There’s a certain sort of mood one might expect out of an album called Limp Wrist that features a ripped chest decorated with a small amount of leather. Paisley Fields proves that you really can’t judge a book by its cover.
The title track is good for a satisfying smirk. It teases the hypocritical hyper-masculine guys who would tease Fields for being gay. They might be against sex with men, just so long as that definition doesn’t include their own hands. But it’s “Iowa” that holds the emotional focus of the album. For all the discrimination Fields faces, religious or otherwise, nothing is quite as serious as his recognition that what happened to Matthew Shepard in nearby Wyoming could easily happen to him.
“I want to say I was maybe 13 or 14,” Fields said. “I remember it pretty clearly. I remember people debating if he deserved it because he was allegedly hitting on the two guys who ended up murdering him. That was a real moment where I realized it was not safe for me to come out.”
Fields felt forced to leave Iowa as a result of it all. For the most part, the album explores aspects of coming out and a confused identity that was part religious redneck and part music-loving gay man. “Black Hawk County Line” begins the album with Fields’ story of how a ‘friend’ outed him. “Giddy up Saturday Night” serves as a reminder that Fields will always be a native Iowan, one who could hunt and throw down with the rest of the boys if not for their bigotry.
“Plastic Rosary” is where those two identities clash most directly. He talks about his experience as a child praying for forgiveness and how he’s learned to accept every part of himself, though he still carries a bit of pain from these adults telling him that “heaven is a place [he’ll] never see.” Religion was an integral part of young Fields’s life
“My first job was playing piano in the church and I felt a lot of conflict,” Fields said. “I was playing music and I was supported by this little country church that I was a part of, but I was also getting messages that just my very existence was wrong. It was pretty difficult to wrestle with that.”
Luckily, Fields was able to overcome the “deep rejection” he’d receive from his and other churches in the area, even if it came at the cost of losing his personal relationship with religion.
“At the time I tried to shut part of myself off and for a while I tried to fit in,” Fields said. “Then I fully rejected it without ever dealing with it at all. But now I’ve gotten to the point where I understand that I know who I am and I’m not going to hide that for some religion.”
“Dial up Lover” is another standout track, in part for its incredible specificity. It’s a song that recalls that phase many a queer person went through in the aughts finding the connection they couldn’t find in school through Internet chat rooms. Trust me. It was a thing.
“That was the only way to meet other people in my hometown,” Fields explained. “I would log onto those AOL chatrooms to see who was in there and try to find somebody to talk to anonymously and to also discover who I was and who other people like me were and if they were out there somewhere.”
It’s worth noting that Fields felt it necessary and appropriate to end the album on a note of hope. “Tomorrow Finds a Way” is a reminder that things may be scary right now, but progress has been made. For someone like Fields, that can come in the form of personal growth and musical expression.
Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Paisley Fields and the songs we discussed, starting with Iowa, which really sets the stakes for the album. We also play a couple of Lavender Country songs as Fields has been playing keyboard for that pioneering band. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit http://www.WUSB.fm and http://www.thepaisleyfields.com for more.