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Tim Nedoba (he/him)
photo by tim nedoba
“Everything” everywhere all at once: an interview with Freda Love Smith
Editors note: Gregg Shapiro is a Hall of Fame and nationally recognized journalist and author.
by Gregg Shapiro
For many people, the name Freda Love Smith conjures the sound of music. Drumming, in particular. Before she retired, Smith was a drummer in several bands, including Blake Babies, The Mysteries of Life, Antenna, Some Girls, and Sunshine Boys to mention a few. Smith wrote about that part of her life in her marvelous 2015 memoir “Red Velvet Underground.” The subject of music also features prominently in her equally awesome new book, “I Quit Everything” (Agate, 2023). Subtitled, “How One Woman’s Addiction to Quitting Helped Her Confront Bad Habits and Embrace Midlife,” the book includes sections on alcohol, sugar, cannabis, caffeine, and social media, and is equal parts confessional and self-help guide. Smith’s honest and open voice guides readers through her experiences while generously providing hard-won wisdom. Freda was kind enough to make time for an interview shortly before the book’s release.
Gregg Shapiro: Your new book “I Quit Everything” is your second after 2015’s “Red Velvet Underground.” Did you know after the first book that you had another in you?
Freda Love Smith: I knew I wanted to write more books, and even before “Red Velvet Underground” came out I was experimenting with another food-related project. That fizzled, and then a surprising thing happened, which was the resurrection of my drumming career with Chicago band Sunshine Boys—suddenly I had a whole other, all-consuming artistic outlet. I kept writing during that time, but I wrote slower and less. The narrative of “I Quit Everything” ends with my retirement from drumming, but the process of writing the book actually began with that retirement. At one of my final musical performances, I read an early draft of the social media chapter, marking my transition from one type of creative work to another.
GS: In the book you write about completing your MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Did any part of this book begin while you were working on your MFA?
FLS: Writing this book interrupted the project I’d been working on for my MFA! My thesis was a biography of Angela DeAngelis, a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army and an instrumental player in the kidnapping and indoctrination of Patty Hearst. Angela went to college in my hometown, Bloomington, Indiana. I have a contract for that book, and I still absolutely intend to write it, although it seems to be morphing into a novel. The idea to write “I Quit Everything” popped into my head, and it wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it. It’s a very short book, and it didn’t take long; it just came pouring out of me. I’d already lived through all the quitting that the book documents, and had kept a detailed journal throughout, so it was just a matter of finding points of connection, doing some research, and assembling a loose structure.
GS: “I Quit Everything” is separated into seven sections, five of which have addictive-substance-titles, with each one containing brief essays. Did the essays or the section themes come first in your creative process?
FLS: I mostly started with the themes. One advantage I had in figuring out the structure was that the book documents an experiment that spanned about eight months, so there was an intrinsic chronology I could rely on: first I quit this, then that, then that. Within this framework I certainly take liberties, but at least there is a basic timeline to contain the chaos!
GS: “I Quit Everything” is a book full of books with quotes from and references to “Sugar Blues,” “The Doors of Perception,” and “The Botany of Desire,” to name a few. Do you feel, as a writer, that you have a responsibility to recommend books to your readers?
FLS: I am grateful when writers recommend books to me and I love when one piece of writing points me to another, so it’s natural to want to pay it forward! “I Quit Everything” does end up being partly about books—I write about how books saved me during Covid, and about how a bookstore job helped me escape the academic job I was eager to quit. And although the book is a deeply personal memoir, documenting my struggles with addiction and withdrawal and midlife, I wanted it to be more than just my story; I wanted to fold in the stories and observations and research of others to give the book more texture and substance.
GS: In addition to quoting writers, you also quote musicians, including Jonathan Richman on pages 82 and 104. Would it be fair to say you consider Richman as an influence?
