As a self-described “screaming Marxist bitch singer” who released a virtually forgotten gay country record in 1973, Patrick Haggerty of Lavender Country, 77, has had a busy year .
The pioneering group’s fame continues to expand as the distinct beauty and trailblazing lyrical substance of its self-titled album becomes visible to more open-minded generations, thanks to a 2014 release and accompanying reunion gigs.
While a movie about Haggerty’s life is circulating around Hollywood, the septuagenarian is reinvesting his time in the studio, duetting in January with drag star Trixie Mattel last year, releasing Treasures That Money Can’t Buy, and preparing to promote the band’s second album, Blackberry Rose, for its reissue. You’re not alone if you missed it when it first came out in 2019: “We don’t know what the hell we’re doing online,” he confesses openly. “So Don Giovanni Records snatched it up and is getting ready to release it on vinyl, CD, and digitally. They’re putting up a full-fledged campaign, complete with all the bells and whistles. He continues by exaggerating the final word’s sound.” As part of their transition to the internet age, Lavender Country will play at a number of Pride Month events, including The Future Is Queer Country, a digital concert fronted by Amythyst Kiah on June 12th. “There was a complete explosion of radical queer country artists [in the last decade],” he exclaims. “We’ve reached the end of the line now. Many of them, particularly transgender artists, are anti-capitalist and politically active. I used to be alone; now I’m surrounded by country musicians who think I’m their grandfather or something.”
When Lavender Country began in 1971, the music industry was a long way away. Though Haggerty had considered pursuing a career as a Nashville or Hollywood “starlet” in the early 1970s, he understood that working in show business within the limits of the system would entail living in a closet, which he could not manage. Despite entering into Lavender Country with “eyes wide open” knowing that “being a queer country singer was a completely absurd proposition,” he and his three colleagues persisted in making an album they believed in, despite the odds. The world, however, was unsurprisingly not ready to pay attention in 1973, when the band released Lavender Country, a stunningly authentic record about closeted desire, alienation, and homophobia with vivid lyrical detail (“would your Adam’s apple flutter, would both knees turn to butter, would you sputter, mutter and deny?”). Even while Lavender Country played to Stonewall Movement and Gay Liberation crowds until 1975 (“no one else was interested,” he notes), even that finally dried up. According to him, the band’s demise came when “the Stonewall Movement morphed into a Democratic Party machine,” which had no interest in working with them. He writes, “There were a lot of us Stonewall activists who were more radical than the Democratic Party and never gave up our radical aspirations or inclinations,” “It’s crucial to remember that for every one of us, there have been a hundred unsung queer Marxists fighting for the past 50 years. We may not be household names, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t left an indelible stamp on history.”
As he reflects on the band’s dissolution and his choice to retire from music for several decades, Haggerty’s voice is devoid of malice or regret and it’s not as though he sat about waiting for his pioneering band to be re-discovered. As an activist (working on human rights, anti-apartheid, and labor problems), a spouse (“I’ve been with my guy 33 years”), and a parent of two, Haggerty had a full schedule, stating “My children are my finest hour; my children are my heart.” So when Lavender Country resurfaced in the 2010s with the 2014 self-titled album release on Paradise of Bachelors, it was just country gravy on top of Haggerty’s already packed schedule. Not only is his music reaching new ears, but it’s also allowed him to spread his message about altering the “ugly and capitalist,” winner-takes-all country music industry. “For every well-known country singer in Nashville, there are a thousand others who are just as talented, if not better, and who must rely on jerk lattes to pay the rent so they can keep doing music. That’s the star system, and it’s completely messed up, dear.” “The corporate Nashville folks are purporting to be the music of the working class, but you can’t sing about union organizing, or the anti-racist struggle, or class struggle.” Despite his genuine fury at the industry, he had to giggle at its rising attention, despite his careful wording that he blames the system and not the artists. “I get to come into corporate Nashville, rub their faces in it, and tell them, “This is how I feel about you.” ‘Yay! The genuine stuff!’ everyone exclaims when I do that. It’s like quicksand, but I’ve been at it for far too long and am much too old to drown.”