Gracious Guests at Green St.


One night in 1974, Adrienne Rich and Robin Morgan slept over at my house.  They stayed in room #9, rented in the name of Käthe Kollwitz by five of us lesbians, at the 66 Green Street  rooming house in Northampton. For a year that room on the third floor functioned as a common space and as emergency housing offered through the two local women’s centers and word of mouth in the lesbian community.

The occasion for Adrienne and Robin’s visit to the Valley was the National Women’s Poetry Festival, a weeklong extravaganza of what I later realized were a tremendous number of the finest feminist voices in the country. It was an inadvertent introduction to an art that I came to treasure.  I began to seek out then hard-to-find, slim volumes of truth-telling, which hadn’t been included in my recent college education.

nwpf 74 poster by me_edited-1

(Poster was created by me. I didn’t want to take credit because I think it’s poorly done. I meant it to be a representation of the Triple Goddess using as models Maid__myself, Mother__Coretta Scott King, Crone__Georgia O’Keefe.)

I was familiar with Robin’s rabble-rousing from two previous Valley appearances. That’s what prompted me to volunteer the Kollwitz room as her housing when the call went out from the Feminist Art Program, the Festival organizers who had a desk in Everywoman’s Center’s immense office space where I also worked. Thus, I was also handy when the woman who was to pick Audre Lorde up at Bradley International Airport had car trouble. I was dispatched at the very last minute to get this other poet I had never heard of and take her directly to the auditorium at UMass for her reading.

audre-lorde
Audre Lorde

Green Street guests Adrienne and Robin were gracious about twin mattresses on the floor, the shared toilet down the hall, even the instant coffee served for breakfast. Later in the year, I would welcome several Kollwitz room guests referred by Robin, women from out of state desperately in need of refuge.

robin monster_edited-1
Robin Morgan

After Adrienne returned home to NYC, she mailed me a handwritten note of thanks accompanying a check in the amount of her Festival honoraria to be used for the local women’s community.

Adrienne wrote, in part, “I want to thank you for a glimpse of possibilities in living & creating with other women… The visit came at a kind of watershed in my life & was especially meaningful for that reason.” I was very touched by her comments, and later they gained even more significance to me.

imagesadrienne
Adrienne Rich

It was a relatively small amount of money, $164. I sent a note to UMass and Northampton women’s centers asking for proposals and set a time for representatives to meet with me at Green St. to decide the use of the money. We made our decisions using what I called “the UCM model.”

I don’t remember now what UCM stood for, but I do recall being sent to Boston by the Valley Women’s Center a couple of years earlier to ask the Haymarket People’s Fund for $50 to buy a used typewriter for the drop-in center log and general use. At that meeting, everyone asking for money (radicals from all over New England), sat around in a circle and presented their needs. The discussion went round and round until a consensus was reached as to who would get what. That took part of a second day. We bunked the first night in our sleeping bags on the attic floor of some big house.

At Green St. in 1974, four proposals came in for using the Rich honoraria: the Valley Women’s Union on behalf of the Mother Jones Press; the counselors at Everywoman’s Center; The Feminist Counseling Collective; and the Chomo Uri staff. Using a consensual decision making process, it was decided that the money would be divided between the Mother Jones Press and Chomo Uri staff to help defray the costs of a mutual misunderstanding.

Chomo Uri was conceived as a feminist arts journal as part of the Feminist Arts Program in Amherst. They had contracted with Mother Jones, the new feminist press in Northampton, to print the first issue. The finished print, however, didn’t meet the reproduction standard expected by the publication’s staff, particularly the photographs. They refused to accept the job. Since the two groups had come to an agreement before the funding meeting, it was relatively easy for the rest of us to see the importance of resolving the issue.

I sent Adrienne a note of thanks with news of the results. The connection set me to dreaming of her, literally. Later that summer, I wrote a crush confession to her.  What follows is her beautiful response.

 July 21 (1974). Dear Kaymarion. First, thank you for sharing. There were moments during the brief time in N’Hampton when I wished there were more time, no conference, space in which we could really talk. I came away very much moved by what I saw of you, of your life. I should tell you – in exchange for your trust in me – that only shortly before the time I was in Northampton a woman I’d known for about 2 years & I had become lovers. I was feeling extremely vulnerable, not like being public at all, and I was grateful for the sense of private space you gave, the peacefulness of Greene [sic] St., the kind of energy I felt flowing from you & from several of your sisters there.

