K. D. Lang: “We are not victims. We are leaders.”

Both musical icon and activist, K. D. Lang asks the gay community to use its experience of oppression to identify with others who are put down. When it comes to her vocal talents, she says “The listening is where I start,” when describing what tethers her to a musical talent known worldwide. “I keep the two activities separate. I don’t take my political views to the stage when entertaining,” she says.

 

Lang appears May 1 at York’s Strand Capital Theatre.

 

Also appearing in York May 1 is Sandra Bernhard, headliner at Club XS Black & White Party benefiting the region’s HIV organizations. Although invited to stop by Club XS after her Strand Capital show, at press time there was no confirmation that Lang would be available. “There is a large group of women from the community planning to attend both the Lang and Bernhard shows,” confirms Charles Oswald, Club XS manager and benefit producer.

 

Her love of music began early. By 1983, she formed with college friends a Patsy Cline tribute band called the Reclines and they recorded a debut album, Friday Dance Promenade. “One of those people, Ben Menke, worked as my co-producer early on.

That same year, she presented a performance art piece, a seven-hour re-enactment of the transplantation of an artificial heart for Barney Clark, a retired American dentist. Called A Truly Western Experience, the piece received strong reviews and led to national attention in Canada.

 

Lang’s latest album, Watershed, comprises 11 new songs written and produced she’s written and produced. The Deluxe Edition features four live performances and an exclusive video interview with Lang filmed in London.

 

The list of musical artists Lang has sung with is stunning. “I cannot even begin to describe what it was like to work with Tony Bennett,” she says sounding as if she’s as enthralled with those moments now as then. “Bennett created the American song book and those experiences are still special for me.”

 

When Lang worked with the legendary Roy Orbison, both she and Bonnie Raitt were his back-up singers. “I was 26 years old working as a back-up singer alongside Raitt! We worked hard and learned a lot. Our vocal work was intricate,” she remembers.

 

Her work on movie soundtracks has earned notches in Hollywood folklore. “Gus Van Sant gave me full leeway when he asked me to do his soundtrack,” Land says, referring to “Even Cowgirl’s Get the Blues”. The James Bond soundtrack experience was different. “They wanted something very specific. I’m happy working either way, a challenge is a challenge.”

 

At 47 and a practicing Buddhist for nine years, Lang says her contemplative side has influenced her views on gay politics. She meditates and chants daily.

 

“Practicing Buddhism has widened my view of the world, myself, and the struggles our community faces,” she explains. Lang asks gay people to remember that we live in a world full of minorities that face equal or worse injustices. “We can use the experiences of our own oppression to more easily identify with others who are put down, even murdered, like Matthew Shepard, for who they are. We are not the only oppressed group.”

 

Lang, who came out as a lesbian in a 1992 article in The Advocate, has actively championed gay rights causes. She sometimes utilizes an androgynous physical appearance. She has performed and supported many causes over the years, including HIV/AIDS care and research. Her cover of Cole Porter‘s “So in Love” appears on the Red Hot + Blue compilation album and video from 1990, a benefit for AIDS research and relief.

 

Her animal rights vegetarian stance, including a “Meat Stinks” campaign, created much controversy, particularly at her hometown in the middle of Alberta‘s cattle ranching industry.

 

Lang appeared on the cover of the August 1993 issue of Vanity Fair. The cover featured Lang in a barber chair while model Cindy Crawford appeared to shave her face with a straight razor. The issue contained a detailed article about Lang which observed that she had thought that she would be ostracized by the country music industry when she came out as a lesbian. However, Nashville was accepting, and her records continued to sell.

When she appeared in an ad for PETA however, Nashville was less impressed owing to the relationship between country music and cattle ranching.

 

In April 2008, Lang spent time in Melbourne, Australia, as a guest editorialist for The Age. This was in connection with her support for the Tibet human rights issues. At one point she joined pro-Tibet protesters in Canberra as the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay made its way through the Australian capital.

 

Lang feels that “the gay community’s experiences make us uniquely able to lead with an informed and compassionate view. We are not victims. We are leaders.”

 

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