Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

Radical – Catie Curtis


Written and performed by Catie Curtis. You might be able to listen to the recorded verison at iLIke here. You can hear a live version here (the video is muddled). You can find the song on Catie Curtis’s album, Truth from Lies. You can buy the song at iTunes here. You can find the lyrics here.

In a day when so many make sure they express their stand in the loudest way possible, a whisper can be powerful. The world is loud enough already and filled with dire arguments. Personal anecdotes become mere fodder for arguments and political stances. Sometimes we need stories that are personal and tender.

Catie Curtis delivers just such moments on her 1996 song, “Radical.” I imagine this song as the singer responding to her lover after an argument: meditative, generous and heartfelt.  Arising from a lesbian relationship, the song avoids stridency and large political statements in favor of intimacy, a stripped down performance that centers on the voice and delivers lines that get to heart of this relationship.

The first line of the chorus captures the essence of the song: “But I’m not being radical when I kiss you.”  She can break your heart when you hear the fullness of love and desire she pours into the four words, “When I kiss you.” The chorus continues:

I don’t love you to make a point
It’s the hollow of my heart that cries when I miss you
And it keeps me alive when we’re apart

The personal becomes political not because of the public aspirations, but because of the undeniable truth of the connection. True love is not political posturing, yet it can destroy the false constructs of so many hollow political arguments. This song never mentions the debate on gay marriage, but one listen undermines all the arguments that deny two people in love the right to form a legal union. So many pontificate and bellow, yet their words are mere gonging compared to the bare sincerity of Curtis’ song and singing.

I love the generosity of the opening verse when she sings, “Let’s give my mama and my daddy a little time.” Her voice is full of warmth when delivering those lines and she conveys a deep sense that familial love is never about drawing lines and taking positions. The singer is not hiding or denying her essence, not failing to make a point, only allowing time and patience. Of course, not all of us have such compassion. I think of my youthful battles with my Dad, so strident, so bereft of compromise, each of us so right as we broke each other’s heart.

The singer has such conviction in the love that it erases the doubt that leads to defensiveness. “We go downtown, some people stare/But there are lots of people who really don’t care.” Her worldview is not divided into supporters and opponents, but allows for the vast majority who don’t notice us and don’t care. “I just want to hold your hand/I don’t feel like making some big stand.”

“Radical” is not an anthem, it does not proselytize. It is a simple love song that understands the world can be too much with us, that all the fuss and fury of the world merely distracts us from what matters. “Love is stronger than words anyway.” This song comes across as if the singer is leaning forward on a stool, guitar in hand, making sure that she connects, making sure that we hear, making sure we understand the love she has for her partner from the tenderness and ache in her voice.

You can see a poor quality video of a live recording of this song from 2009 here. You can buy the album Truth from Lies from iTunes here and Amazon here.

Catie Curtis grew up in Maine and lives in the Boston area now. You can check out her other music and performance schedule at her web site by clicking here.


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