And so I can accept your fantasy out of a whole part of myself that was for years stifled & in abeyance. I feel at times I’ve been slowly waking from a long sleep punctuated by dreams I didn’t understand. And at the same time I resist women-romanticizing-women – I’ve done, I hope, with the romantic, I want us – all women- to see each other as we are & fight against mythification. Yes, we should have our fantasies & share them – work with them as with dreams – they are a source, a metaphor for our deep psychic life –

Just now I feel like someone on the edge of a new landscape which is nonetheless full of familiar shapes & colors – Unconsciously I’ve known it all my life & now I am here in my waking life. You’ve lived there awake longer than I though there must be 20 years between us. It’s strange to feel you sensed without words where I was – though not strange really.— I’d like to believe we’ll meet again & really talk. I have always loved women. Talked best with women, but never so much as now, in a whole relationship with one particular woman.

Please forgive me if I’ve answered you in any clumsy way. Your letter moved me very much & I wanted to meet you with the same honesty –  with love  Adrienne.

adrienne letter front_edited-1

adrienne letter back_edited-1

I believe I saw her next at Hampshire College. She was reading from her most recent work. I don’t remember it or the year. Perhaps it was an early version of Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying, Twenty-one Love Poems, and/or Of Woman Born, but I do remember that in the course of that evening, Adrienne said  publicly that she was a lesbian.

adrienne notesadrienne inside notes_edited-1

SOURCES:

__Feminist Arts Program. National Women’s Poetry Festival poster. UMass Amherst MA.

__Rich, Adrienne. Letter to Kaymarion Raymond. Postmarked Mar. 15, 1974 from New York City.

__Kaymarion {Raymond}. Letter to Women’s Centers soliciting proposals. Mar 21, 1974. Everywoman’s Center UMass Amherst MA.

__Various groups. Proposals for funding. April 1974.

__Rich, Adrienne. Letter to Kaymarion Raymond. Dated July 21, 1974. New York City.

__Rich, Adrienne. Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying.  Pamphlet, printed in 1977 by Motheroot Publications/ Pittsburgh Women Writers.

Further reading:

this first essay includes some of the history Adrienne Rich and Michelle Cliff’s stay in Western Mass (Montague) and editing of Sinister Wisdom 1981-83. The second link includes Rich’s reflection on what she started learning about relationships with women, very early as a lesbian.

https://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/news/08/04/what-remains-remembering-michelle-cliff-beth-brant-and-stephania-byrd/

 https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/13/adrienne-rich-women-honor-lying/

Gay Men in ‘70s ‘Hamp


Northampton High School student Jim Bridgman knew he was gay in the 1970s. He was a teenager with no one to turn to for support. Feeling frightened, isolated and confused, he joined other teens in snickering at the newly-out and obvious lesbians who patronized Forbes Library, where he worked part-time.

Adult gay men in Northampton didn’t fare much better, although they may have known where to cruise for casual sex and, if particularly blessed, had a few friends in town for private dinners or house parties. McCarthyism and would have still been deeply imprinted memories for older gay residents. Everyone was deeply closeted (like Northampton’s gay priest, Father Robert Arpin , for fear of exposure, loss of position, or worse.

The one exception to this in the 70s may have been the Gay Men’s Collective, briefly mentioned in this blog in the post about the Gay Movement in the Valley in 1971  . Imagine my surprise when a picture of the graceful old lady of a Victorian mansion where the Collective briefly lived showed up recently on my personal Facebook feed! Through a mutual friend, I discovered that Michael Prendergast had been visiting Northampton and took the photo below when he cruised by his former residence at 22 Butler Street.

 

22 Butler Place #2
22 Butler Place, Northampton in 2017, Photo by Michael J. Prendergast

 

The accomplished photographer shared not only this Victorian portrait, but also a small album of contemporary black and white photographs of friends and members of the Gay Men’s Collective when they lived there. Young men, long haired, with beards, mustaches or mutton chop sideburns, are shown draped around each other at the kitchen table or one of the livingrooms, with one woman or with a dog. Michael identified Sue, Jacque, John Mozolla, Michael Obligado, Gary, Barry, the dog Blue, as well as himself in these interiors. The flannel shirts, stoned expressions, as well as facial hair characterize them as part of the 70s hippie counterculture. That they were also part of the radical gay movement is emphasized by a fifth photo titled “Halloween 1971 at the House of the Radicals”. Nine of the young men pose in a variety of dress(es). Very tasteful and inventive if a bit strange for the time. The bearded dresswearer is now a more usual fashion statement.

