Merchant gives issues lip service that counts

January 18, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Because she is one of the more socially conscious performers in popular music today, Natalie Merchant is forever being asked to help this cause or that.

"My management office is approached daily about a benefit record or a benefit performance, or a public speaking engagement at some sort of awards ceremony, or whatever," she says over the phone from Hawaii. "The nonprofits are always asking artists I suppose it's the publicity we can generate."

But if such artists as Natalie Merchant generally do benefits "because we're asked," she has a very specific reason for joining Bruce Hornsby, Nanci Griffith and Jimmie Dale Gilmore at the Voices for Choice in Washington tomorrow: As she sees it, no woman can afford to keep quiet when the issue is reproductive rights.

"What has it been, 22 years now since Roe vs. Wade?" she says. "It's been a part of my understanding of being an American citizen that women can have safe and legal abortions, and that it's their decision whether they do or do not. I think the thing that made me seriously consider [performing at this concert] was the Republican landslide victories of '94, and all the evidence that they've been successfully chipping away at the reproductive rights legislation that I've taken for granted in my life."

Musically, the concert promises to be quite a treat. "I'm not bringing my band," Merchant explains. "So it will just be myself at the piano, and I haven't done a solo performance in a year. So I'm a bit nervous about it, to tell you the truth. Jimmie [Dale Gilmore] called me while I've been in Hawaii and asked if I wanted to do a song, so I may do a song with him. But it's a rare performance. I don't do this, really."

Merchant adds that her "personal convictions," which she declined to specify, had, in the past, made her hesitant to participate in the Choice concerts. "But that's all the more reason, I guess, that someone like myself should become involved," she says. "Because it isn't a decision that I should make for anybody else. I can only make it for myself."

What ultimately convinced her, though, was the work Voters for Choice has done over the years. "The thing I really appreciate about Voters for Choice is that their work is extremely tangible," she says. "They support the candidates that are pro-choice with money, which I think is the most powerful support that you can give a candidate. And they try to educate voters about who are the candidates who are honestly pro-choice. According to their literature, they have been responsible for helping 200 candidates in the House and the Senate be elected in the last 15 years. That's real work."

Choice concert

Who: Natalie Merchant

When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

Where: D.A.R. Constitution Hall

Tickets: $35

Call: (410) 481-7328

Sundial: To hear excerpts from Natalie Merchant's new release, "Tigerlily," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6122. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2A.

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