“A sometimes political, sometimes humorous musician who is always entertaining…” –Mountain Moving Coffeehouse
“Deb Adler is a gifted performer, and her music is a relaxing mixture of folk, blues, and country music. She sings and speaks of her struggles and celebrations, particularly her recovery from alcohol and drug abuse. She prefers to perform in an atmosphere that is relaxed, informal, and chemical-free – no alcohol will be served at the concert.
–The Gay Paper, May 1981
“Witty and listenable, (D.J. Adler – Here & Now) is a 12-song tape of high quality acoutstic women’s music. -OP Magazine (Independent Music Reviews) July-August 1982
“Deb ‘D.J.’ Adler is an accomplished singer-songwriter and professional actress. Her formal background in music includes training in solo and choral voice, clarinet, classical and popular guitar, and theory. She attended Wayne State University in Detroit as an undergraduate theater major. A graduate of the MFA pre-professional actor training program at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, DJ is well known to theater audiences in both Cleveland and Detroit.
“D.J. Adler’s commitment to the women’s cultural movement and the women’s music industry has taken her through Ohio and the Midwest performing contemporary feminist music to a wide variety of audiences. She has appeared in support of women and labor,Cleveland’s Take Back the Night, lesbian and gay rights, chemically dependent women, and International Year of Disabled Persons. Recently, she appeared as the opening act for veteran feminist performer Holly Near, at Kent State University.”
What She Wants Benefit Concert Playbill, March 27, 1982
“…politically-correct dyke music for those woman-identified-women and lesbians in the crowd…With her strong clear voice she sings folk songs, ballads, and blues, even a cappella songs, all her own compositions.
“She sings of the ‘politically correct’ rules involved in being a bar dyke, several haunting songs of the allures and disappointments we find in alcohol, the moving on involved in a once meaningful relationship and an ode to a battered woman-mother. She has a very interesting take off on Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A-Changing.’ And another of her soul-stirring songs is an a cappella one about women’s (unsung) strength in ‘Womansong Rise Up!’
“D.J. Adler is a woman musician worth watching and collecting.”
–Women Library Workers Journal, Dec 1982
“D.J. Adler is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lesser known woman musicians. She has produced a tape of her own music (D. J. Adler – Here and Now) and is trying single-handedly to gain a national reputation. (She recently shared:)
- “I believe that every time a woman raises her voice to share her own special song, women’s music grows. Women’s music is here to stay. It’s growing, diversifying. That’s both exciting and scary… I believe in order for it to survive, we must be willing to hold it, like the butterfly, with an open hand – to allow it to sail in whatever direction it chooses.”
-Excerpt from “Her Own Special Song: Women’s Music Grows” by Susan A. Graetz
Ithaca Times, Nov 18, 1982
“From her beginnings as a regularly featured performer at Labrys, Cleveland’s women-only coffeehouse, Deb Adler has steadily gained recognition from audiences statewide and beyond. Recently appearing at the 4th Michigan Women’s Music Festival (open mic), she has donated her talents in support of lesbian-gay rights, women and labor, and Cleveland’s Take Back the Night March, and is a member of Oven Productions, producers of women’s music in Cleveland.
“Deb’s vocal and guitar styles blend folk, blues, and country traditions, with several numbers performed a cappella. Her performance combines powerful original music of women’s lives and herstory with a relaxed and easy-going manner of sharing herself in conversation with her audience, providing a rich tapestry of personal experiences and herstory reflective of the many aspects of women’s lives.
‘Because we as women share a common bond of cultural and political oppression that transcends out personal differences, ‘ explains Deb, ‘I strive to present songs reflecting the diversity of women’s lives and experiences’”
Women’s Center Newsletter, New Albany NY, Nov. 1979
By Ulla Kelly
Deb Adler has been entertaining diverse audiences professionally for over forty years. Trained in both music and theater, Deb’s performance background includes everything from glee clubs, choruses, and classical choral unions, to folk groups, to solo performances.
You’ve been out and singing about it for a long time now what are the biggest changes you’ve noticed?
Definitely the integration into mainstream. When I started performing as a “Lesbian-feminist singer-songwriter” the term “Women’s music” was a code phrase for “Lesbian music.” A few years back I went into a music store and asked if they had a “Women’s music” section. The clerk, a young woman in her early-to-mid twenties, looked at me quizzically and then with a touch of disdain, quipped, “Women’s music- that would be like any woman who sings, right?”
“Well, we’ve arrived!” I thought!
