Friday, March 12, 2010


In August 1977 I went to the second Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. It was my first (of many times) to attend, and the festival's first time on "the new land", which is now the only land in most women's memory since they've been gathering there every August since for 35 years now.

I had been to a Texas women's campout organized by Austin dykes in the summer of 1975, and a women's music festival in Stillwater, Oklahoma earlier that summer of '77. They had been revelatory experiences, but nothing could have prepared me for Michigan. I am who I am today because of Michigan: Because gathering together for four days in a self-constructed town with thousands of other women who have survived girlhood was an experience you can find nowhere else on this planet, or in the known history of humanity.

I was rubbed raw the entire time but in the best of ways. No two women were alike, and the incredible diversity made it clear what a horrific lie we have been raised to believe about the nature of girlhood and womanhood. Escaping overt male-conditioned beliefs about who we "ought" to be, even in a temporary and limited form, reshaped my brain permanently. It was safe to be what "they" said we were not, should not be. The little girls who ran in ecstatic packs had no risk at all from predation, and that experience transformed my daughter as well.

Because, let's be clear, the children of lesbians have the lowest incidence of child abuse in the entire world. Statistically much, MUCH lower.

At some point, either on the main stage or the daystage, a lanky blonde dyke got up with her guitar and sang

"Well I went out last week and cut my hair to the bone
Suddenty you don't call me on the phone.
Well, that's okay, I got a real good book,
Think I'll stay home and eat what I cook.

"Yes, I wear a leather jacket one night.
And later on, you're gettin' all uptight.
Why don't you just go out and find someone else.
I'm doin' fine right here admiring myself."
By that time we were screaming with joy. Her name was Kitty Barber, and she went on to finish singing what she called "The Pancake Blues":
"When I make up a batch of pancakes
And they don't come out all round and flat and straight;
I eat 'em anyway, because I don't believe in waste.
Take my word, it makes no difference in the taste.

"Yes, I am just what I appear to be.
I'm not trying to be a man, I'm nuch too busy bein' me.
I am who I am and look how I look.
And baby, I eat what I cook.

"Just last night, I tried to fry myself an egg,
But the yoke got broke and it got scrambled anyway.
It looked a little funny, but why throw it away?
It tasted a whole lot like a puffy souffle!

"So tell me, do you think that this is bad?
Then how come it matters to you how I am clad?
If you don't like the cover, do you throw away the book;
Don't you open it up and take a second look?

"Oh no, I'm not tryin; to be a male.
If the package ain't too pretty, it's because I'm not for sale.
I am who I am and look how I look.
And baby, I eat what I cook --
Oh, yes I do --
Baby, I eat what I cook!"
I only heard that song the one time but I memorized most of it. Many times in later years I'd hear dykes drop key lines -- especially "Take my word, it makes no difference in the taste" or "If the package ain't too pretty, it's because I'm not for sale" -- and laugh together knowingly. The next day at the festival, I paid someone with buzzers working from a stump near the front of the main stage to buzz my hair for the first time, "cutting it to the bone". I never looked back from that act of empowerment,

It was devastating to leave the festival, to re-enter a world where we were not full human beings. The car I was riding in stopped at a small cafe in the nearest town that Monday morning, to eat breakfast and delay our shock. The cafe was full of dykes with the same idea, and a few hostile and stunned local men. We shared a table with strangers, one of whom turned out to be Kitty Barber, of all people. We ordered coffee, cokes, sausage, all the addictions we'd not had for four days, but when they arrived, they didn't taste as good as I had hoped. There was a price tag attached, I suddenly understood.

A plate of white bread was set down in the middle of our table, and we stared at it. Kitty Barber picked up a slice, holding it in the air, and said slowly "Wonder Bread: You wonder why they call it bread." We began laughing hysterically as she wadded it into a gummy ball and set it back down on the plate. "Baby, I eat what I cook" was my thought.

I put that song into my novel Ginny Bates, in the chapter here titled More Life With Two Bright Children.

So you can imagine my amazed thrill when last night, as I glanced at the comments on the Michigan FB wall, there was the name Kitty Barber and a photo of her. Looking much the same as then, plus 35 years. I immediately friended her and she wrote me back yes this morning, saying "Wow, what a time we had, eh?"

I wrote about it at Facebook and heard more from Kitty (as well as Liza Cowan, who was also at the festival that summer). Kitty said said she had recorded her song on an album named "Gay And Straight Together", produced by the one and only Ginni Clemons in 1980 for Folkways Records.. I found this online, you can view the album cover here and buy the album for yourself.

Even better, I've now purchased this track and made it available for you to hear! Click on Kitty Barber singing "The Pancake Blues" to listen.

Here is Kitty's memory of the event:
'August '77...I'm a worker at the festival, stayed for weeks and weeks (things were a little looser then) and on Thursday night,, Ginni Clemmons is supposed to open the first night. I'm hanging around the stage, and Ginni's partner runs up to me to say that "Ginni can't go on yet. She wants you to sing a song or two. That pancake song." OK, no problem. Grab my guitar, get tuned up, when LV says to me, "Kitty, can you take these garbage bags out of here?"
"Sure, but I have to sing first."

I thought she would faint. But it all went off smoothly; I sang "The Pancake Blues", Ginni came up, I hauled the garbage, and a good time was had by all.'
Baby, we still eat what we cook.

No comments: