By Blake Green
There is wine-a frosty bottle of
Reisling on the table; women-one swaying
to and fro in the big rocking chair, others
moving about in a back room of the Mission district flat. And there is song-or
rather, a lot of talk about a particular kind
Margaret Adam, songwriter, pianist
and singer, nestles her curly head against
the rocker's back, sips her glass and discusses the relatively new, still predominately underground musical phenomenon
of which she is a part: women's music.
Women have been creators and practitioners of the art since its inception. The
muses, after all, were goddesses.
But female talent and its influence
have been viewed as secondary to their
male counterparts. "We owe our musical
heritage," Adam says, not without the
proper appreciation, "to three northern
European, white, middle to upper-class
men: Bach, Schoenberg and Stockhausen."
Lyrics written by men have often
been notoriously sexist ("just like a silver
dollar goes from hand to hand, a woman
goes from man to man") and those by
women songwriters also have reflected the
dependent, subsidiary role of women.
Throughout the country, there are
probably no more than 20 female musicians—Holly Near, Chris Williamson, Meg
Christian, along with Adam, are among
the best known—who make their living in
this area. The first National Women's Music
Festival in Illinois in 1974 was when "we
got focus," Adam says.
"Womansong," as Adams calls it,
"represents a validation of women in general. It is one of many entities in women's
culture that models strength" and its goals
are consistent with feminist strivings for
Aside from the obvious aspects of
this type of music—that it is written and
performed (and, idealisticaUy, recorded,
distributed and promoted) by females,
Adam says it differs from traditional
music in three areas.
The first, lyric content, is fairly obvious. Writers start "with the assumption
that each person in a relationship is strong
instead of two weak parts making one
whole." No more "if you leave me, I shall
Performance, the second, means "the
connection between the audience and the
performer . . . the performer's willingness
to be vulnerable. Honesty is what women's
music is all about. When I'm done performing I go right into the audience or the
lobby. It is real important to break down
the distance ... to de-mystify the performer."
The third area, form "is the most difficult to explain." Adam's own style has
been described as a combination of "jazz,
pop, ballad and soft rock." She says she
has a "neo-classical, neo-romantic" music
background coming from "my dad who
wrote show tunes and my mother who
"Women's music," she says, "is as
broad as women are. One of the main
things ... is our willingness to experiment
... to do things you're not supposed to be
able to do with rhythm, tone, melody and
In whatever form, women's music
includes a deliberate attempt at consciousness-raising, not only "to focus attention
on oppression," Adam says, but to present
opportunities not often available to women in all areas of the industry-lighting
and sound, for instance, as well as performing and writing.
This means, she says, "that we have
to spend a lot of time and energy finding
women able to do these things. If a woman
is hired only because she's a woman, we'll
By what Adam calls "some joyous
quirk of fate," she has financial backing
for her first album "with total artistic
freedom. It is a tremendous responsibility.
There is no sense in making an all-woman
product if that's all you can say about it."
Feminism and music seem strange
bedfellows to some people. Even those
who accept the association sometimes
assume that strident, martial sounds should
be the natural outcome—not exactly the
"beautiful sounds" Adam talks about.
Men are not always welcome at women's music concerts. "Some women," said
Barbara Price, California concert promoter,
"just feel more comfortable in the company of other women, and we want to
accommodate them, too."
Even when men are invited—as they
usually are to Adam's concerts—the audience initially seems to expect from her
what she describes as a "virulent attack on
men—ugliness and threatening. You have
this feeling that the audience is just waiting
for the thing that's gonna freak them."
It is hard to imagine Adam, who conveys a certain gentleness when she is
at her most earnest and positive, as purveyor of militant hostility.
Proving that this kind of music and
hers in particular is not "anti-male but
pro-woman" is, she says, one of the most
important aspects of her performance.
Margie Adam lives in Davis, Calif.,
"where the streets end in fields—much
like Lompoc, the town where I grew up,"
and she admits quite candidly that her age
-28-is not the only reason she has not
been a feminist for long.
"I used to think: 'what's this politics, man?' I just wanted to get up on the
stage and sing. But I wasn't in touch with
my privilege. I had grown up in a middle-
class family and been given everything. I
was encouraged to be a strong woman all
my life. My parents said you can do anything and I believed them. What involved
me in women's music was the realization
of how many women didn't have that
Now she feels that "when a woman
has the space" to say something publicly
and she chooses to say " 'I'm not into
women's lib, I've always been independent,' that sets us back. I find that woman accountable by her ignorance.
"Feminism," Adam says, "is absolutely consistent with humanism. Women's music has a tremendous capacity to
heal. A lot of people would like to dismiss the whole women's movement as a
bunch of lesbians.
"There's no question about it,"
she says, the audience "is part lesbian,
but it is part bisexual and part straight. It
spans all relationships. What women's
music is trying to say," she says, leaning
forward, "is that it is important that we
—men and women—are all strong so that no
one messes over anyone."
Reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle, January 28, 1976.
Copyright Chronicle Publishing Company 1976.
MARGIE ADAM, singer, songwriter and pianist
DAILY BREAKTHROUGH NOVEMBER 19, 1977 PAGE 21