When North Carolina label Paradise of Bachelors first contacted Patrick Haggerty about re-releasing his 1973 album of openly gay country songs, he was 70. Lavender Country, as he had called the project, was ancient history for him – after recording it with friends, he had made about 1000 copies, sold them in the back pages of gay newspapers, then, when they were gone, he was gone with his life. He had two children, married, and ran for the Washington State Senate on the Socialist ticket. His musical career was mostly limited to performing in nursing homes, where “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” probably wasn’t on the setlist.
When lavender country was re-released in 2014, the same 10 songs he recorded and released in resounding silence in his late twenties suddenly sent him on his first national tour, often backing punk bands one-third his age. . He became the subject of an award-winning documentary. In 2020, RuPaul’s Drag Race Contestant Trixie Mattel returned to her sweet cruise ballad “I Can’t Shake the Stranger Out of You.” Hollywood came calling, interested in a biopic. Four decades later, Haggerty’s plaintive and provocative statement about American gay life had finally entered the national conversation. Haggerty, once a footnote, was now a pioneer.
Today, Patrick Haggerty is 78 years old, and for the second time in his life, he is in a recording studio. The songs on Pink Mulberry, Lavender Country’s second album, were written at all times of her life. The oldest (“Red Dress”) predates the first recording by four years, while Haggerty released “Sweet Shadow Man” and “Don’t Buy Her No More Roses” in 2019. As a follow-up to nearly 50-album one year, Pink Mulberry has few precedents: psychedelic folk artist Linda Perhacs, who returned to recording after a 44-year absence, comes to mind. But unlike Perhacs, who swung more definitively into the new era with his return The soul of all natural things, Haggerty returns to recording virtually unchanged: his voice, which was unaffected and childish in its simplicity in 1973, is unaffected and childlike in 2022. His band is a touching assortment of regulars, people who have played with him for decades, and his perspective remains consistent. In all of his songs, he is both empathetic and reprimanding, a soft touch with a sharp tongue. His vision is clear enough to see the good, or at least the pain, in everyone.
Like radical feminist Clara Fraser, to whom Pink Mulberry pays homage, Haggerty is a true blue Marxist, one who views the world as a series of oppressed underclasses, united by more than divides them. The 10 songs of the original lavender country, written and recorded shortly after the Stonewall Riots, focusing on the injustice and pain of American gay life in the 1960s and 1970s. The material on Pink Mulberry much wider ranges: On these songs, Haggerty is an overworked Wyoming housewife one minute, a white Baptist boy sneaking around for banter with a young black man in 1962 Louisiana the next. But even when he plays the conniving scab in “Clara Frazer, Clara Frazer,” there’s a playful aspect to the portrayal that suggests, if not redemption, a certain sardonic understanding. Haggerty’s songs contain villains, but no monsters.