Michael is unsure who took the pictures and no one has given permission to release them to the public, but a similar radical gay fashion may be seen in two historic homemovies recently posted to the internet of the very first 1970 Christopher Street Liberation March in New York City. http://www.back2stonewall.com/2017/06/1970-christopher-street-liberation-day-video.html  and  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HIpooMqAZk

Many conventionally dressed young men in long  or short sleeved shirts ( button downed collars?) can be seen in the march, interspersed by those in tight shorts  or teeshirts, some in drag, some barechested or swaggering in bell bottoms, and some small groups with long hair and mustaches. This mix of costumes reflected the newly emerging differences in identity (and politics) present from the beginning of the Gay Revolution in Northampton as well as New York.

In the Facebook commentary that followed Michael’s Butler Place portrait post, he estimates that the Collective was in residence around 1970-72. He describes living there with “borderline developmentally appropriate Woodstock era behaviors.”

He has kept touch with some of the house members. Michael Obligado and John Mazolla have died. He believes that both  died of AIDS. Gary commented that they burnt the furniture in the fireplace for warmth when there was no money for the bills;  the drag closet was stuffed with clothes from the Valley Women’s Center Free Store;  and he’s not saying what happened in the attic.

Other than the Collective’s brief radical burst out of the closet, though, gay men living in Northampton usually had to go out of town to connect with each other during this decade. In the seventies, Amherst became the prime locale for a growing number of new alternatives to the Springfield bar scene. Townspeople were always welcome to the dances and events organized by the UMass Student Homophile League/Gay Liberation Front and their later incarnations. Starting in late 1974, information and news could be found by listening to WMUA’s “Gay Break” radio show broadcast from UMass. The first of its kind on the East Coast, Gay Break was hosted by Demian and Brian Egan through early 1977.

The first non-bar, off-campus gay group also formed in Amherst. About thirty people, including several women, met weekly as the Pioneer Valley Gay Union in the hair salon at the Lord Jeffery Inn during 1974-75. It was primarily a consciousness raising/discussion group with many Northampton members.

The UMass Gay Liberation Front, which members of the Gay Men’s Collective helped start, began the tradition of taking over local bars one night a week to establish marginally gay-tolerant space. The Rathskeller, a basement bar in the Drake (Hotel?actually a rooming house) on Amity Street in Amherst, was the first place established by sheer persistence and word of mouth.

Northampton resident Steve Trudel thought the dark, underground Rathskeller wasn’t a fun place to dance, so in 1972 or 73, he got others to go with him to Rachid’s, a disco bar in the new Mountain Farm Mall in Hadley. After several weeks of Wednesday night same-sex couples dancing, the manager tried to make them leave. Northampton’s Jeff Jerome was among the men who lined up to insist they get their cover charge refunded when police evicted them. The gay crowd kept returning, however. Wednesday nights at Rachid’s came to be considered profitable by the owner. They continued until the bar closed in the late seventies or early eighties.

 

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Ad from GCN 1976 New England Gay Guide

 

After Rachid’s closing, the Pearl Street Nightclub in Northampton established an “alternative” dance night popular with gay men. By then, Northampton’s gay men were also beginning to organize themselves.

SOURCES

__Bridgman, Jim. “Yes, I Am” in One Teacher in Ten. Beacon Press. Boston. 1994. And in private comments to me.

__Prendergast, Michael J. Facebook comment exchange, along with many respondents. May 21-25, 2017.

__Gauthier, Bambi. Notes for me on 70s activity.

__Trudel, Stephen. Email correspondence with me. September-November 2004.

__http://www.back2stonewall.com/2017/06/1970-christopher-street-liberation-day-video.html

__https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HIpooMqAZk

 

Bars and the Violent Backlash


Being a small town may have spared Northampton the particularly virulent backlash that began to be experienced in the 1970s by feminist, lesbian and gay organizations in large cities. Bars, conferences, centers, publications and presses across the country had begun to be subjected to sniping, break-ins, vandalizing and arson.  The nearest incident was the Springfield firebombing of the Arch bar in 1973, which may have been Mafia related, but the Boston offices of Gay Community News were burglarized in the 70s before being destroyed by arson in 1982. Northampton, however, wasn’t totally spared a violent reaction to the new lesbian visibility.

