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Songs can bring gay solidarity

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I saw the Indigo Girls the other night.

As I am a lesbian living in Atlanta, this is hardly breaking news. I've seen the duo perform at least annually since I moved here, right out of college, in 1993. I realize this is nauseatingly trite, but what can you do? It's like they're sirens or something. Every time those two announce a show or put out an album, I find myself sitting at the computer without even knowing how I got there, typing in my credit card digits like some kind of flannel-clad zombie.

You know how everyone remembers where they were on 9/11? Well, every gay woman in the metro area can tell you a story about the first time she saw the Indigo Girls in concert. And the smaller the venue, the cheaper the ticket, the earlier the songs, etc. — you got it, the bigger the bragging rights (not to mention the older the teller).

Me? Glad you asked. I was a freshman in college, and my boyfriend and I drove from Sewanee to Vanderbilt to see the band with his older brother, who had the inside scoop that they were gay — whoa! — but "not together." The 1989 album Indigo Girls became the background for the rest of my freshman year, a permanent fixture in my cassette player on the two-hour drive between campus and my hometown.

When I moved to the ATL, my second apartment was a third-floor shotgun looking onto Piedmont Park. Every day I walked or ran the paths, feeling all grown-up and cool and urban, my Rites of Passage tape in my Walkman. I caught the band live whenever I could — at Earth Day, the Roxy, Symphony Hall, the Variety, at Pride. Sometimes they had a full ensemble, sometimes it was just the two of them and their guitars. Always, though, there was a sea of lesbians in front of the stage.

So I guess it's not totally surprising that I started to feel the pull. As I began to tiptoe gingerly onto the gay scene — remember Revolution on Pharr Road, Dupree's, that girl bar off Ralph McGill that served 25-cent draft beer on Tuesdays? — Swamp Ophelia provided the musical score. I know the Girls have zillions of straight fans, but there's nothing like being newly out to help you fully appreciate both their artistry and their advocacy. And later, when my son was born (long story), he could hum along to 1997's "Shame on You" before he could say the words. And later still, as a reporter for Southern Voice and now an editor at Emory, where the Indigo Girls got their start as students, I have had the chance to meet and interview both women — seminal moments for a longtime fan.

You'd think after 20 years, we Atlanta lesbians might be over hearing the Indigo Girls hit the opening chords of "Galileo" and "Closer to Fine." You'd be wrong, though. For a lot of us, those songs are the soundtrack of our stories — the stories of coming out, growing up, finding love, losing love and starting to feel just a little bit old.

Last weekend, watching them play for the hundredth time with my partner of 13 years, I thought about how much richer their music has made my life — and I'm just one lesbian living in Atlanta. Call me a cliché if you want. Personally, I can't wait until their next show.

Paige Parvin is editor of Emory magazine.

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