There's Laura Love, the singer -- famous in regional music circles for her flying dreadlocks, her booty-gyrating Afro-Celtic rhythms, and her outspoken views on everything from the current administration to the evils of Wal-Mart. This Laura Love has eight albums under her belt - including her breakout Pangaea and the critically acclaimed Fourteen Days.
Now there's Laura Love, the memoirist. You Ain't Got No Easter Clothes, Love's first book, comes out from Hyperion this week in tandem with a new musical CD of songs written to accompany specific chapters in the book.
"There were a couple of really big motivating factors in writing this book," she says. She's speaking from her home in Seattle, and in the background her two-and-a-half-year-old foster daughter loudly voices her displeasure with breakfast. "It was necessary for me to have a record of what I've done in my life. In my liner notes, especially for the last two albums, I'd briefly describe what it was like growing up in Nebraska, being black in the '60s during the civil rights movement. Fans of my music were often telling me 'you really need to get into that a little bit more.'"
Love's father was Preston Love, a jazz saxophonist who'd worked with Johnny Otis and Count Basie before starting his own band in the '50s. Laura's mother, Wini, was a backup singer in the band. The catch, of course, was that Preston Love already had a wife and children of his own, leaving Wini to raise Laura and her sister on her own. In You Ain't Got No Easter Clothes, Love recalls the poverty of her youth and the anxiety of watching her mother fall victim to mental illness. This is not, however, another "poor me" memoir in the tradition of Jennifer Lauck's Blackbird. Instead, it's a spirited, often funny, story of someone who made it through on wit, talent and hidden stores of resilience. Sprinkled among the stories - of Love being bounced around orphanages, meeting her father when she was 16 (after being told all her life that he'd died) and being kidnapped by her crazy mother -- are some interesting thoughts on race, social justice and belonging.
"I spent the first nine years of my life in Lincoln, Nebraska, which was a college town -- lots of literacy, kind of an oasis out there on the plains. My sister and I were the only black kids in the whole Catholic school that we went to, and aside from the occasional n-word thrown at us from time to time, we hardly knew we were black," recalls Love. She describes how, in 1969, her mother moved the family to a new life in Omaha and how light-skinned Laura and her darker-skinned sister were enrolled in an all-black Catholic school. "The difference between Lincoln and Omaha was huge -- the difference between the black world and white world, it just hit us in high relief. And then I go to this school and I become" -- she pauses and drops her voice for dramatic effect -- "the only white child in the entire school. So I'm just getting the shit kicked out of me every day. It's like, 'Take that, honky,' 'Take that, cracker.'"
While Love is able to laugh at the irony now, experiences like this and others formed her unshakable belief in social responsibility. And when Love becomes most outspoken, her book becomes not just a memoir but a lyric call to action.
"I also wanted to put a name and a face to the kind of people the Bush administration would call welfare queens and the dregs of society and the least among us," she says, matter-of-factly. "For me, it's very personal when I hear attacks on social welfare programs, because they absolutely are the reason for my survival. Had we not had Head Start and welfare and mental health programs, I would have fallen through the cracks and grown up to be an angry, angry woman just hell-bent on taking everything I could from those that had -- the haves and the have-mores," she laughs, referencing a now-famous George W. Bush quote from Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.
Instead Love learned to hone her voice -- and also, not to give up. She's a strong believer in taking care of those who can't take care of themselves.
"There are people in this world who aren't capable of doing anything more than just surviving, you know? My mother was mentally ill, and that's not criminal. It's tragic," she says. "But because she and others like her aren't able to provide for their children in the way most parents like to provide for their children doesn't mean that we should have been homeless or without any care by society. Those that the Bush administration scorns and castigates and vilifies are deserving of better. As my mother, I believe, was."