Life as a singer/songwriter isn’t glamorous. In the span of Jamie Anderson’s 27-year career on the lesbian folk-music circuit, she’s spent more time sleeping on strangers’ couches than trashing rooms at the Hilton. But while it may not be a cushy life, it is certainly an entertaining one — so much so that Anderson, 56, decided to compile some of her craziest, funniest and most touching road stories into a book.
Drive All Night, Anderson’s ode to the road, recounts her years of touring through the United States and Canada. She’s played almost every venue imaginable, from coffeehouses and church basements to large women’s music festivals where’s she’s rubbed elbows with the likes of Melissa Etheridge and Amy Ray. Along the way, she’s put in thousands of miles, been caught in snowstorms and (almost) tornadoes and roomed with a tampon-eating pig.
Originally from Arizona, Anderson calls Ottawa home these days, having moved to be with her wife, Pat. “I’m a singer/songwriter and we love talking about ourselves,” she says wryly of her decision to write the book. “I have what I call my string-changing stories, so when I break a string onstage I have a story ready so that I can change the string while I’m talking.”
When people started telling her to write those stories down, Anderson took the advice, but she says she struggled with whether people would find reading about her life as interesting as it has been for her to live it. “A lot of it’s pretty mundane when you’re on the road,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, I drove for three hours and then I stopped for coffee.’ Who cares, you know?”
In between the long stretches of road and stops for coffee, though, Anderson had to sleep. Some of the places she’s ended up lodging over the years have provided memorable stories, including the aforementioned pig with a hunger for tampons, a bare mattress in the unheated attic of a filthy rooming house, and a fair number of mouldy bathrooms.
Touring also means a lot of solitary time in unfamiliar towns. “I think any musician who tours a lot who doesn’t like their own company is in big trouble,” she says. “You just figure out ways to entertain yourself. I always try to find good public radio, or I would call my friends when I stopped.”
The constant travelling also made relationships trickier to navigate. Anderson recalls one girlfriend who feared she’d end up running off with a fan. “When you’re doing work that you really love, you make allowances,” she says. “You figure out how to make it work.”
Another thing Anderson has had to make work is playing to tough crowds. In Drive All Night she recalls playing to a conservative audience in a Bible-belt US town that didn’t take kindly to her particular brand of lesbian comedy song. “I knew better than to get up and go, ‘Hey! Lesbian, lesbian, lesbian, queer, blah, blah, blah.’ I kind of built up to that, but apparently when I got to that point, they were pretty shocked and they started leaving.”
After that ill-fated gig, she arranged to stay with some local lesbians. “We stayed up late that night talking, and I got a better understanding for what it was like for them to live there,” she says. “I mean, I could come out and be the big lesbo and then leave town the next morning. But they had jobs and homes and children.”
Anderson also recalls playing at early Pride marches, including one in Idaho where gun-toting protesters showed up. “Those people were frightening,” she recalls. “[The organizers] told us before we started the march, ‘Don’t engage these people, don’t look at them.’ They were right.”
Still, she says, over the years she has found her reception as a queer performer has gotten warmer. “I always went in with an open mind. No matter where I’m playing, I always look for that open face in the audience. There’s always somebody who is understanding what I’m saying and who will support me in some way.”
Reflecting on how her years of touring have shaped her, Anderson says she’s learned that she can be incredibly flexible as a performer. “I like that,” she says. “I like being able to reach different groups of people. That’s fun.”
There have been some practical realizations, too. “I’ve learned that I can drive for long periods of time as long as I have enough M&Ms.”