FLS: Yes, for sure! Jonathan Richman has been a force in my life since I first heard his solo albums in the eighties, which inspired me to seek out his earlier work with the Modern Lovers, one of my favorite bands of all time. Few songwriters are as singular--he steers clear of cliché, irony, and cultural pressure to conform to any current trends. He makes sincerity seem like the most punk thing ever.
GS: Would you agree that the looseness you write about in the “I’m Loose” essay seems to have been replaced by a kind of cultural tightness? If so, do you see that as a positive or negative?
FLS: This is amazing timing! I was just talking about “looseness” today with a former student of mine. She’s in her twenties, and at a recent family event her aunt (a Gen-X’er like me, in her fifties) went on a rant about how kids these days are too uptight, how we all used to drive drunk, and it was fine! I don’t advocate a return to rampant drunk driving, but believe me, I understand the sentiment, absolutely.
GS: I love the way you write about actors and films. For people familiar with you as a musician in bands including Blake Babies, Mysteries of Life, and Some Girls, to name a few, do you think they’ll be surprised to learn about movie star dreams?
FLS: I think they’ll be surprised, yes. I always felt most comfortable hiding back behind the drum set and became very shy when I had a microphone in front of my face.
GS: Did being a musician and playing for audiences fulfill that longing for you?
FLS: It absolutely did and gave me a more comfortable way to be an artist and performer; one better suited to my disposition!
GS: I loved the Sugar section, as that is also my addiction. I totally related to Cap’n Crunch’s violent mouth shredding, which is why I preferred the now defunct Quisp – same manufacturer, same taste, but gentler on the gums. Are you concerned about a backlash from Big Cereal?
FLS: First of all, I’d like a time machine so I can go back and pour myself a big bowl of Quisp—how did I never know about Quisp! I feel cheated. I have often felt the same way about quaaludes. Totally missed out, born just a little too late. Anyway, it’s unlikely Big Cereal will find me much of a threat; I think their power is even greater than it was when I was a kid. I recently read that they continue to reformulate those cereals to make them more appealing and—to borrow a cute adjective from the British—“moreish.”
GS: On a more serious note, the Social Media section of the book becomes a eulogy for your friend Faith Kleppinger. Did you know when writing that section that that’s what it would be or was it something that developed organically?
FLS: That came straight out of the journal that I was keeping at the time, writing about my quitting process and about the major events of my life. I loved her so much, and that loss permeated everything at the time.
GS: In the “Dignified and Old” essay, you wrote about the TV series “Absolutely Fabulous” in the most delightful way. I think you may be the first straight person I’ve encountered who enjoyed the show as much as me and my friends. Did it, perhaps, speak to your inner gay man?
FLS: Edina and Patsy forever [laughs]. And, yes, I totally have an inner gay man! When I was a teenager, I kept getting huge crushes on gay boys until I realized: it wasn’t that I wanted them, I wanted to BE them! I wanted their dance moves and their brilliant taste in music, I wanted their bravery and sense of identity, and I also wanted to resist gender stereotypes, convention, heteronormativity. I was—and am—attracted to she’s as well as he’s, and the LGBTQ+ people in my life emboldened me to identify as bisexual.
GS: Your mentions of Sir Elton John, Cher, and “Tootsie,” made me wonder if you were aware of an LGBTQ+ following for your various bands, and if so, what that means to you.
FLS: I’ve been told that Blake Babies had a significant LGBTQ+ following and that delights me. For much of the Blake Babies, I had short hair or a shaved head, and I was frequently mistaken for a guy behind the drums. Juliana and I refused to appear traditionally feminine in the band—
we wore no make-up, and our typical stage garb was men’s t-shirts and baggy jeans. I’ve told this story a lot—after one concert in North Carolina the promoter approached John Strohm, the guitarist in the band, and said “You’ve got to get those girls in some dresses.” We scoffed at that. We wanted to define womanhood on our own terms. This possibly contributed to our appeal to those who identified as genderqueer, gender-fluid, or gender nonconforming, all groups that I deeply respect.
