Catie Curtis

Long Night Moon Press

Catie Curtis Reconnects

Catie Curtis was first signed to a major label 11 years ago and has been touring and playing for more than 15, and though she hasn't become a household name like Shawn Colvin or Paula Cole, she's one of the best singer-songwriters recording today. Earlier this year, she and Mark Erelli won the grand prize at this year's prestigious International Songwriting Competition for co-writing the song "People Look Around," which appears on her latest album, Long Night Moon.

Now 41, she lives outside of Boston with her partner of 10 years, Liz, whom she married last year. They have two daughters: Lucy, 4, and Celia, 2. Last December the couple was awaiting Celia's arrival via an international adoption, a complicated process with a timeline over which they had little control. "That kind of passive waiting and longing is a hard thing for me, and unfamiliar," Curtis says.

That experience was the basis for the title of Curtis' recently released 10th album, Long Night Moon. The phrase designates the time of year when nights are at their longest and darkest - a lunar calendar reference roughly corresponding to the month of December.

"It's the month that's almost completely dark, and then when you have this full, bright moon, it offers a little bit of hope," Curtis says. Patience versus frustration and longing, she adds, are running themes on Long Night Moon.

The album as a whole reflects an outlook that Curtis attributes to being a parent. "I've always been a realistic, practical optimist," she says, "but I think before I had kids it was really OK with me to accept that, possibly sooner than later, humankind was destined to destroy itself. Having kids has made me more invested in trying to prevent that from happening."

She continues: "People can be so greedy, but I also think there's potential for the world to become a more sustainable place to live in if enough people get on board with that. And I have more hope that that's possible now, simply because I want it more and I care about it more now that I have these kids in my life."

The album's songs address the urge to reconnect - whether with a partner or the world - in a better way. A good example of this is "People Look Around," which was written in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"It came out of an intense frustration with the political process," Curtis says of the song, which includes the lines: "If they can keep us fighting about marriage and God/There'll be no one left to notice if our leaders do their jobs."

"At the time," Curtis recalls, "I thought, maybe this will be a galvanizing moment when people understand that the government is too distracted by things like gay marriage and war to be taking care of people, which really is the job of government."

Curtis and Mark Erelli, with whom she co-wrote the song, shot video for it on location in New Orleans, and it is available on Curtis' website and MySpace page, and on YouTube. Erelli also sings harmony and plays acoustic and electric guitar throughout the album.
In addition, Curtis collaborated with several other artists for Long Night Moon. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Erin McKeown and Kris Delmhorst each sing harmony on separate songs, and Delmhorst plays cello on a fourth track.

Long before she gained notoriety as a guitar-playing singer-songwriter, Curtis used to be a drummer. As a teenager she once performed with a traveling theater group that had a run in her hometown in Maine. When the troupe held a yard sale before packing up the van and heading to the next town, one member gave Curtis a leftover guitar for free, asking only that she promise to learn to play. "I felt guilty for the first six months because I didn't learn right away," Curtis says.

Curtis has had other theatrical turns, including a stint as the carpenter Josephine in Faith Soloway's "multi-media schlock opera," Jesus Has Two Mommies. But for now her time onstage is devoted to performing her own music.

Curtis' songs have made their way into several films and television shows, such as Grey's Anatomy, Felicity and the Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen flick Our Lips Are Sealed. A song off the current album, "Rope Swings and Avalanches," is featured in Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School, a documentary about a 14-year-old Orthodox Jewish lesbian.

"I'm so happy to be involved with that film," Curtis says. "The protagonist is a very open and unguarded high school girl who is just trying to figure out how to be a lesbian and a good Jew at the same time. She captures the experience of young people just trying to be honest with themselves and their community, how much difficulty people encounter trying to do that simple thing. She does such a beautiful job and changes the community around her in the process. It's a beautiful film."

Curtis also works to change the broader community with her music and activism. She plays benefits and supports political candidates working for LGBT rights. Last year, for instance, she played at a rally in Utah to battle an anti-gay referendum.

She is also active in the struggle for lesbians' and gay men's rights to legally marry. It's important, she says, "to keep fighting in a very visible way for marriage equality and the rights of all gays and lesbians, because if we don't put a very visible face to all of this it's possible for it to be painted in a way that's very destructive."

She worries that the LGBT rights aren't always seen as an issue of fundamental human rights. "Unless people understand that the gay movement and campaign for marriage equality are about justice, it's very possible for the right to hijack that issue. The mainstream could turn its back on the gay community and believe some conservative rhetoric that's out there now about how the gay movement is evidence of moral decline in Western culture."

While Curtis believes that the struggle around gay marriage and anti-gay referendums is crucial, she also feels that it distracts people from "the real problems that exist in the country." She explains, "There's a diversionary strategy on the right to take the focus away from problems that are difficult to solve, like poverty and war."

But Curtis isn't satisfied with just pointing out the problems; she is also intent on working toward solutions. "There needs to be better understanding in mainstream Western culture about the importance of standing with gays and lesbians - that it's an important part of our culture to have these kinds of freedoms."

For more on Curtis and her tour schedule, visit catiecurtis.com.

updated: 9 years ago