I’m sure you were expecting this post. Yes, I bought Chely Wright’s new Big Gay Album, Lifted Off the Ground. It is my first Chely Wright album. Perhaps you will recall that pre-coming out, I had just lukewarm feelings about her. I’m not too proud to admit that I am more interested in Chely Wright now than I used to be. If I didn’t say it, people would assume it anyway so I might as well be honest. Lesbianism makes people more interesting to me. I’ve been sort of re-processing Chely Wright’s whole existence in light of this new information, and some things are starting to make sense. For instance, maybe that silly “Single White Female” song (and even sillier video) was so cheesy and empty because Chely wasn’t really feeling it.
Even though I had what can be called an enthusiastic response to Chely Wright’s coming out, I didn’t intend to buy the album. I just wasn’t interested. Instead, I bought Melissa Etheridge’s new album. (Don’t even get me started on that situation.) See, I’m on a budget, folksâ€”a lesbian entertainment budget, apparently.
Then I watched about a thousand talk show interviews where Chely talked about how gay this one particular song on this album is and I started to wonder. Wonder turned to abject curiosity. Then I had an extra $10 and, well, you can guess what happened.
When I first started listening to this album, I recalled what it was I liked about “Shut Up and Drive” all those years ago. While Chely Wright isn’t the world’s most talented singer, she has an adorable speaking voice that translates almost completely to her singing voice.
The song in question on this new album is called “Like Me” (which is coincidentally the name of Chely’s memoir, which I haven’t read because it’s apparently popular at the library). It’s a quiet song, just her and the guitar sort of squeaking in that country music way. I like country music so I like these songs on Lifted Off the Ground, but make no mistake, despite the incompatibility of the gay and the country music, this is a country music album. However, “Like Me” has a specific intimacy about it that keeps it from being generic. This song contains details about this estranged lover that feel real: “You won’t eat a tomato on a double-dog dare” and “Your closet is cluttered with dress pants and Levis that you wish you’d never bought” and (my favorite, for its awkwardness) “You’d rather make-out than make love all night.” That’s personal stuff, right?
Is the song gay? Kind of. If I heard it without the coming-out context, without Chely herself telling me how gay it is for weeks before I ever heard it, what would I think? I’ll tell you what would have caught my attention regardless of the context. This song has what can only be called a positive (refreshingly non-sleazy or attention-whorey) portrayal of bisexuality. Check out the chorus: “And who’s gonna end up holding your hand?/ A beautiful woman or a tall, handsome man/ There’s no doubt they’ll love you/ But it’s yet to be seen/ Will anyone ever know you like me?”
So, yes, it’s more queer than most country songs.
My favorite song on the album, though, is “Hang Out in Your Heart.” I like the way it sounds. It has some of that quietness that “Like Me” has, but it’s tone is a bit lighter. Whereas “Like Me” is all melancholy and longing, the separation in “Hang Out in Your Heart” feels temporary. What I like best about this song is that while there is some sort of unsatisfying romantic situation going on, there isn’t any desperation. There is even this line: “I know you don’t really need me/ But still you opened up/ And I guess that’s why this all feels so damn good.” It’s a healthy relationship! That’s rare in all avenues of pop culture, but especially in music.
Speaking of desperate, though, there is “Notes to the Coroner.” This is one of my favorite songs on the album and it doesn’t take its desperation seriously. Basically, the premise of the song is that she has left notes for the coroner in case she doesn’t make it because “I lost too much love and then I fell apart/ Official cause of my death.” Most of the songs on Lifted Off the Ground are quiet and solemn in the way that I described “Like Me,” and Chely herself seems that way, too, lately. “Notes to the Coroner” is fun, though. It’s important not to take things so seriously all the time.