Bonnie Raitt's No-Nuke Blues
"Five in a row makes it really hard. It's like, there's only a certain number of times you can do the same song and put that emotion into it. Two shows in one night is like if you just made love for a long time with somebody and that man gets up and leaves and another guy comes in--and you have to do it again with exactly the same feeling. What an analogy. It sounds like I would even consider it. We're not like other groups--other people sing so that it's not just one person pouring their heart out."
That's Bonnie Raitt. On stage, the Harvard drop-out blues singer's voice is as strong as ever, but in a post-concert conversation the hoarseness of a full touring schedule is obvious. After singing in Durham, N.H., last month, she is introduced to the student manager of the concert. "Good concert," she says. "No deaths, no rapes, just a few busts, I hear." In reality, she's just left the people in the audience dancing on top of their chairs after her second encore a few minutes before.
Along with Jackson Browne, Utah Phillips and a number of other recording artists and actors, Raitt has been jumping on the stage to support solar energy and oppose nuclear power. She's recently been touring the East Coast doing benefits for the cause. Many of the artists set up energy information literature tables, sell solar energy T-shirts, and generally encourage people to work against nuciear power at their performances.
It's not surprising that Bonnie is a backer of the anti-nuke movement, given her history. She's no novice on the political scene.
Raitt credits her Quaker family with giving her a foothold in the school of leftist pacifist protest. This background led her to work against nuclear proliferation with the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia, while on leave from HarvardRadcliffe. "I've been political ever since I was a little kid, and I've been aware of the danger of nuclear power in general and what it takes to produce it since a very long time ago," she says.
"The anti-nuke movement has important and far-reaching implications for grassroots organizing," she says. "It can unite kids and musicians, everybody, whether they're leftist or rightist, or radical, or Republican, because energy is energy. But in fact, it is a real political sturggle--it shows people that it's big business against the people.
"There has been a systematic repression of solar energy. It seems pretty funny to me that the government, if it is completely neutral--why wouldn't they pursue this far safer alternative of solar energy with the same intent that they pursue nuclear energy? Solar power is the last energy resource that isn't owned yet--nobody taxes the sun yet," Raitt says.
Raitt dropped out of Harvard-Radcliffe when she was a junior, majoring in Afro Studies and taking the Trailways bus to Worcester on weekends to play in coffee houses. The playing and singing came to be more fun than "the intense kind of studying you have to do in your junior year at Harvard," she says. "I was in that tutorial thing. If they had let me take two courses instead of four I could have done both. I liked it. I probably would have finished school, but because of the way Harvard-Radcliffe was set up I couldn't do the singing thing and keep up with four courses," she says.
Raitt's interest in black blues singers, from whom she draws much of her performance material, has no connection to her Afro Studies at Harvard, she says. "I was interested in Africa just because it has a lot of new countries where you don't have to go inside of a falling apart American city and start over if you want to do community organizing," she explains.
The Durham concert came on the heels of the late April student protests against the Harvard Corporation's decision not to divest itself of stock it holds in companies operating in South Africa. Raitt's reaction was very much in character with her direct, communicative style. She said, "Great. It's about time people got off their ass at Harvard. I think it's great. That's the one thing I missed--a lot of political involvement. In the years that I was building up my career, that seemed to fall by the wayside, and not it's real nice that I'm in a position of power, where I can do something. And a lot of other people are going to be getting involved also."
Maybe she's right. And if others have that kind of outspoken, activist attitude, maybe big-name musicians and actors will be the grassroots political leaders of the '80s.