One response of the growing number of lesbians that began to come out in 1975 was to find local bar space rather than travel to Springfield or Chicopee. Jeanie, owner of the Gala Cafe on Bridge Street, was amenable to hosting women in the bar’s backroom once a week and discouraging men from intruding there. The bar with blinking neon lights was a small, squat pink stucco building between the railroad overpass and Jack August’s restaurant. The backroom, which may have once been for family dining, held a jukebox and booths squeezed round a dance floor.

 

jean gala
“Jean at the Gala.” 24”x36” etching by Barbara Johnson. Used by permission of the artist.

 

When the first lesbian disc jockeys began to spin records there, the place soon became packed, attracting many more gay women than just those who were politically active in town. This custom was to continue through 1979. Because the Gala was so small, in the summer of 1975, the larger backroom of Packards on Masonic Street was rented for “Wednesday Nights at Zelda’s.”

 

gala cafe_edited-1
“Remember When?” Handtinted photo by Sandra Leigh Russell. Used by permission of the photographer.

 

Over the summer of 1975, there was greatly increased visibility of lesbians on Northampton streets several nights a week. Women leaving these neighborhood bars began to be taunted by men. Rumor had it that several weeks of harassment culminated in a lesbian being attacked outside the Gala by several men armed with a shovel and a machete. The rape of a lesbian who was walking home from the bar was also rumored. (I am still seeking substantiation. Without it, I can’t verify these incidents.)

Responding to the increasing frequency of such incidents, Lesbians formed a Community Education and Self-defense Group in August of 1975 that organized small groups of women which became known as the Dyke Patrol. They established a physical presence outside the two bars, Lesbian Gardens and the occasional Wimmin’s dance, and also escorted women to their parked cars. This seems to have worked as an immediate deterrent, for the Patrol was disbanded six months later. It was, however the beginning of a violent male pushback on the streets of Northampton that would escalate over the next decade as Lesbians, and then Gay men, insisted on a new visibility in the City.

The Gala Café was razed in 1983 along with Jack August’s, the restaurant next door, to make way for a sports bar.

 

SOURCES:

  __[Raymond], Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. the Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton. 1978. Valley Women's History Collaborative

__Old South St. Study Group. “Analysis of a Lesbian Community-Part One.” Lesbian Connection. Jul 1977. P7-8.

__Potter, Clare. The lesbian periodicals index. Naiad Press. Tallahassee FL. 1986.               Listed, between 1973-1979: Sniper shot at women convening in Seattle; Gay Community News (Boston) and Majority Report (NY) offices burglarized; A NYC women’s center vandalized; St. Louis Women’s Center and Iowa Clinic firebombed; Fires also set at the Los Angeles MCC Church, Seattle Gay Community Center and a St. Louis bar.

__Mitchell, Phoebe. “Last Call for a Bar Ahead of Its Time.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. July 07, 2004. Northampton MA.

Did the FBI Come To Town?


In early 1975, Northampton lesbians began to see and hear about strange men in town taking photographs and recording license plate numbers. At least one lesbian home was mysteriously broken into. Many in the Northampton lesbian community feared that the community was under scrutiny by the FBI.

Already that year, at least seven lesbian/women’s communities nationwide were being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in hand with Federal Grand Juries, ostensibly to track down Weather Underground fugitives Susan Saxe and Kathy Power.  Warnings spread through alternative media, including the hand-stapled, mimeographed Lesbian Connection that had begun to be read in Northampton’s Lesbian Community. Here’s an excerpt from the May 1975 issue:

LCMay 1975_edited-1

 

Susan_Saxe_Feminist_FBI

Across the country, those refusing to talk to FBI agents were often subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury. Anyone who  continued to fail to cooperate was jailed indefinitely for “contempt.” Even after Saxe was arrested in Philadelphia in March of 1975, radical news media reported that investigations had been expanded and, nationwide, at least seven lesbians and one gay man were imprisoned for their silence.

