Happy release day to Lavender Country! We’re so honored to be working with Patrick Haggerty on this remarkable project to reissue the first-ever openly gay country record, and it’s incredibly gratifying to see that folks appreciate The Information that the record disseminates. Patrick has become both a friend and a hero to the PoB family, and it was a dream to help organize his first performance of Lavender Country songs in 15 years last weekend in L.A. at The Church on York (documentation forthcoming from Cali DeWitt.) We’re humbled to play this small role in perpetuating and celebrating an important chapter of queer music history. Onwards, and keep up the good fight, Patrick!
Please forgive our extended gushing for a moment here… In recent years, Patrick has begun painting, and it turns out that he is a supremely talented visual artist as well as a musician and activist–check out the beautiful painting of Lavender Country (the idealized geographical/psychic landscape) he created for the PoB offices! (See the above snapshot, which does not do the work justice.)
The album has been attracting an avalanche of press, for good reason, including today’s “Best New Reissue” rating from Pitchfork. See below for some press excerpts and links. You can order the album here, or find it at your favorite local shop or global digital marketplace.
(Please note that, due to a misprint of the liner notes booklet, vinyl LP orders are shipping slightly late; thanks for your patience.)
Best New Reissue: 8.6. Masterful—sexy, sad, and tender all at once. Haggerty’s songs are resonant and wonderful, folding pain into jokes and vice versa and exuding heartbreak and anger and wry good humor. It’s a tremendous feat, a remarkable act of bravery and honesty as well as a statement on the universality of love and lust and belonging. Pop songs are limited vessels for social justice, but the good ones do a remarkable job of teaching empathy, a few minutes at a time, and Haggerty’s songs build a better world to live in, for forty minutes or so. There aren’t many achievements more exalted than that. Now that the resourceful and adventurous North Carolina label Paradise of Bachelors is reissuing Lavender Country, the enduring richness of Haggerty’s achievement can be appreciated again.
Pioneering ’73 gay country LP, musically in Holy Modal Rounders territory; odd, reedy renderings of [Haggerty’s] caustic, political themes with ramshackle arrangements. Beautifully packaged with a moving oral history.
For all its strides, our culture remains woefully inadequate when it comes to producing gay country songs. Thankfully, the excellent North Carolina–based indie label Paradise of Bachelors has stepped up to rectify this situation by reissuing the trailblazing (and until now scarcely available) self-titled 1973 debut by Lavender Country. For all the out contemporary artists, few dare to be as explicit about the frustrations and pleasures of being a gay man as Haggerty. If Lavender Country were only a historical curio, it would be a fascinating listen. But it’s also an often pretty and delightfully strange proto-indie Americana record that predates backwood eccentrics like Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Bill Callahan.
A compelling musical time capsule that melds humor, protest, and pride into a sonic canvas in the vein of contemporaries the Fugs or a wryer incarnation of Ray Wylie Hubbard and The Cowboy Twinkies. Plaintive fiddle lines and rambling piano fills situate the album firmly within a Nashville-bar-band idiom, while Haggerty’s nasal tenor is so distinct as to discourage comparison. Lyrically, the album is often humorous and painful at once, a feat that makes tales of exclusion and institutionalized homophobia all the more compelling. When Haggerty sings, “He won’t get no restitution,” about a gay victim of electroshock therapy, it’s enough to give you goosebumps.
In a different world, would Lavender Country already be a part of country music’s storied history? Would Haggerty be an icon alongside greats like Willie and Hank? This is music that matters and stands on its own two feet. Patrick’s storyline isn’t a crutch, but the backbone of a brilliant record. Country music at its best has always been a medium that conveys deeply personal, intriguing stories, and in that sense the album is a triumph. Lavender Country encapsulates the rebellion and defiance of old country music, a music that sprang from a boundless culture that refused to give up its rural, lawless freedom, and there’s a sense of that backwoods lawlessness in Lavender Country. It’s that kind of determination—a determination toward kindness even amid the horror stories it tells—that marks this as a country record in the tradition of great country records.
The ’70s were a groundbreaking time for country music—but few innovators were as fearless as Patrick Haggerty… The album showcases Haggerty’s wit, heart, and outspoken grace as he sings about homosexuality and liberation in a musical environment that was less than inviting. Lavender Country is simply a beautiful piece of ’70s country, mildly psychedelic and with hints of rustic folk.
A brave and powerful manifesto, a country album with a punk-rock message: “I’m gay, so fuck you.”
If the sound of Lavender Country sometimes recalls the style of similar post-countercultural efforts by such avant-garde folk performers as Ed Sanders and The Holy Modal Rounders, Haggerty’s lyrics provide a tour of the battered psyche of a man who simply wants to live his life free of equivocation… Much like a ’70s mainstream country singer, Haggerty laid out a social reality that may have seemed foreign to many of the era’s listeners. Moe Bandy sang about the terrors of infidelity in 1974′s “I Just Started Hatin’ Cheatin’ Songs Today,” while Haggerty explored the somewhat more life-threatening rigors of gay life in Lavender Country’s greatest track, “Waltzing Will Trilogy,” a song about mental institutions and sadistic prison guards who abuse gay inmates. It’s safe to say no Nashville country songwriter of the era would have written about “straight white honky quacks.”
So here’s the story: a Seattle man named Patrick Haggerty wrote and recorded an openly gay country album as Lavender Country in 1973. This is because he is a steelier person than you or I. He included a waltz called “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” because he’s funnier than you or I. And he loaded the song, and the album, with exquisitely personal and painful lyrics that raged against the hypocrisies, large and small that defined his life. It is a document of protest, but not a strident one. For years, this album was a rumor, a piece of cocktail conversation amongst hardcore record nerds. It is reentering the cultural conversation, deservedly, now that Paradise of Bachelors are reissuing the record.
Patrick Haggerty is a 70-year-old man who, in 1973, wrote and recorded a gay country album that is one of the most punk rock things you will ever hear. As righteous and as ribald as they come, Lavender Country is like a raw Hank Williams platter that tells queers to come out and homophobes to go fuck themselves. Forty-one years later, this unjustly arcane disc is still revolutionary.
Radical in 1973, and would still raise eyebrows in Nashville today.
– Alastair McKay, Uncut
Inverting, subverting, and perverting conservative, conventional country with cockeyed sarcasm and deviant rebel yells, Lavender Country’s landmark LP is not only an important artifact, but also serves as a time capsule containing an oral history chronicling, through the use of music as a medium for critical cultural communication, a singular experience of socio-political protest and gay liberation.
Tunes like “Back in the Closet” and “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” might initially appear to be novelty songs, but they’re drenched in authentically down-home fiddles and lovelorn harmonies, and the overall mood is more heartfelt than cheaply sarcastic.
Several decades after the fact, Lavender Country still works because Haggerty was a talented songwriter whose lyrics range from the randy pleasures of “Come Out Singing” and the screed against sexual gamesmanship “Crying These C**sing Tears” to the tales of institutional abuse in “Waltzing Will Trilogy” and the bitter political messages of “Back in the Closet Again.” Haggerty also built these songs around simple but sturdy melodies, and his voice (which suggests Will Geer’s hipper younger brother) had a sly insouciance that expresses humor and anger equally well.
Honesty that most artists would not touch with a ten foot pole.