If Holly Near’s Simply Love Album Were a Musical by Elisabeth S.

For many of us, listening to women-loving-women songs is a spiritual experience. That is because somehow it makes us feel seen, puts a sense of hope into our world as well as daydreams of romance. We can understand the challenges and the regret or guilt that comes with disappointing others and ourselves, them for not being who they wanted us to be and for us, not being who we are for far too long. Holly Near’s Simply Love album narrates a story that I might envision as a musical theatre production, and I really wish someone would ask me to write it and then hold the casting call (yeah, I’d want to be in it too, so save me a part). I offer some of my thoughts on two central songs in the would-be musical in hopes of sacred liturgy on a potential stage.

Simply Love has 28 songs and was released (according to Spotify) in 2000. I think the synopsis would be surrounding Cassandra, in a loving relationship with her partner, reflecting on her journey to this place of authenticity. I can imagine how it might be living one’s live in an exploratory way and coming to new revelations later in life.

In my last post, I put up a picture of the book cover of Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are not the Only Fruit, but did not really explain it in connection with lessons mother’s might teach their daughters. The main character is a girl who is brought up in an evangelical Pentecostal family and church and is rather enthusiastic about her religion while, at the same time, she is realizing her preference for lovers might not align with local doctrine. The book is metaphorically autobiographical, if I may propose such a description, and the chapters are labeled as books from the Hebrew Bible/”Old Testament” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, etc.). The book, although almost short enough to be called a novella, starts off in a really smart way, discussing the dualisms that can help us determine which truths are ones we want to share and which ones we’ll keep for later spaces to explore. The narrator opens the story describing her parents, her mother who wanted the Mormons to knock on the door. At election time, in a Labor mill town, she put a picture of the Conservative candidate in the window. She had never heard of mixed feelings. There were friends and there were enemies:

Enemies were:
The Devil (in his many forms)
Next Door
Sex (in its many forms)

Friends were: God
Our dog
Auntie Madge
The Novels of Charlotte Brontë
Slug pellets
and me, at first.”

Winterson wrote in her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (I love this title) that when the book was published, her mother sent her a furious note.

Some truths make others furious, and some very observant people understand their truths and put them on the side of the enemy. But maybe that is what the later years are for some of us, the years when we begin to care a little less. I remember sitting in some lawn chairs in the side yard of a Venice Beach Airbnb when I was in my 20s with some ladies maybe in their late 30s or early 40s, and one of them mentioned living life with a “Fuck it all” attitude. I asked how one might acquire such a perspective, and they told me to just wait until I’m older.

One of the songs is called “Nina” and is from the perspective of a mother who is in the later years of her life (I imagine) who is both resenting and admiring her daughter for the freedom the mother never had growing up. So. . .

Cassandra – Woman in her mid-40s
Nina – Cassandra’s daughter

I imagine this song is the first in the musical from which the story weaves back and forth from the past and present, following Cassandra’s journey to finding and choosing love. Some of the “Nina” lyrics are as such:

Oh Nina, where does your heart take you today?

To play with Negra and Rose and Maria.
I sadly recall the friends of my childhood.
Do you ride wild horses in Amazon battles?
I rode like a lady, except when alone.

Nina, my daughter, sometimes I resent you,
Your laughter, your lovers, your courage to feel.
I was never allowed to love Eloisa,
Yet you sleep so warm in the arms of your friends.

But as I lie awake and hear your soft pleasure,
My resentment fades, and I shelter your love
And because of you I too hold a woman tonight.

I think it is powerful how one person’s coming to consciousness and confession can embolden another’s. I can imagine that as our world becomes more accepting of relational and identity choices and deep truths, that those of us who find ourselves at the edge of our own journeys can’t help but think about if our lives might have been emboldened a little earlier. I imagine Cassandra singing this from inside her house while gazing out at the moonlit field. Her lover is sleeping in bed while she envisions images of her daughter communing with friends and lovers in the outside, public fields.

The final song would be all the characters and chorus joining in “Something about the Women,” a song about courageous choices, coping with our pain, and the support of women surrounding each other:

A circle holds her tightly and she throws the drink away
She’s the mother of my youth
She’s the daughter of my age
This woman now and always
Survival is her name, healer of my pain, quiet in her fame
Goddess keep me sane.

I would say that no matter where all the women are on our journey of seeking, discovering, creating, communing, and surviving, I hope we do it together and I hope we do it with song.

Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She has an MA in creative writing and teaches college composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. She also writes poetry about food, self-exile, the balance between love + freedom, and navigating the world while female. She has a micro-chapbook on food coming out 7/9/19 from Ghost City Press.

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

4 thoughts on “If Holly Near’s Simply Love Album Were a Musical by Elisabeth S.”

  1. I saw Holly Near in person with Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Ronnie Gilbert many years ago. They sang mostly folk songs (as two members of the Weavers would do), but I think they also sang some of Holly’s early songs. It was a terrific concert. Thanks for reminding me how talented she was and still is.

    Yes, I think the album would be an interesting musical as you describe it.


    1. Oh wow, so jealous!!! That sounds amazing. I just love folk songs – it really gets me in a happy mood, which I can use whenever I can get it. Thanks for sharing the golden memory. The album has such a story line – all the songs seem to go together so well and give me a vision every time I listen to it. Thanks!


  2. Lovely post! Would love to see/hear this musical with you in the cast. Will fwd to a friend who is a fan and also knows Holly Near.

    Liked by 1 person

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