With performers like K.D. Lang and Melissa Etheridge and others openly out in mainstream genres, there’s been a definite evolution/revolution. In addition, the audience has grown more sophisticated and discerning. These are women who have “made it” in their respective genres while being openly out. Their straight fans love them for their music and their Lesbian fans love them for their music and that they are Lesbians, but it isn’t a “political” love if you know what I mean.
In a strange way that may be a natural outgrowth of what the original “women’s music movement” was about. What began as a grass-roots word-of-mouth movement of music written, performed and produced by, for and about Lesbians grew into a launching pad for performers, producers, sound and lighting engineers, and others to gain access to and eventually recognition in the music industry that heretofore had denied women altogether.
Performing as a “Lesbian-feminist” singer-songwriter meant writing and singing about politically relevant issues for us as Lesbians and Women. The appeal of today’s music by Lesbian artists is not about political content. There are still Lesbian performers who appeal to a strictly Lesbian audience whose material has a political slant, but today, much more so than when I began performing, the venues are limited for them. If they are going to “survive” as performing artists, they must be able to appeal to a broader audience.
Two things that proliferated during the 70’s and early 80’s were “chemical free coffeehouses” and “Women-only spaces.” It seems that those have dwindled and the bars are the again, predominant venue for Lesbian musicians, which has it’s drawbacks for me as a recovered alcoholic.
Even the bar scene is changing. I recently saw an article interviewing gay bar owners who agreed that one of the unfortunate results of people becoming more tolerant of gays in public was that gay bars were losing traffic to straight gay-friendly bars. It’s an interesting paradox!
What are some of the differences between your generation of gay women, and the current generation?
About 40 years. (LOL) Seriously though, I see many similarities as well as differences. It’s still very difficult to categorize the gay population because too many remain closeted to protect themselves, their jobs, or loved ones. Coming out is still a gamble all these years later. So how do you describe an iceberg from just what you see on the surface?
I’m not sure I’m really qualified to quantify the current generation of gay Women as I move as a Lesbian in a predominantly straight world. I’m totally accepted by my extended family (I live in community with people I have worked alongside and lived with in some cases for over 20 years). My sexuality is not an issue.
I am extremely grateful to see a lot more visible support organizations, help-lines, LGBT Centers and business organizations, as well as strong pop culture role models. I didn’t have that growing up as a kid in the 1950’s. In that sense, it’s a very different world today. My “MsQueer” blog is an attempt to offer on-line resources for those seeking support and information relating to LGBT issues. People are searching for understanding, not just going into denial. The internet has been a tremendous tool in our favor in that respect.
Of course, there’s more confidence for many Lesbians being out in public women holding hands, showing affection, being natural as friends and lovers without being “guarded” That’s very different.
I sometimes wonder if the current generation of Lesbians might take the freedom they do have for granted. I’m concerned about the anger and defiance I see in demonstrations and marches sometimes. Shouting obscenities as you march by; threatening to “convert” all those straight folks’ children is not necessarily a smart strategy for gaining trust and acceptance. When I see women marching bare-breasted in Gay Pride Parades, I wonder if they have thought about what it took just to be able to march peaceably in cities around the world. Defiance and anger are neither peace-winning, nor coalition-building strategies.
I think there’s a lot more sense of “in your face” identity for those who are out. Like, “You better accept me or else.” (And I think that’s a direct outgrowth of the fact that we can be more visible now at least in some places!)
I recently saw a video of the 2008 “Dyke March” in Boston, where Lesbians were carrying signs like “10% is not enough recruit” and “My girlfriend has a bigger dick than your boyfriend.” My concern for this sort of approach of trying to force acceptance is that it only generates more fear and prejudice. We will not win allies nor influence others by threatening them.
I never found the need for that approach. I have found that as I am accepting of and comfortable with my own sexual identity, so do those around me accept and respect me. I don’t look to others for acceptance. I offer respect and acceptance/tolerance to those I meet and seek to find a common ground in which to relate. If someone clearly shows that they are not capable of that, I practice compassion to the best of my ability – because that is what helps me in the end.
Gay Rights has taken some serious blows here in the States with the passing of California’s Proposition 8 rescinding the Gay Marriage law and other anti-gay legislation passing around the country this past November. There’s a lot of anger out there right now in the LGBT population, but I like what the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is attempting to do with their “Anger Into Action” campaign.
We can’t afford to just stew in our own rage it is more destructive to the person maintaining that than to any possible target. What I know from my own work in the holistic health field is that anger and rage are a breeding ground for cancer. If we die off and our opponents live on who wins? We have to acknowledge our anger, feel it without dwelling there permanently. Then it is absolutely imperative that we convert it into some form of positive action, to heal ourselves and to become part of the solution.
