While the presence of politics in music can reassure listeners, socially conscious performers always run the risk of alienating and even smothering their audience. Folk singer/songwriter Catie Curtis has always been able to avoid this conundrum by channeling her convictions through an appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. In her writing, Curtis shuttles between politics and everyday living, but leans heavily toward the latter. And it’s her attention to this balance, she feels, that strikes a chord with her following.
“If I play a show,” Curtis says, “and 90 percent of the material is about day-to-day stuff that people relate to more on a social level, and maybe 5 or 10 percent is about the big picture—world peace, government problems, politics, things like that—I find that, for those moments, people are nodding and just relieved that someone’s naming the elephant in the room, because everyone is concerned about some serious problems going on. And yet I don’t think that people who come to see me play want to hear about it for 75 minutes.”
Throughout her career, which began in earnest on the early ‘90s Boston coffeehouse-circuit, Curtis has touched on heavy issues such as gay marriage, discrimination and poverty. But she has also devoted much of her attention to depicting situations that the average person can relate to. Winter, for example, and the basic need to seek warmth—whether in someone else’s embrace or the basic comfort of staying indoors—are themes that recur often.
Her latest album, Long Night Moon, is no exception. The album title, in fact, refers to the full moon that takes place in December. (Fittingly enough, the most recent one occurred on Dec. 24.)
A native New Englander, Curtis says she cherishes the long nights of winter. On the new album’s title track, however, she focuses the winter-moon imagery through the lens of her feelings on motherhood. (Curtis has two adopted daughters.) And though she insists that becoming a mother hasn’t steered her writing toward explicitly domestic or family themes, she does acknowledge the increased sense of hope in her new material. Always willing to tackle politics or lend her support to social causes in the past, Curtis nonetheless wrote from a perspective that lacked an essential faith in human nature. Long Night Moon marks a recent shift.
“I think that we all try to balance a certain realism about human nature and the seriousness of problems with hopefulness,” the songwriter says. “Having kids tips the balance more towards hopefulness because it’s really hard to face them and say, ‘It’s hopeless.’ Why maintain an attitude of hopelessness when you’re raising kids and want them to be hopeful? But I still feel like there are some very intense problems in the world. So then, the next step is ‘OK, then what can we possibly do to make small changes?’”
“But,” she admits, “I’m not really at peace with how much I do. Like a lot of people, I feel like I don’t do enough.
“And I wonder sometimes,” she offers with a laugh, “if we’re actually just preparing ourselves for a time when many of us will have to drop the things that take up our time. Some day in the not-too-distant future, we may all have to get much more involved in trying to make change as a matter of survival. I mean, right now we’re all kind of coasting, aren’t we? We’re getting through, and there doesn’t seem like there’s any danger so imminent that we have to drop everything that we’re doing. And until that time comes, maybe we’re preparing ourselves for that and we know that it could come where we all have to really all start pulling together for massive change.”
For Curtis, however, the notion of “pulling together” entails some limits that she’s grown increasingly comfortable with over time.
“On a really personal level,” she explains, “it’s been a really healthy change to not expect or need people to agree with me. In order for me to feel OK with who I am, I don’t have to convince everyone in the world that I’m right. Some people just don’t agree, and that’s OK. And I don’t have to work at being friends with somebody where we’re inherently going to disagree about the most important things. I think it’s OK to go and find your tribe. There are people that are kind of floating around out there that you’re drawn to. Other than that, you don’t have to force it.”
[Saby Reyes-Kulkarni is a freelance writer.]
who: Catie Curtis with special guest Kenny White
what: Folk singer/songwriter
where: Grey Eagle
when: Wednesday, Jan. 16 (8 p.m. $18. www.thegreyeagle.com or 232-5800)