Saxe’s letter after her arrest was circulated nationwide. It was published in Northampton in Old Maid, Lesbian Gardens’ first publication, Spring 1975.

old maid spr 75 saxe letter_edited-1
calligraphy by laura kaye

 

Many feared the Government was attempting to infiltrate and destroy the Lesbian/Women’s Movement as it was doing to other progressive groups. Fear of being outed as lesbian or gay, or loss of child custody by single mothers, was being exploited in these “fishing” expeditions. According to reports in radical media, the questions being asked included details about others, not only their names and roommates but also their political and sexual activity, bars visited, meetings attended, who else was there and the content of discussions.

In this climate, a local Grand Jury Information Project was begun in May 1975 in Northampton. It was a cooperative effort housed at the Northampton Women’s Law Collective on Main Street with volunteers, as well, from the Valley Women’s Union, Springfield Women’s Union and UMass Everywoman’s Center.

Over a four month period, the Project did rumor control in the Valley and circulated printed material at events and information meetings on FBI and Grand Jury abuses and individual legal rights, including the right not to talk to investigators. As awareness spread, local lesbians and feminists began to take precautions, educating housemates and neighbors, and reporting suspicious behavior to the Project. Some feminist therapists and counselors went so far as to destroy or otherwise secure client records to further protect confidentiality.

FBI info_edited-1

The increasing paranoia had a humorous side. Peggy Cookson recalls that lesbians at Green Street took apart their MaBell black bakelite telephone handsets to cut out suspicious looking little green phone components thinking they were ”bugs” (recording devices). The resulting increase in static was taken as confirmation that the phone lines were indeed being tapped, rather than that the green bits were actually anti-static devices.bakelite phone

At the end of summer, tension was eased a bit when a Northampton Lesbian issued a letter to the community stating she had been subpoenaed and appeared before a Grand Jury in New York. She said she had refused to answer any questions and the queries seemed to be connected to her past involvement with Irish politics and not focused on lesbians. Though this investigation appeared to focus on an individual, it was only the first of several attempts by the authorities to gain information about local lesbians and the community in order to identify “subversive” elements.

grand jury info_edited-1
pamphlet from the new york city grand jury information project, circulated in the valley

SOURCES:

__ [Raymond], Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. “A Herstorical Chronology of the Valley Women’s Movement 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton. 1978.

__Old Maid.  Northampton. Spring 1975.

__Grand Jury Information Project. Flyer. July 16, 1975.

__”Remember Grand Juries?” Quash: Newsletter of the Grand Jury Project. May-June 1977.

__Ann McCord. Remarks to author about client records. Ann was a counselor at Everywoman’s Center and member of the Feminist Counselors’ Collective.

 

Dancing Wimmin: Lilith, the band


Dances for “wimmin only” became accepted events in the Valley as Lesbians were increasingly active in the Women’s Liberation Movement and, starting in 1974, began to create space for ourselves. They were very special events when the music was performed live by women’s bands.  First the Deadly Nightshade and, then, Lilith provided the sound track for bashes and benefits.

I informally interviewed Lilith founder Beth Caurant for the first time in 1998 at her home in Northampton. She generously provided a written personal remembrance and some photographs of the band. In 2004 she commented on a brief draft by me of the band’s history. In 2015, when I started the blog, I sent her a dusty post draft that prompted her to write more. In the meantime she had been interviewed for JD Doyle’s Queer Music Heritage  radio show broadcast in 2007, with many documents as well as music recordings made available online. This brief account of Lilith  draws on these multiple sources.

Lilith founder Beth Caurant recollects that in the early 1970s it was unthinkable to play music professionally without having men in the band. “You could be a lead singer or perhaps a folk duo, but it was assumed that only men could play the drums or electric instruments.” One evening when she was having dinner in a restaurant in Amherst, she heard the Deadly Nightshade play for the first time, “Three women playing together without men— and they sounded great!”

Inspired to look for other women who might want to form a rock band with her, she went to the Valley Women’s Center in Northampton to put up a notice. She found one from two other lesbians already posted:”Looking to jam, play some music and drink a little wine.” She called them immediately and they did just that. “We all played guitar and sang, with beautiful harmonics, and one who could sing lead vocals. We decided on ‘Lilith’ as a name, as the woman who defied Adam.”

