intention, its innocence and yearning qualities. If the body is a cage, a place for the production of gender and trouble, it is also a staging for a projection. When Amy Ray switches to falsetto, she performs an aural gender trick beyond even the most complex of Strauss’s late trouser role in Der Rosenkavalierbecause it is not only the context of the reception of the voice that changes, and not only how the voice is produced that creates the aural difference, but the final falsetto is a new move in gender’s voiced and performed history: a woman singing low, quoting a man singing high. And the body does not, cannot change. Nor is it a cage, exactly. It is, Amy, a vessel, a location, a passage for air, a bag of wind, a bottom plexus of flesh and energy: it’s anarchy. It’s politics.
Amy Ray is at times as good as Woody Guthrie or Bruce Springsteen when it comes to getting away with politics in song. I could argue that the line “I spent all day pushing tissue roses into chicken wire” from “Put It Out For Good” is the most riveting, alarming, activating image of meaningless and underpaid factory labor in all of rock n roll. But that would be strange, isolating praise. Rock protest tends towards self-promoting anthems of youth and resistance. Even great anti-consumer culture songs like “take this job and shove it” or “(Can’t get no) Satisfaction” prefer the anger of a duped man who thinks his life should matter to scarifying details of other people’s unredeemable labor.
Amy Ray can write an anthem too, though. But people don’t necessarily understand where she’s coming from. It used to be suburbia—the “tramps like us”? . . . Well, maybe not. That was Springsteen’s word for the unsung. Continuing in the American song protest tradition, Ray sings in “Put It Out For Good” for the tramps not like “us”:
All the punks and the queers and the freaks and the smokers
. . . A new gender nation with a new desire.
But lately I think Ray has exhausted the singular field of identity crisis. Reports are that she thinks about the land. She roosts back on that bloody soil of the Las Americas del Sud. The American South. Georgia’s on her mind and in her body. Through Guthrie and Springsteen’s masculine outrage on behalf of outsiders, deportees, the people of the land caught among the map’s shifting borders and their insane walls and real porosity, Ray sings in the voice of the people. But the people never cohered. That’s why Ray’s people are all trannies. No one’s got a home—and no one’s got a righteous purchase on the land. Ray can agitate for the rights of the indigenous, for the people of place, the placed people, even as she speaks for the “new gendered nation,” the people of suburban anomie and placelessness, in a moving voice of contradiction with the power to transport. Long live the butch’s throat!