“The line is that we are fighting to bring democracy to the people [of Afghanistan and Iraq], and yet we can’t do it ourselves,” she says. “It is that elementary and that stupid to me. I can’t believe people aren’t more brave than that, that they won’t stand up for something that seems so obvious.”
‘Holly Happy Days’
For Ray, who has been asking and telling for more than 20 years in Indigo Girls, the vote was a stark reminder of how much work remains to be done.
“It was one of those moments where I was like, ‘Wow, I’m gay, and they are doing something very discriminatory about gay people,’” Ray says. “It was a very elemental moment, because you get numb to it. You get so used to fighting that battle.”
You can also get tired of fighting. In the wake of the DADT debate, a staffer for Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) left a death threat against gays on a national gay blog.
The admission sparked a flurry of online comments from LGBT Georgians who wondered whether it isn’t time to simply give up on our state.
Though she understands the frustration, Ray says leaving Georgia for more LGBT-friendly turf isn’t an option for her.
“I’m fourth generation Georgia on my mom’s side. That is what keeps me here — serious family history. All of my family line, it’s all Southern, and there are great things about that and bad things, but I am loyal to it. I’m loyal to being here and working for change.
“If everyone leaves, we are going to have a hard time, because change happens on a very individual level, all the way down to you and your neighbor,” she says. “You learn to understand and dialogue with each other.”
Sharing the ‘Brilliant Dream’
Ray chronicles that dialogue with her heritage in several of her songs for Indigo Girls, including “Shame on You,” a rollicking tune that they performed at Atlanta Pride in 1996 and appears on the duo’s 1997 album “Shaming of the Sun.” It is also included on Indigo Girls’ recent album of live recordings, “Staring Down the Brilliant Dream,” released in June.
The live album’s title comes from a song by Saliers, “Love of Our Lives,” but Ray says it is also an apt description for their career together. The two began performing together as high school students in Decatur, Ga., then reunited when they both transferred to Atlanta’s Emory University.
Some 25 years, 18 records, countless concerts and legions of loyal fans later, the duo has struck a balance between their individual interests and the magic they create together.
“Emily didn’t use ‘staring down the brilliant dream’ in reference to our career, but I like it in reference to what we do,” Ray says. “For me, it’s kind of the way we look at our lives, which is kind of like a dream of things we really didn’t think we would get.”
For Ray, the key is remembering her roots and what drew her to music to begin with.
“There are moments when your ego gets in there, and you get distanced from your community or your family or your own reason for doing it — I think that is the danger for me,” she continues. “It is like you are looking at something so brilliant and amazing and lucky, and you have to be careful not to let it get you.”
Solo projects give the duo room to grow independently: Ray has put out several solo albums, and Saliers is working on a long-awaited individual project.
And after more than two decades of song-making, Indigo Girls are also exploring new musical territory together: the duo’s first holiday album, “Holly Happy Days,” comes out Oct. 12.
The album includes 12 tracks, including a Hanukkah song, three originals, and interpretations of classics like “O Holy Night,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Longtime Indigo Girls fans will also be thrilled to have the duo’s rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which they have performed at concerts near the holidays.
Their approach to classic tunes is to keep it traditional, Ray says.
“We tried to do whatever we could to strengthen the songs, and not distract from them,” Ray says. “It’s very rootsy, very rural and simple sounding.”
The Oct. 15 Buckhead Theatre concert will be too early in the season to perform the holiday music, but Rays says fans can expect the warmth and creativity that always comes with an Indigo Girls show here in Atlanta.
“We’ll do some requests, some old favorites, some new stuff, and try to mix it up and have a good time,” Ray says. “Hometown shows are always a little more spontaneous.”
And no matter how the political tides turn, Atlanta will always be home.
“There are a lot of good people here, and it is the birthplace of the civil rights movement — I feel like that is a hopeful thing,” Ray says.
“You have to be where you can make change.”
Top photo: Indigo Girls return to Atlanta on Oct. 15 for a sold-out show at the newly renovated Buckhead Theatre. (by Lynn Goldsmith)