How many rites of passage must we endure in a single lifetime?
It’s still a good question: how many rites of passage must we endure until finally we mature into the adults that we fervently hope to become? I’ll bet the Indigo Girls ask themselves this question all the time.
Does listening to the Indigo Girls – especially their early, groundbreaking albums from the 1990s and early 2000s – constitute its own rite of passage? For the current generation of students, adolescents, and young adults, I mean. Actually, that I can’t answer only they can.
As for me, listening to Indigo Girls definitely WAS a rite of passage. Multiple passages, actually. The first happened during my post-college, graduate school years of struggle with finding a work-life balance that could accommodate endless and enduring love. You need Amy and Emily by your side when you get hurt by – or end up hurting – someone who was on the short-list of your possible soulmates, but not truly the one. Amy, especially. When she sings “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits, it’s like I am hearing Mark Knopfler’s lyrics for the first time. When you have the Indigo Girls by your bedside at night, singing loudly and desperately through your Bose speakers into a darkened rented room, you just know that you’re not entirely alone.
The other passage that the Indigo Girls and I took was the Great Western Road Trip. I played “Rites of Passage” dozens of times on my Subaru’s CD player as I traveled twice or more annually between Western Montana and Northern California for work. The cool thing about this rite of passage was how amazingly exhilarating and fun it was: their voices and words and musical talents echoing through the Idaho wilderness, or the Oregon Outback, or the redwood coasts of Del Norte County. In the rain. The snow. The penetrating summer sunshine. The smoke of Washington wildfires. The pelting of Wyoming hail. The coyote howls of northwestern Nevada. The sunsets over the Pacific. The subzero sunrises in the Rocky Mountains. This album – created by a remarkable set of Atlanta women with the collaboration of some awesome musicians and backup vocalists (including Jackson Browne and David Crosby) – it ends up being the perfect road trip soundtrack, if your roads are remote, desolate, and devoid of much of humanity. You roll down the windows at 80mph as you roar into the Alvord Desert, with “Jonas & Ezekial” or “Chickenman” blasting on the car stereo. Then, just as you pull to the side of the dusty, gravel road to prepare to soak in a desert hot springs on the edge of shimmering dry lake, “Love Will Come to You” starts to play. You turn off the engine but keep the stereo on until the song ends. You are alone, it is just after sunrise on a cold January morning, and you are about to undress and slip into a basin of hot, sulfur-smelling water that has bubbled up from the earth to comfort you. Your lover is hundreds of miles away in a soft bed, dreaming of who knows what. But all that is around is you, the desert, the steaming hot springs, and the Indigo Girls straining for yet one more pitch perfect harmony.
In my opinion, playing Indigo Girls during situations like that, it is far superior to playing them at your wedding. Just saying. Some rites of passage are more naked than others.
Cheers, Amy and Emily, for keeping me such good company as I hurtled through the backroads of the Americam West en route to or from my lover. And yes, you two: she is indeed the one for me. I don’t exactly have you to thank for that, but dang, women, if you didn’t help keep me from falling asleep when the road ahead of me started to seem endless. For that, and for all those other, earlier times, you have my thanks – and this belated appreciation on a WordPress blog 21 years later that very few people in this world will ever notice or bother to read. It’s not quite a fair trade, I grant you, for all the joy and comfort you two have introduced into this world, but hopefully it is enough. The marigold bouquet in the picture I have included with this review, it is for you, for “Virginia Woolf,” and for so much more that even I cannot adequately put into words.