GS: What would it mean to you if “I Quit Everything” became recommended reading for people in the recovery community?
FLS: I feel big love for the recovery community and have been thrilled to glimpse the ways in which that world is opening up, diversifying, allowing in myriad voices and approaches. I appreciate the nuance in language like “soberish,” “sober curious,” and “California sober.” It feels to me like there is more space for people to decide what they want their sobriety to look like; not everyone fits every program. It would mean the world to me if “I Quit Everything” were to help anyone to break a destructive habit, to take a good honest look within and decide what they can and can’t afford to mess with, and to trust themselves to make the right choices.
Updated November 12, 2023
GoGuide Magazine proudly supports "get out the vote" with the Coralville Pride Festival initiatives. GoGuide Magzine has interviewed everyone from Liz Mathis, Christina Bohannan, and Mayor Pete to Zach Wahls and Cory Booker. There are so many it's impossible to list everyone.
From Iowa City Press-Citizen - Foster, Coralville's first female mayor, earned a second term as one of the most prominent elected women in the area. In her second term, she told the Press-Citizen she would focus on increasing housing affordability in the area, opening additional doors to services and resources in the community, and continuing to further Coralville's reputation as a welcoming place for all.
GoGuide Magazine will partner with the LGBTQ Task Force. Please visit https://www.thetaskforce.org/ for more information about this very reputable organization.
Cathy Rena, director of communications for the LGBTQ Task Force, said exclusively to GoGuide Magazine, "Creating Change is a unique and essential gathering that brings together thousands of diverse movement advocates and allies to discuss the current state of our movement, the challenges we face and learn from each other to plan for the coming year - and 2024 is a vital one with a Presidential election and ongoing attacks on our communities. There is also the extraordinary element of Creating Change as a 'family reunion' for the movement. Our theme says it all, we gather in queer power, we plan for queer action, and we celebrate queer joy! I have been to nearly every Creating Change conference, and it always fills my heart with energy and love and deepens the commitment of all attendees to the fight for freedom, justice, and equity for all LGBTQ+ people."
Local voter information is available at https://www.johnsoncountyiowa.gov/auditor/elections.
GoGuide Magzine caught up with our own Miss Christine (they/them) while on tour a couple of weeks ago. They were kind enough to do a Q&A with us for our new online magazine's inaugural issue.
According to Miss Christine's website, "The "Miss" has nothing to do with womanhood and everything to do with absence and longing. In this case, it's the longing for truth and freedom from misguided external perceptions.
Miss Christine attended the Berklee College of Music before gaining experience as a session musician in Nashville. Christine defied expectations again by leaving Nashville behind for a farm near Iowa City, where they write and record their original songs. Miss Christine released their debut solo album, Conversion, in 2019. The follow-up, Bittersweet, is out June 2023 on Bandcamp, vinyl, and CD
GoGuide Magazine (GGM): How would you describe your tour, and how has it changed over the years?
Miss Christine: The tour has been so much fun! Before the pandemic, I played close to 100 shows a year, so since 2020, my tour schedule has slowed down tremendously. It felt so good to be back on stage this summer, playing Pride festivals and shows around the Midwest to support the release of my second album, Bittersweet. The pandemic allowed me the space to become more comfortable with my queerness and performing in public as my genderqueer self. My audience has changed so much since my first tour. It is much more queer.
I've been performing under the moniker Miss Christine since 2010. In 2017, I began to pursue my original music much more seriously, and in 2018, I hit the road touring around the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast. I've been touring the last five years with different lineups of musicians in Miss Christine. A Miss Christine show is energetic and empowering with some introspective moments.
Fortunately, Miss Christine can be found in Iowa City performing at LA Wine Bar on November 16 and at Gabe's on November 24.
GGM: How many albums have you recorded? What songs are fan favorites?