Hopefully the election of President Obama will help to keep alive the promise of equal rights for ALL. He has pledged to be a champion for that and I believe his intentions are pure. We shall see.
What was it like coming out when you did? Scary. Even with the activism of the 70’s, there was a stigma attached to being “gay” and coming out was a tremendous risk.
Actually the worst part was growing up in the 1950’s. As early as elementary school I experienced crushes and being attracted to my girl friends in school. I can remember having these incredible urges to lean over and kiss one of my girlfriends. (And that urge became a re-occurring one). I was confused and scared and there was no one to turn to. I couldn’t tell my parents, or a teacher. I lived afraid and ashamed of what I did not understand in myself. My greatest fear was that if I should tell someone about my feelings and urges that I would be taken away from my parents, locked up and never be allowed to come back to them. (Actually, that wasn’t too far off the mark, because many Gays were institutionalized). I didn’t know anything about being Gay. I only knew that I had this horrible secret that I had to keep because I was so different from everyone else, and I didn’t dare let anyone know!
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I discovered the book Lesbian/Woman , by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons that literally saved my life. Finally I could understand who I was and what all those feelings and urges had been about. I learned self-acceptance from those two wonderful pioneers of Lesbian Rights and activism.
I worked for a Lesbian business-woman who had her own company in my early thirties. She was very out amongst her friends and co-workers. Most of her clients knew about her as well, and had met her partner who did some work for the firm.
When I started singing and becoming active in marches and rallies locally, she went crazy. I actually tried performing under a different name for a while, trying to keep my job and stay active as a performer but it backfired because the Lesbian audience already knew me as Deb Adler. So I found a better job to go on to and kept performing as me. But that is a typical example of how paranoid and to some extent not without justification many gays were still at that time.
Do you think we have it easier now? I think we have more visibility now, and it certainly helps to see more gay characters in mainstream television shows, the movies, and publicly out performing artists, writers, political figures, etc.
I think some of the pressure to remain hidden is off. I see a lot more couples holding hands or kissing in public without people around registering huge reactions. But the initial act of coming out to one’s family and friends is still one that can cause great pain and angst in the anticipation of people’s reactions, if not from the actual responses themselves. I think more people have a greater tolerance and there are credible and instant (courtesy of the web) resources for people to tap to find answers to questions or someone to talk to. At my MsQueer.com blog, my Gay Teens page is one of the most popular and people get there by various searches, including “my son is gay” or “my daughter is a Lesbian” for example.
As I was listening to reports leading up to President Barrack Obama’s swearing-in on inauguration day, the BBC recapped an interview with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964, in which he was asked to comment about a statement made by then President John F. Kennedy who thought the United States would see an Afro-American (my terminology both Kennedy and King used the term “Negro”) President in the next 40 years. Dr. King said he could see it happening in 25 years. So it took 44 years and the election of an Afro-American to America’s highest political office is not going to wipe prejudice off the map in this country. But is does mark the tremendous strides we’ve made and I take that as a sign of hope that our country, and the global Human Family will move more rapidly towards acceptance of diversity in peoples be it race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, whatever
What inspired you to define yourself as a Lesbian singer/songwriter?
After I was introduced to the music of Holly Near, Cris Williamson and Meg Christian at a summer resident camp where I was working, I found a whole new direction for my music writing and performance to take. I began writing and performing songs about Women’s issues and love songs, as well as songs about my own personal experiences and journey.
I am who I am and it just seemed the natural thing to do. I wanted to “declare” myself. I felt it was important to step up and be counted, to be publicly visible. The most obvious path through which to do that was my gift of music.
That decision led to many extraordinary experiences. I had the privilege to be a featured performer at the very first Lesbian-Gay Pride March in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1983. We had a few hundred people that day, including some straight allies. It was a very well publicized event in the community-at-large with a lot of advanced media coverage.
Being there was both exciting and scary. None of us knew what might happen. We had “peace marshals” who had been trained to cope with potential trouble-makers along the parade route, but we had no way to know if there might be some sort of adverse reaction or violence coming from anti-gays. What those of us who were marching knew was that there were hundreds, maybe thousands more who could not join us in the street that day, or even be seen anywhere near the events, for whom we were marching. Performers and Speakers alike understood that we, perhaps more than the others that day, would be “open targets” on the stage.
The parade and rally went without incident. It was a real celebration of declaring ourselves, our rights, our right to love. At the end balloons were released with messages in them from loved ones such as “My mom is a Lesbian and I love her. Brian. Age 7.”
Have you encountered much homophobia as a result?
