“You all seem very nice,” folk singer Michelle Shocked told a crowd of fans gathered for a concert in San Francisco. “But I’ve been in rooms of nice people before and sometimes they turn on you.”
It wasn’t long before Shocked, a progressive singer-songwriter and activist best known for her 1988 album Short Sharp Shocked, unleashed an anti-gay tirade during that show on Sunday night. It was so hateful and at odds with the liberal message her fans have come to expect that the performance was shut down by the venue’s owner mid-set. Hordes of audience members had already begun to funnel out in disgust.
Now, Shocked seems to have scuttled any chance at reviving her music career—and completed a shocking evolution from implicit lesbian to gay-hating zealot.
“You can go on Twitter and say Michelle Shocked said ‘God hates fags,’” the singer railed, from the stage, according to witnesses, the conclusion of a monologue about the evils of gay marriage and overturning California’s Proposition 8, which legally defines marriage as a union between a woman and man. “When they stop Prop 8 and force priests at gunpoint to marry gays, it will be the downfall of civilization, and Jesus will come back.”
To add insult to, well, insult, Shocked was performing in the very liberal—and very gay friendly—San Francisco. The operator of the venue, Yoshi’s, interrupted the performance, saying that, as a gay man, he could not allow Shocked to continue and demanded she leave the stage. He was likely as confused as many of her fans were. What had happened to the open, anti-establishment, progressive Michelle Shocked they had fallen in love with?
After all, as much as Shocked’s burst of fame in the late ‘80s and ‘90s was owed to her music, it also reflected the resonance of the progressive political messages she preached. This is the woman who spray-painted?? the symbol for anarchy in a music video and appeared on an album cover being carried in a chokehold by police. She raged against the Bush administration after 9/11, telling an audience at a concert in 2003 that “Bush should have pulled out of Iraq like his father should have.” In 2011, she was arrested at an Occupy Los Angeles demonstration.
Heck, for most of her early career, she seemed happy to let others believe she was gay.
As such, following her remarks, the Twittersphere ignited with outrage. “Enjoy your vanishingly brief moment of mattering again,” tweeted @drgrist. “Talk about misreading your audience. Gonna be a long time before #shortsharpshocked rides that bull again. #buhbye,” echoed @rootrivesiren. This insight from @JasonChesworth is a prime example of the enraged confusion Shocked’s comments ignited: “Most surprising part of @MShocked 's San Fran rant: discovering that Michelle Shocked isn't gay. #shortsharpshocked.”
Oddly enough, it was social media that not too long ago breathed new life into what had been a flat-lining career. (It has been a long time—decades—since songs like “Come a Long Way” and “On the Greener Side” earned Shocked respectable rotation on MTV.) But like many singers, reengagement with nostalgic fans through sites like Twitter stoked her career and touring schedule. At Sunday night’s show, Shocked even asked her fans to help choose her set list by tweeting to a fan named Matt Penfield, who she had invited onstage to act as her Twitter liaison.
Twitter saved her career. Now, it just might kill it, too.
Already, future bookers are canceling Shocked’s shows. “Many of you have reached out already following an ugly rant given by Michelle Shocked at her show in San Francisco last night,” promoters of SPACE, a venue in Illinois, posted on its Facebook page. “After speaking with the promoter of that show about the nature of the remarks, it’s clear that this is no longer a show we’re willing to put our name on.” The gig was scrapped, and refunds are being offered.
In fact, nine of her upcoming shows have already been canceled.
As a method of fan alienation, Shocked’s rant is akin to Justin Bieber saying tween girls have cooties, or Taylor Swift proclaiming love is dead, y’all. This, of course, is a much more serious subject matter and reflects a much more hateful rhetoric. It’s also, a much starker shift in beliefs.
After all, Shocked once—though ambiguously, and perhaps with the intent of provocation—insinuated that she was a lesbian.
After beating the Indigo Girls and Tracy Chapman for Album of the Year at the 1989 New Music Awards, she joked the category should be renamed “They Might Be Lesbians.” In 1990, there was no “they might be” about it. She told the Chicago paper OutLines, “I was with my first woman lover about a year and a half ago. To be honest, the real fear of coming out of the closet, not fear, but the real pressures of coming out of the closet had been if you had certain problems identifying yourself one way or another.” She went on to balk at the full-on lesbian label, saying, “I think, if this is any sense a ‘coming out’ on my part, it’s that I would like a much broader definition for myself.”
Shocked married (male) journalist Bart Bull in 1990, but divorced in 2004. In the mid-‘90s, she became involved with the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, eventually becoming a born-again Christian. Her views on homosexuality quickly evolved, but were hardly homophobic.
“There are some inconvenient truths that I’m now a born again, sanctified, saved-in-the-blood Christian,” she told the Dallas Voice in 2008. “So much of what’s said and done in the name of that Christianity is appalling. According to my Bible, which I didn’t write, homosexuality is immoral. But homosexuality is no more or less a sin than fornication. And I’m a fornicator with a capital F.”
She also seemed to be struggling with how to reconcile homosexuality and the beliefs of her gay fans with her status as a newly devout Christian. "Listen, I don’t have the answer for how gay marriage or the homosexual question relates to Christianity. God’s power can reconcile those whom he loves. I don’t know how, but he can do it. It’s a mystery. And I don’t have the answer, but I will point you in the right direction." It’s not exactly a view that would keynote a LGBT pride parade, but it hardly reflects the anti-gay rant she espoused Sunday night.
Still, her exasperation over being a role model for the gay community seemed to be headed towards a breaking point. She performed at the Wild Goose festival in 2011, and lashed out at an audience member who asked her about homosexuality. “Who drafted me as a gay icon?” she said. “You are looking at the world’s greatest homophobe. Ask God what He thinks.”
Assessing the damage Shocked just inflicted on her career, Daily Kos wrote, “I think it is safe to assume that she has effectively soiled herself to the point of only attracting folks from Westboro Baptist Church, NOM and the Family Research Council to future concerts.” But can the woman who put Bush on blast and is counted among the Occupy arrestees even count on that?
Shocked has yet to directly address Sunday night’s fiasco, and hasn’t responded to requests for comment for this article. She left just one ambiguous tweet: “Truth is leading to painful confrontation.” Indeed.