Their first gig, with a very limited repertoire, was in 1973 at a lesbian party in Wendell. For a year they rented a house together on Perkins Avenue in Northampton, gradually adding other musicians. Because there were so few female rock musicians, they became a band of whatever combination of vocalists/players were interested at the time. A clarinet player was added because she was willing to eventually play the saxophone that the band really wanted, but she wouldn’t join without her girlfriend, so a keyboard was added as well. At one point, when they needed a bass guitar, Beth’s girlfriend Tatty Hodge learned to play one from scratch.

lilith first poster10222015
First Lilith poster. Back row left to right: Micki Faucher, drummer; Claire Frances, lead vocals; Beth Caurant, guitar and vocals; Peg Brewer, keyboard. Front row left to right: Belinda Star, vocals and guitar; Liz Knowles, saxophone; Tatty Hodge, bass. (Courtesy Beth Caurant)

 

Beth has written that they were also very young and into the drinking, pot-smoking bar scene. By the time they cut their LP in 1978, Lilith had grown from a trio to a seven-member band and gone through thirty personnel changes, with only two of the original members remaining. In spite of internal chaos, Beth recalls that when the band’s playing was tight, it was really exciting.

At the beginning of their career, Lilith played for women’s dances at Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges. Valley women were treated to double the dance when both Lilith and the Deadly Nightshade played a benefit dance at UMass in 1974. Lilith played many of the same venues in the Valley as the Deadlies including the Vermont  Bernardston Inn, but they also played Springfield’s gay Frontier Lounge and Arbor.

lilith business card10222015

Most of the performance venues available, however, were straight bars and dance clubs. The band played repeatedly at The Rusty Nail in Hadley. Lilith became regulars at two Pleasant Street establishments in Northampton: the Saint Regis, a restaurant with a large dance room; and the Lazy River. At both places, the band drew a large following of local lesbians who mixed in with the other clientele without a problem, according to Beth.

Beth still remembers, however, that this practice of playing for lesbians at straight clubs and playing music by men (for its dance-ability) drew comment from one Northampton Lesbian Separatist, at least in fictional form. In her 1976 collection of poetry and short fiction They Will Know Me By My Teeth, Elana Dykewoman included a short story entitled, “Without Love”, which was the name of a Doobie Brothers song that Lilith covered. In the fictional account, a woman who lives down the street from a bar hears a women’s band play mostly men’s music where a “cluster” of lesbians dance. The women, the story implies, are trying to pretend that the men in the bar aren’t watching them, identifying them as lesbians, and preparing to stalk them when they leave the bar. This fiction reflects the history of increasing violence against lesbians in Northampton starting in 1975 as they became more visible in bars and on the streets and the issues being raised by local Lesbian Separatists.[More on these issues in future posts.]

Safer, more comfortable women-only venues were rare but welcome opportunities for women to gather and dance. Very early in their career, Lilith played at a private party at the Northampton Colonial Hilton thrown by a Smith College residential house. Such resources were most available to campus groups in the Valley. One of the largest women’s dances may have happened when Lilith played at a packed Blue Wall Cafe for the 1975 University Women’s Conference at UMass. The first of these live band wimmin-only dances for Northampton townies may not have occurred, however, until 1977.

With time, the band enlarged their playing circuit outside the Valley to include Boston.  At the beginning of 1975, they provided the music for newly elected state representative Elaine Noble’s  inaugural ball. She was the first openly gay candidate in the country to win a state office, representing Boston’s Fenway and Back Bay neighborhoods in the Massachusetts Legislature for two terms.

Elaine Noble ( http://www.wgbh.org/articles/A-Portrait-of-Elaine-Noble-8182)

 

Noble inaug lilith03032016
Lilith playing at Elaine Noble’s Inauguration Ball. From left to right: Micki Faucher, Beth Caurant, Claire Frances, Belinda Star, Peg Brewer, Liz Knowles, Joy Barone. (Photos courtesy Michelle Faucher.)

 

The band also played a Susan Saxe  Defense Fund benefit in Boston at the Saints, a lesbian bar where they frequently played. Saxe was arrested in 1975 for alleged participation in a 1970 Weather Underground robberies of a Massachusetts armory and a bank, which involved the shooting death of a bank guard.

Susan_Saxe_Feminist_FBI

After her capture and arrest in Philadelphia, Saxe came out in feminist media as a lesbian and appealed to her “sisters” for support. Feminists and lesbians across the country did support her, including in the Valley, raising funds for her legal defense. After the Saints benefit in Boston, Beth Caurant believes the band came under investigation by the FBI. She says that men were seen taking photographs of her car and house and agents questioned her landlord about the band.

