This weekend, the Dallas/Fort Worth Ultimate Women’s Expo takes place at the Cowtown Convention Center, and the headliners on Sunday will be Christian music icon Amy Grant.
Now, everyone knows Dallas has one of the biggest gay Christian contingents in the world (the Cathedral of Hope is a huge congregation, and that’s just one church), but Grant — the most famous singer about faith for more than 20 years — doesn’t seem like the kind to make a surprise appearance at an CoH choral rehearsal.
But our Chris Azzopardi — himself a lapsed Catholic — couldn’t resist the chance to interview Grant last month … her first-ever interview with the gay press. And with Grant coming to town — and her first new album in 10 years, How Mercy Looks from Here, dropping today — we thought we’d run this piece by Azzo about pursuing his childhood hero … and how the interview almost didn’t happen.
By Chris Azzopardi
Back in the mid-’90s, I watched from my seat at The Palace of Auburn Hills, just outside Detroit, as kids circled Amy Grant onstage with overzealous glee while she sang “Say You’ll Be Mine.” I wanted to get in on that dance carousal to be as close to this woman — my childhood idol — as possible. I wanted that so badly. Shy little me just couldn’t find the gumption for that. I was intimidated by the throngs. And her.
I’d been an Amy diehard since I pretty much ransacked my mom’s “Heart in Motion” cassette. I couldn’t get enough (sorry, Mom). Obsessed with “Galileo,” I’d replay the song — in other words, I rewound that thing so many times I eventually wore out the tape — because I had mad nerd love for Ben Franklin, and Amy clearly did, too. She was singing about him.
I’ve made lots of other memories to Amy Grant music. On my Walkman, I’d bop down to the bus stop with “Baby Baby” singing in my ears, no matter how unhip it was. “I Will Remember You” was, for me, the high school send-off you never forget, and later I’d think of that song for all my goodbyes (to a friend, a dying relative and so on). There were Christmases that wouldn’t have been the same without “Breath of Heaven,” there was the song I put on a Mother’s Day mix for my mom (“Oh How the Years Go By”), and there were more Amy concerts than that of any other performer.
As a kid who attended catechism and took communion nearly every Sunday, I connected to her messages of faith, compassion and being all-inclusive. I didn’t care what she thought about homosexuality then, only that hers be the voice that help me come to terms with it. I clung to those messages of “love conquers all” when things got hard, when I felt like ending my life. And I thought about it plenty of times. But I’d close my eyes and listen and hear that voice of comfort and faith filling my heart. She was the big hug in my headphones.
That connection — an affinity that anyone who’s admired a musician from afar knows well — was the reason I almost didn’t pitch an interview request to her people when I found out she was releasing her first studio album in 10 years, How Mercy Looks From Here. Did I want to know how Amy felt about gay issues? About my community? About me? I was the little kid too scared to get that close to her all over again.
This time, I went for it.
Amy listened intently and responded thoughtfully. She expressed herself in the best way she knows how: with stories. And she did all of this for an hour.
She didn’t have to do this at all.
In that moment, we were two human beings from two very different walks of life engaging in an illuminating dialogue.
Amy didn’t take any strong stands, she didn’t directly come out as pro-gay and remained relatively neutral, but she spoke honestly and from the heart — just as I expected her to. People will say her statements about not dividing her fan base were safe, and maybe they were. But I didn’t sense that at all. What I found was, truly, a person who didn’t know my world. Our world.
And who can blame her? I haven’t taken communion in more than 15 years.
She referred to being gay as a “lifestyle,” but remember: This is a woman who’s never spoken to gay press before, and you won’t see her in a Pride parade anytime soon (she is not Lady Gaga, people). And if we’re going to play that game, call me out, too: I misidentified her religious upbringing when I called it “strict.”
“When you say strict, that’s interesting,” she said, laughing. “What do you mean?”
We are clearly two people divided by radically different lives, generational gaps and family histories, and that’s OK. I can live with not knowing where she stands on issues that are important to me but may not be to her, because I know there’s no judgment. She sees people as they are: as people. She said it herself: “When you don’t understand something, you can either default to judgment or you can default to compassion.” I loved that.
The questioning seemed to reveal something I wasn’t aware of. I’ve been doing gay press interviews for years. This was Amy’s first.
“This is interesting, because I have never done an interview where it feels like every question is saying, ‘Tell me I’m OK.’ That’s what feels like the underlying energy behind the questions and I’m just going, that’s a powerful kind of energy — and for different reasons.”
Acceptance, I learned in that moment, comes in many shapes and from many people. Parents, peers, the president. But how about the people we idolize? The performer whose music wasn’t just music … but memories?
I might not know where Amy stands on gay rights. I might never know. But I’ve decided it doesn’t really matter.
I’m grateful to her on behalf of my younger self, the little kid who wore out his mother’s tape and derived strength and solace in her music. I won’t let politics get in the way of that.
For my 30th birthday, my mom asked me to go on a getaway with her, so we’re road-tripping to Amy’s hometown for her Nashville Weekend. We go this fall, and I’m already creating a playlist of songs in my head that I hope to hear.
When I’m dancing under the sun and stars on her Tennessee ranch, I won’t be thinking of gay marriage or government policies. It will just be about the music and how much it matters to me and everyone else there. Some of the people will be just like me and some will be different, but as Amy said in our interview, “I figure we must have some things in common because, of all the music we’re all attracted to, at least we share this music in common.”
And that’s enough. It really is enough.
You can read Chris’ full interview with Amy Grant here.