black-and-white photograph of a beautiful young Wini floats across the computer screen at the entrance to Love’s Web site.
Her mother now lives in a group home in the Seattle area after Love “finally found her [again] after 16 years of looking for her.”
Enjoying both urban and rural life, Love now splits her time between a house in Seattle and her other home, “a solar- and wind-powered house in north-central Washington,” and in a recent phone conversation from Seattle she spoke to me of the pain—and joy—that informs her work.
Love told me of how her mother tried unsuccessfully to “[hang] herself in front of me and my sister when I was 6 years old.” This was one of many traumatic events in Love’s growing-up life in Nebraska. There were the orphanages, foster homes, convents and homeless shelters that Love and her sister spent time in while their mother, who was left to raise two kids on her own in poverty, was in and out of mental institutions.
“There are a lot of us out there who didn’t have that Beaver Cleaver existence,” Love said, without a trace of bitterness in her voice. “I think that the typical American childhood is sort of an illusion. … Having experienced such low, low lows also lets you experience the highs,” she added.
The question was obvious: Did her childhood suffering and resultant capacity to feel help her to be the soulful singer/songwriter and deeply-grooving bass player that she is? “Yes. Yes, it does,” she answered.
Love’s rough early years also “had a lot to do with [informing] my own liberal politics,” she said. She spoke vigorously and critically of “the Reagan years” and the difficulties caused for the mentally ill who were released in droves from institutions due to lack of funding, only to become the wandering, uncared-for homeless.
Love did point out the plus side to all of that, though: “For as fucked-up as the Reagan administration was, people got to see the mentally ill on the streets,” and that, she believes, allowed society to witness first-hand what Love had seen her whole life—that there were all these people, like her mother, who lived incredibly difficult lives and needed help. Songs like her “Trickle Down” (from 2003’s Welcome to Pagan Place) speak to this era.
Love was equally critical of the current Bush administration “trying to eliminate programs. … Those programs are what saved my ass! When my leg got infected [as a child] and almost fell off, there was a clinic to go to!” Love spoke admiringly of the Scandinavian countries, which she says “prioritize health care, day care, vacations. … That’s the kind of big government I want!”
Love not only brings her passionate self and music and music partner of almost six years, Jen Todd ("a great singer-songwriter … [who] plays guitar beautifully"), to Chico this week, but also a brand-new autobiography, also titled You Ain’t Got No Easter Clothes.