The singer/songwriter connects through song and now with Twitter.
Mary Gauthier spent election day making jalapeno cornbread for a potluck of "left wing liberal people" to watch the election results. Gauthier lives in Nashville in the very red state of Tennessee, so she's acutely aware of her outsider status. It hasn't taken an election to bring those thoughts to the foreground, though. For the singer/songwriter who grew up in Baton Rouge, that sense of being unlike the others has informed her music.
Gauthier will perform at Chickie Wah Wah on Saturday night. New Orleans was a part of her wild years in Louisiana, and a few years ago, a visit had a major impact. She came to perform at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and while talking to the Ogden Curator of Music Libra Lagrone about she was adopted from St. Vincent's Orphanage in New Orleans. Lagrone told Gauthier that that orphanage was only two blocks from the Ogden and took her to it.
"That cracked me open," Gauthier says. She had never been there before, but her awareness of herself as an infant adoptee has been one of the shaping forces in her life. Visiting it, she says, "made it so real. Adoption is a fantasy trip. You've got these imaginary parents who never really existed for you, and you've got these people who adopted you, and that's a whole other level of fantasy trip. Walking in there made everything real. There's still a marble etching above the door; it says, 'St. Vincent's Womens and Infants Asylum.' That made my throat constrict: I came into life in an asylum."
That visit led her to write and record The Foundling, her critically acclaimed album from 2010. Writing and recording the album forced her to deal with some of her fundamental issues, but her honesty and insight made her a spokesperson for adoptees and adoption-related issues. Gauthier recognizes that adoptive parents are doing what they can, "But separating a child from its mother is traumatic," she says. "Baby and mother are one, and when you rip them apart, they're traumatized for life." She has found her birth mother, but the woman has declined to meet Gauthier. "I'm a 50-year-old secret she'll take to her grave," she says. Now Gauthier's trying to find her father, and if he's no longer alive, any brothers or sisters she might have. "It changed my life going there. Libra has no idea, either. I need to tell her."
Her new album, Live at Blue Rock, only includes one song from The Foundling. It presents her in the troubadour role, one Gauthier embraces. Songwriting is a tool for connection in her mind, and connection is a central part of her function. "My job is to go deep enough into myself to find a universal," she says. "Stripped down, you need a universal truth. Hank Williams taught us that. Navel-gazing songs are boring." Her songs are generally in first person because that helps them get across ("Woody taught us that."). "It's a serious art form. For me, it saved my life."
On election day, Gauthier planned to watch MSNBC ("particularly Rachel Maddow") and to follow the running commentary on Twitter. Twitter is her new love, and it makes sense. Not only is it good for her as a business person running her own career, but it's consistent with one of the themes of her art. "I've got Twitter followers from everywhere I tour, which is all over the world," she says. "We're all connected on this immediate, real-time wavelength, and it's never been like this in the history of the world.
"The parallel between a person with a guitar, a bottle of water, a barstool and a spotlight singing stories of the human condition directly to people works perfectly with the model of Twitter and people talking directly to each other through this device. I feel like Michael Moore is talking to me when he's talking on his Twitter. He is talking to me. I got a Twitter feed from Boy George a couple of weeks ago directly to me that says, 'I recorded "Mercy Now" Mary; I love that song.' I said, 'Somebody's fucking with me. And I looked at it and it was real. The dude had really got in touch with me. Now we go back and forth: 'How are the vocals coming Boy George? Is it in the can yet?' 'Oh it's so lovely to be in direct contact with you.' It's people connecting with each other instantly, and that's always what the troubadour's job is."