In 1975, Lilith cut a single demo 45rpm record, covers of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff”, to begin to promote themselves. Starting in 1976 the band began to get some critical mainstream press as they took their rock, soul, and swing north into Maine and south to Rhode Island and points in between.

 

Lilith Photos 75-76 Northampton
Lilith 1975-76. Back: Lou Crimmins, Peg Brewer, Beth Caurant, Myanna Pontopidan, Kathy Piccus. Front: Lynn O’Neill, Joy Barone. Photo courtesy Beth Caurant.

 

A newspaper review of their appearances in Hartford CT described them warming up the crowd with “Reggae Woman” disco-soul sound; moving more people onto the dance floor with “Money,” a pure disco sound, hard and bright; then to their cover of “Mr. Big Stuff.” Dancers rested while Joy Barone did a Janis Joplin–like “Total Blues,” then Marianna on sax surrounded Cathy and Lou’s vocals to send folks back up to the dance floor to bump and hustle. Reviewer Susan Rand Brown concluded in the Hartford Advocate, “Lilith is a whole band of rock musicians really doing it.”

Lilith spent the early six months of 1977 on an experimental southern tour. They embarked without a bassist or drummer, so they had to fill in along the way: Debbie Campbell, bass; Laurel Blanchard, drums. They added a new vocalist as well, Janice Warner. When they returned north, they settled in the Boston area with another new sound. The band that once again played at the Rusty Nail in Hadley was described by a male reviewer as “a middling-fair bar band playing cover versions of Stevie Wonder, bump and boogie of Wild Cherry, Pick Up the Pieces funk and the occasional ballad.” The Springfield Morning Union reviewer did note two original pieces, and wrote that the dance floor was two-thirds occupied by women couples.

In 1978, they released their first LP, “Boston Ride,” under the new Galaxia label. Two–thirds of the album was original music. The album was well received. Reviews made the mainstream as well as alternative press.

 

LilithLPf

LilithLPb

 

Despite high points such as opening for Bonnie Riatt, and good sales of the album, even in Europe, the high energy group couldn’t stay together past 1978. Karen Kane, the “Boston Ride” engineer, commented in a 2009 interview. ”The band (Lilith) dynamics were very hard and Beth and I basically mixed that album and made it happen. And now I listen to it and it’s like, hmmm, not too bad for 1978. You know it helped them, for a while, with their career, but they were having such terrible band dynamics that they didn’t last, unfortunately.”

Beth Caurant has still kept herself in music with women, a little bit, over the years. Most recently she appeared with the Girl Gang at Luthiers in Easthampton. After their show, she remarked to me on the number of old Lilith fans who attended and commented fondly on those old times that women danced together to music by women.

SOURCES:

__Caurant, Beth. Interviewed by Kaymarion Raymond, handwritten notes. Jan. 6, 1998.

__Caurant, Beth. Untitled [Lilith remembrance to Kaymarion private file.] Jan. 4, 1998.

__[Raymond,} Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. The Valley Women’s Movement: A Herstorical Chronology 1968-1978. Ceres Inc. Northampton. 1978. Add linkMORE

__Caurant, Beth. Email correspondence with Kaymarion. May 14-30, 2004 and Nov 21-28, 2015.

__Nachman [Nachmon], Elana. They Will Know Me By My Teeth: stories and poems of lesbian struggle, celebration, and survival. Megaera Press. Northampton MA. 1976.

__Brown, Susan Rand. “Lilith: Rock and Role.” Hartford (CT) Advocate. Feb. 11, 1976.

__Danckert, Peter. “Lilith: Hunting Identity.” Morning Union, Springfield MA. Jul 29, 1977.

__Kane, Karen. Interview Queer Music Heritage.

May 2009.http://queermusicheritage.com/may2009s.html

__To hear some of Lilith’s music, read clippings, listen or read more of their history through an interview of Beth Caurant on Queer Music Heritage by JD Doyle follow these links below;

__Radio interview with Beth Caurant March 2007 by JD Doyle

http://www.queermusicheritage.com/mar2007.html

__ Transcript of Radio interview with Beth Caurant  http://www.queermusicheritage.com/mar2007s.html

__Elaine Noble. http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/out-and-elected/1970s/elaine-noble