Luckily for me, Kirsti lives in Woodstock, NY and I am honored to be able to call her a friend. Kirsti and her husband, Chris Kerr, are not only a beautiful couple, inside and out, but they are strong vegan and humanitarian advocates. Proceeds from the album go to support various charities.
I wanted to show my support for the album and let everyone know about it. Who could be better than the singer/songwriter herself to talk about “The Summer I Stopped Whining?” Kirsti was nice enough to take the time to answer my questions:
KG: Before my brief stint as “Kirsti Gholson,” I had used band names. I prefer a band name to a personal name because it makes me feel more free to say what I want. It’s like when you wear a costume or mask, it’s still you under there but you don’t feel people’s (imaginary or real) expectations! The “little green blackbird” is a character from a book of poetry by Kenneth Patchencalled “Because It Is.” The poems are whimsical, quirky, happy and sad. Well, not really happy or sad but “happysad.” I think that’s what my music is.
I started out as (and sometimes still am) a back-up singer and I’ve always loved being part of an ensemble. I’m in a small choir here in Woodstock (Baird Heresy and Prana) which feeds my ensemble cravings but I still miss the old days of having a band – except for the part where you split $30 among 4 people.
KG: I think “Next of Kin” is a must-read. I wish every key member of Congress would read it since the Great Ape Protection Actis still being debated. “Next of Kin” was published 15 years ago and should have inspired faster, massive change in how we think about primates and all animals in research. We humans have a mind-boggling capacity to go numb or look away when a harsh reality is presented. But the fact that the Great Ape Protection Act even exists and has significant support shows that there is change. The United States and Gabon are the only countries left in the world that imprison chimpanzees for invasive research.
KG: As an ethical vegan, I’m against all animal testing. I read “Next of Kin” to learn more about language research and research in general. I became riveted by the stories and Roger Fouts’ personal transformation as he became friends with Washoe, the first chimpanzee to learn sign language. Learning about all these chimps who were raised as human children and taught sign language was fascinating and heartbreaking. Roger Fouts, the research assistant turned rescuer/author, was able to save only a few of the sign language chimps.
Ally, a particularly joyful and sweet child, was sold into research by the notorious Dr. William Lemmon. I spent a long time searching for any information about Ally. There were a lot of tears. I’ve still never found anything saying he was finally released to a sanctuary. If anyone knows, please tell me! Writing a song for Ally and so many others like him was the only way I could deal with how devastated I felt about him being lost to that evil world. It’s unbearable to think about these emotional beings locked up and terrified for decades. All animal cruelty is unbearable but there’s an extra nightmarish aspect for animals who are cramped in cages and tortured in one form or other year after year after year, like moon bears or gestation sows or those in research…The list goes on and on.
KG: “White Bone” is a fascinating novel from the point of view of elephants and the article, “An Elephant Crack-up?” is extraordinary – another must-read! Both contributed to the inspiration for “happy & free.” I ended the song with a continuous “lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu” (may all beings everywhere be happy and free) to send that prayer/chant out into the universe.
KG: They are love songs but only “Before You Go” is for a human – the amazing Chris Kerr (drum roll and cymbal crash!) has turned out to be quite the muse for me, inspiring “The Ice is Melting”, “Before You Go” and “Awaken! Take Heed.”
KG: Ha ha. Well, that one actually isn’t about animal rights but now I can see how it might sound like one. All those eating references! It’s a song I wrote many years ago after watching an old movie, “Anne of a Thousand Days” about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (starring Geneviève Bujold and Richard Burton). An often-upsetting relationship I was in had recently ended and strangely enough I found the character of Anne to be the perfect emotional outlet. I was taken by the scene where she talks about how there was really only one day out of a thousand when they loved each other equally…when one didn’t hate the other. It’s delicious when a novel or film inspires a different voice like that.
KG: Yes, the image came from a pet store that opened in Woodstock a couple of years after we moved here. The store owner would stick a cage out on the sidewalk during the busy weekends – at least that’s how I remember it. There were complaints about Woodstock having a store selling live beings but no law was being broken so there those poor birds were. Thankfully the store didn’t last long.
TVW: Obviously, I don’t expect you to interpret every song for me but is there a specific message you are trying to get out with this album? If there is anything you hope listeners would get from your songs, what would it be? Are animal rights activists/animal lovers a specific targeted audience?
KG: I didn’t target activists or animal lovers, although there are a number of animal rights themed songs (“happy & free,” “The Ice is Melting,” “Dr. Lemmon,” “for Ally”) as well as songs with an animal rights shout-out here and there. As for an overall theme, I’ll go back to “happysad.” Inspiration is everywhere and I try to write in such a way that is intimate but also universal. “What if I…” is the most personal song on the album but I think most anyone can relate to the kind of regret that stops your breath. And the love songs can be universal – although it’s fine if anyone wants to think about Chris while those tunes are playing 🙂
Multiple life-altering things happened during the making of the album and one day the title “The Summer I Stopped Whining” popped into my head. There are profound gifts that come out of monumental events like Death. Like how your life is knocked into perspective, how unlimited your compassion feels, how you don’t have any desire for what’s shallow or petty, how present your courage is. That raw intensity doesn’t last (or we’d all be saints) but hopefully we can remind ourselves every so often…To stop whining, to embrace the beauty that exists in both joy and sorrow, to be generous and kind, to be grateful if we have the luxury to think about more than where our next meal is coming from, to have the courage to fight against cruelty and bigotry in all forms, to really savor those sweet, simple and sparkly things in life…
TVW: Those are such beautiful sentiments. How wonderful it we could all live this way, even if just once in awhile. And I think “happysad” is my new favorite word! Thank you so much Kirsti.
Well, if reading that doesn’t make you want to go and buy a copy of “The Summer I Stopped Whining” immediately, maybe a little taste of the music will. Listen to this:
Little Green Blackbird’s “The Summer I Stopped Whining” is a magical album and would make a wonderful gift for anyone on your holiday shopping list including yourself. Remember, proceeds from album sales go to various charities and it also feels good to support our vegan artists.
The album is available on the following sites:
The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.