At one point in my life, I found myself married to a lesbian. It’s a long story, not terribly happy. This arrangement had important disadvantages, but a pretty big upside: I discovered women’s music. It’s not actually a genre, it’s just that the performers are mostly lesbian and the audiences are mostly, women (although men were perfectly welcome; I have yet to encounter any class of musician who objected to any class of person enjoying their music, and (especially) paying for it. If you’re wondering what kind of music I’m talking about, listen to Bellybowl by Ferron, and you’ll know; mostly, excellent.
It’s from Testimony, one of her earliest recordings, and pretty well everything on it is great; I’m sure there are lots of fans out there who think Bellybowl is a minor work compared to the title track and Ain’t Life a Brook and one or two others, but it’s been dear to me since I first heard it. Bellybowl is fast and urgent and beautiful, and the jazz-flavored arrangement here is fantastic.
Babe you are my bellybowl / my soft-shoe shuffle / I come behind, I follow whole / for me there is no other.
Along with this kind of music being mostly really good, the concerts — well, the ones I attended — were big intense baths of love. It was a special kind of occasion, and one I’m very happy to have experienced a few times.
Ferron is a name to reckon with in Women’s music. She’s Canadian and grew up around here where I live and has written several songs that have brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions. She used to tour regularly and every time I saw her she took my breath away.
Regular readers will know that I’m an audiophile, a lover of beautiful sound. Real audiophiles worship live concert sound over all other flavors, and at a Ferron concert I experienced the most beautiful live sound I’ve ever heard. This was in Waterloo, Ontario sometime around 1990, and on this tour it was Ferron and a guitarist (skinny, blonde, don’t recall her name). Anyhow, she told the crowd she was going to do Bellybowl (the hall filled with loving awwww sounds) and that she needed help, asking everyone to take out their car keys. In Bellybowl in each verse there’s a place with a a big intake of breath; she asked the people to jingle their keys along with the rhythm and then scream softly at the breath-point.
Boy, were those women ever into it. And they weren’t into any little soft screams either, they joined in a full-throated howl when the moment came around each verse. It was in a church, and words just can’t begin to describe how wonderful it sounded, the sparkle of keys filling the air, the guitars urging the beat along and Ferron’s voice riding that melody, then the room erupting in a wrenching collective feminine scream. I doubt I’ll ever hear as intense a sound again in my life.