In 1970, Holly Near was a cast member of the Broadway musical “Hair.” Following the Kent State University shootings in May of that same year the entire cast staged a silent vigil in protest. The song, “It Could’ve Been Me” was Holly’s heartfelt response to the shootings. Before and since the 1970s, Near has been consistent and outspoken in her desire for a more equitable world - her activism most often taking the form of music.
“I grew up with musicians who has something to say and, in truth, if we lived in a country that didn’t want to red-bait progressives, I don’t think music like mine would be called ‘political’ or ‘activist’ music. It would be part of the expression of humanity and there is a way of pigeonholing artists that have something to say unless they’re on the more conservative, right-wing side. If it’s that they call it country-western or religious music. I listened to people like Nina Simone and Paul Robeson and The Weavers and I think that, right from the beginning, it was the music I was attracted to. And although as a teenager I would listen to songs that said 'Oh, I can’t live without you, baby, baby,' it was pretty much background music for me. The music that caught my attention were the artists that had a point of view.”
Holly Near’s performance in Albany, New York tonight marks the release of her new album.
“We called the album ‘2018’ because we looked over all of the lyrics and the titles of the songs and every single song didn’t, somehow, sum up the whole recording. Finally I said, ‘Let’s just call it 2018,’ and everybody laughed and said 'Yeah, everybody will know what that means.' This is such a traumatic year. There’s songs on there about: do we really want to mine the moon? There’s songs about domestic violence. There are funny songs, one of them is sort of a French farce-spoof on ‘coup d’état.’ There’s a song that is about nature, about the nature of our animal -- what the spectrum is of animal possibilities, quite different from other animals. We can be so horrific on one side and so spectacular on the other and we all land somewhere on that curve.
In my work, early on, I became exhausted by the idea of ‘issues,’ because there are too many and I would feel bad if I didn’t cover them all -- and how can one? Some people do Meals on Wheels and some people do childcare, some people challenge the center of the system and live on top of redwood trees so they don’t get cut down. I mean, there’s lots of ways to do the work and so I developed a kind of creative philosophy for myself that, although the songs would be stories about different people’s lives and different experiences -- that somewhere in the song I would try to connect it up to the bigger picture so that we weren’t chopped up into little pieces, of this is a song about this issue and that’s a song about that issue. So my writing has a kind of connecting thread that goes through and I think that’s been, probably, one of the strongest identifiers to the music that I do is that commitment to bringing it back to the center of who we all are.”