Sometimes. Homophobia can pop up in the most unexpected places, sometimes so close at hand that it can come as a real surprise. I never cease to marvel at where I might discover someone’s prejudices or fears, based on their comments. Mostly I just roll with it. I make a policy not to agree with statements I don’t believe in, but I may continue “unannounced” in a conversation if with a stranger – and make my points in a way that gives the person a reason to think without being intimidated or attacked.
When we come to recognize that people who act from prejudice are acting out their parents’ programs, as well as other authority figures in their lives, then it’s possible to separate the individual from their behavior. I believe we must treat those who have the greatest contempt for us and would have us destroyed with compassion. These people have been reared on hatred and ignorance and fear. They live in irrationality and believe that it is rational. It is extremely intimidating and painful to the point of life-threatening for them to consider that the foundation they were raised with might be a false one. If we can offer them what they are incapable of offering us acceptance, respect for their perspective, allowing them their ways without judging them, then we become their teachers. We give them the example of dignity and respect that they obviously did not have while growing up.
The best antidote I have found for homophobia is to be a solid citizen, make a contribution to the community locally and globally – being of service, and to genuinely care about others. At the very least, I will confound them as a contradiction to their fondest bigoted beliefs.
What made you decide to reissue your old cassette recordings as free mp3 downloads?
I want the music to reach more Lesbians. There are songs that I haven’t done for a long time because they are angry, and I don’t want to leave my audience there. Music is a powerful communicator. It has been hailed as “the language of the heart.” But in its power to inspire, it can also incite, confound, confuse, and leave one wallowing in raw emotion. I believe in the artist’s responsibility to their audience.
But these songs, birthed through the exploration and defining of my own sexuality and status as a Woman, cover legitimate phases of self-discovery and empowerment we share as Women and Lesbians. Plus there are many more songs that I have written over the years that I want others to be able to access beyond what is available on “D.J. Adler Here and Now” and “Songbyrd.”
There is a sense of urgency that I feel at this point in my life to share with those who come after me. My songs are my children, so to speak, and I want to set them free.
When I began writing music and lyrics in my early teens, I hid my songs, partially out of shyness, but then Simon and Garfunkel released a song called “Sounds of Silence.” One line in that song, “People writing songs that voices never share no one dares disturb the sounds of silence.,”* haunted me. I began performing my own songs in public.
Now, it seems to have come around full circle again. I’ve been told many times over the years how people relate to my lyrics on a deeply personal level, that it touches something very deep within them. That has been one of my gifts. I’ve been off the performance circuit for a while, and I want to make sure that my songs get into the hands of those who can relate to them. Hopefully that will introduce a whole new generation to an “old gal’s” tunes that they may appreciate.
*written in 1964 by Paul Simon.
Have you ever sung a love song as a duet with another female singer?
No. Not yet. But I’m open to the possibility!
Can we expect any new stuff from you?
Yes, I have a double CD planned called “Homegrown/Rawtracks” which features home and small studio sessions of songs I’ve written over the past 25 years. Then I plan to go into the studio for a CD that will feature the most recent songs I’ve written. They range in style from traditional folk, folk-rock to pop, rock, and a capella. I’m looking for a producer to work with on this and would like it to include collaboration with other musicians.
Songwriting has always been a means of processing feelings, or commenting on the times. So long as I am coherent, I will be writing new songs!
What other queer artists and performers do you admire?
From the beginning, Holly Near, Meg Christian, Cris Williamson, Kay Gardner, Margie Adam. More recently, Melissa Etheridge, K.D. Lang .
You’re a recovering addict and you got sober at an interesting place tell us a little about that?
I attended the 4th Michigan Women’s Music Festival in 1979. Through a series of events that I describe in detail at my website ( http://www.debadler.com : “My MWMF Story Sobriety Rocks!”), I was able to admit in a safe space of other Lesbians who were alcoholics and addicts that I had been addicted to alcohol. I had suspected for some time that I had a problem, but some things happed there that led to an “ah-hah” moment and realize that I was in fact dealing with denial of an addiction for many years. I spent the next three days in a nurturing, loving cocoon of recovering Lesbians of all ages and from all over the States, and in some cases, from other countries. They shared their “courage, strength and hope” with me and gave me encouragement and advice as to what to do when I went home from the festival.
We had support meetings available 3 times a day, and then a group of us sat together at the evening concerts in the “chemical free” seating section. Without those Women and the Chemical Free camping and concert space provided by the organizers of the festival, I might not have come out of there alive. Had I started drinking at the festival, given my history and pattern up to that point, there’s no telling what might have happened. Instead I got a start on a new life and a passion to travel and share my new-found sobriety through my music, as I began writing a flurry of new songs reflecting my new freedom almost immediately.
