LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Between the widening gap of ultra-rich and working poor – or, for that matter, uber-celebrities and starving artists – stands Michelle Shocked, an independent singer- songwriter and a working artist thriving on the spoils of a hard-won fight. This year’s ‘Campfire Girl’ tour bears witness to the enduring legacy of her highly unusual debut, The Texas Campfire Tapes, a bootleg famously recorded on a Sony Walkman and released, unbeknownst to Shocked, by an enterprising Briton. Shocked was more surprised than anyone when the album made its debut on the UK independent charts in November 1986 – “I never made a record,” she recalls, “so why would I expect to be on an English chart?” This early experience, and a 1996 legal battle to retain her catalog ownership against Mercury Records, made Shocked a natural poster child for artists’ rights. In 2003, The Texas Campfire Tapes finally found its way home to her Mighty Sound label.
“I can’t always say I’ve understood the charm people find in a recording so raw,” she admits. “There’s crickets chirping, a truck driving by shifting gears, and the batteries in his Walkman were almost dead, for Pete’s sake!” But there is little doubt that the unedited intimacy resonates with many and draws the listener into a spunky vagabond’s adventures; it remains one of her best-selling titles.
Meanwhile, her 5-year themed touring project Roadworks curates songs that are long-time audience favorites while introducing live new material. In 2011, with a trio of Boswell Sisters- and Mills Brothers-inspired vocalists, she will debut five new compositions for ‘Indelible Women,’ a collaboration with visual artist David Willardson, her sweetheart of eight years. Ultimately, the two will present a performance series in song and on canvas – their innovative HeART Project: Hear Art, See Music – that includes such icons as Frida, Amelia, Billie and Audrey.
Like 2010’s ‘American Idle,’ this year’s ‘Campfire Girl’ theme also gives voice and calls attention to a cause of concern; the austere paucity of arts education in public schools. Albert Einstein clearly understood the viable connection of arts and sciences when he said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Knowledge is the base of the educational pyramid, synthesis at its peak. To be successful, education must be open-ended. Creativity is an essential component of science. Again, Einstein, “We wouldn’t call it research if we knew what we were doing.” As well, scientific reasoning is essential to the arts, posing questions such as, “What might happen if we use water-based paints with oil paints on this canvas? How will this sculpture be strong and solid using only these materials? What other material would enhance the stability?” In a constant search for viability within creativity, process is more important than product; when the process is excellent, so, too, will the product. In addition, we do learn from mistakes. Some of our best work is generated from error. Shocked’s 2011 ‘Campfire Girl’ theme asserts that the arts are a critical element of educational development and Shocked demands, with an ebullient panache all her own, that audiences gather ‘round the campfire, raise their voices and sing along.