Miss Christine: I've recorded two full-length albums and two EPs. My first album, Conversion, came out in 2019, and my second album, Bittersweet, in 2023. Fan favorite songs are Conversion, Google University, and Profound. My favorite song at the moment is My Brain, which is about the time I got a concussion. It is so much fun to play live. Someone deemed it Doom Pop, which makes me laugh.
GGM: How would you describe your musical and performance style? Who in the music influenced you the most?
Miss Christine: I call it punk rock doo-wop. There are lots of vocal harmonies, defiant punk attitude, soulful moments, and occasional guitar and keyboard solos. Since I am a singing bassist, my songs are often short and full of unexpected surprises. My biggest influences are Paul McCartney, James Jamerson, Carol Kaye, The Beatles, The Grates, and The Supremes. I often say that I'm stuck in the '60s. I love music from that decade, especially Motown.
GGM: What has been your biggest hurdle in getting to the point you're at now?
Miss Christine: I spent most of my life hiding behind my bass playing instead of listening to who I am outside of my musicianship. My biggest hurdle has been learning to respect myself enough to advocate for my self-worth. Even though people like me are often left out of the mainstream, we exist and are valid just as we are. Since being public with my genderqueerness and asexuality, my life and music career have blossomed in a new way I never thought possible.
GGM: You will be headlining the Third Coralville Pride Festival next June. What can the crowd expect, and do you have any surprises for the show?
Miss Christine: We are excited to play at the Coralville Pride Festival next year! The crowd can expect a fun and energetic show filled with self-compassion. You'll have to come to the show and find out about surprises. ;)
Visit the Miss Christine website for complete tour date listings and more information: https://www.misschristinemusic.com/
November 7, 2023
Special to GoGuide Magazine
Wilton Manors, FL - On Monday, October 30, 2023, the Stonewall National Museum Archives & Library and GayBarchives held a press conference at the Eagle Wilton Manors in Wilton Manors, Florida, to announce the launch of an exciting new initiative that will revolutionize the documentation of our LGBTQ+ history. The enthusiasm was palpable as business owners, journalists, and historians listened to the news.
Dubbed 'Raising the Bars', this project is designed to embrace and celebrate the vital role our gay bars have played [and continue to play] in the growth and development of our community. For decades, historians have focused on the events, activists, and laws that have impacted the LGBTQ+ world, often taking a passive role in collecting these stories. All too often, archives have depended on the posthumous bequeaths of historical documents to grow their collections.
This undertaking has been enthusiastically lauded by LGBTQ+ historians, bar owners, and authors alike. Dozens of endorsements are featured on their website, RaisingTheBarsProject.org.
'Raising the Bars' aims to take a more active role in the documentation of our rich and colorful history by creating programs to bring queer history front and center. 'Raising the Bars' will include traveling exhibits, videos, educational projects, and entertainment programs that will highlight the significance of queer bars and safe havens in our history. The initiative will also actively collect artifacts and ephemera from our bars and organizations to preserve them for posterity.
'Raising the Bars' will include:
- Active outreach to the owners of LGBTQ+ bars and safe havens [past &present]
- Creation of traveling exhibits focused on the history of LGBTQ+ bars
- Development of a gay trivia database
- Implementation of a national queer trivia competition
- Documentation of the history of the bars and community centers that serve us
- Recognition of long-standing queer safe spaces across the US
- Establishment of a 'GayBarchives' collection of bar ephemera & memorabilia
- Networking with NGLCC and local affiliated chambers
- Initiating a national LGBTQ+ bar passport program
- Building relationships with independent regional archival projects
- Partnering with related businesses in the LGBTQ+ entertainment space
- Assisting in the publication of LGBTQ+ history books and articles
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
ABOUT 'RAISING THE BARS': http://RaisingTheBarsProject.org
ABOUT STONEWALL NATIONAL MUSEUM ARCHIVES & LIBRARY: https://Stonewall-Museum.org
ABOUT GAYBARCHIVES: http://GayBarchives.com
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