What are Lesbian music fans like?
(LOL) At their worst, very demanding and very possessive. Lesbian music fans have some very definite opinions as to what their performers should and should not be doing – and with whom! J I have seen performers who were bisexual shunned by Lesbian music fans, as well as those who work with men or straight Women. Hopefully as we evolve those prejudices will resolve themselves, but I think there will always be a core group who feel ownership over performers and be very judgmental regarding their conduct.
At their best, I know Lesbian fans to be extremely loyal, loving and supportive. Through the years I have performed at rallies and events and concerts where I was hosted by the producers or their friends, where I was welcomed into their “circle” and community. I have many wonderful memories of the women I have met along the way many of extraordinary accomplishment in their own careers or fields of endeavor all good hearts. My life is a great deal richer for the roads I have traveled and the Women I have met.
What advice or warnings would you give up and coming queer singers?
Be aware of how you distribute your music over the internet. As with any contract, make sure you read the fine print before you click “OK.” MySpace, CDBaby.com, Facebook, Glee.com, and many other social networks and independent music promotion sites can help to spread the word in a way that we could not access years ago! But you will definitely be giving up a measure of control over marketing and profits.
Remember, music is a business and as performers, like it or not, we are businesswomen. You have a rich heritage of Lesbians Artists, Producers, and Technicians who formed the first Women-owned/Lesbian-owned record companies, sound companies, artist booking companies, music distribution networks and Women-only catalogs, etc. All had to learn business and through those lessons we all became stronger as Women empowered.
Be consciously aware of what you are creating with your music and how it will impact your audience.
Be true to yourself. Know what you want and what you are willing to do and not do to get it.
Live, laugh, love and have fun while you share your talents and gifts with the world. Some of us will reach millions, some will reach far fewer numbers. To make a one-on-one connection with a person is a true accomplishment. In the end it’s all about “have you touched one heart today?” If the answer is yes, and you know you’ve made a difference in at least one other person’s life, then it is a good day!
What advice would you give younger Lesbians in general?
I think I’ve covered a lot of that in the question about differences between mine and the current generation of Lesbians. So, rather than be redundant, I would like to say to my Lesbian Sisters of this generation:
Stand tall. Be sure of yourself as a Lesbian and as Woman.
Understand that as you come to respect and love yourself, the world will follow. Don’t believe the hate-mongers’ hype. They are filled with their own insecurities, ignorance and insanities.
Have compassion for those whom you would consider your “enemies.” My Cherokee Grandmother teaches that the opposition comes to show us the power and strength of who and what we are. It comes as a reflection to us. It can only defeat us if we allow it. In Physics we know that there can be no creation without resistance. Welcome it. Use it. Let your “struggles” be that which brings you greater inner strength and peace for having faced them.
If you enjoy a freedom today, remember that there was most likely one or many who had to fight, some at the expense of their own lives, so that you could know a better world. Take a moment to remember and appreciate the Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters who have gone before you.
Walk with Pride. Know that you as a Lesbian are no less than any other Being in the eyes of Creator, Universal Intelligence, the Goddess however you may define that which is Universal Order and Harmony.
Never doubt that you are loved. You are.
Anything you’d like to say to us South Africans?
I think it would be pretty presumptuous of me to think that I knew enough about your political and socio-cultural situation today to be able to offer you any advice. What I have to say would go to all of us around the planet.
We as the Human Family are growing and experiencing over and over again the quest for dignity and respect, the guarantee of human rights to ALL People. I was fortunate enough to travel to East Africa in 1975, to stay for the summer with a Kenyan family in Nairobi, work alongside people from Kitui helping with a local building project, as well as travel to meet many wonderful people of Mombasa, Lamu, Malindi and other East Kenyan coastal cities.
We learned from each other. The strength and hope of this world is with the People. Governments are the devise of a greedy few who seek control. They create artificial boundaries and barriers that are only an illusion. Their motive is to divide the Human Family. If we remember that, we will never be conquered. Human rights will prevail, and there will be dignity and respect for all.
As LGBT people, we cannot afford separatism not within our own community, or the larger community of Humankind. We are one. We must embrace inclusiveness inorder to survive. My Cherokee Grandmother has taught me, among so many other things, that those of us here on this planet Earth at this time are here to heal separation.
It is only through separation that we can be conquered. As we remember that the Human Spirit is One that there is no separation we are unconquerable. We are the prevailing force that will return Mother Earth to wholeness and her People to abundant living.
The key to it all is Unity.