Our latest author article comes to you from Joanna McNaney Stein. In it she reveals how k.d. lang’s Ingénue went from life-changing album to the topic of her 33 ⅓ volume, out November 2nd 2023. She talks about how she came to pitch her 33 ⅓ idea to us, as well as the experience of writing about an album that had such a significant impact on her. Take it away, Joanna!
Sitting on the carpeted living room floor of my childhood home, I watched a VHS tape of k.d. lang and the Reclines’ American TV debut on Letterman’s Late Show. I was ten years old, and my eyes almost popped out of their confused little sockets. I hadn’t seen or heard anyone like k.d. lang before (and can safely say I’ve never seen anyone else like k.d. lang since, either). Several years later, while “working” at my hometown library, I pocketed the only copy of k.d. lang’s 1989 album, Absolute Torch and Twang for further investigation.
When Ingénue was released in 1992, I was nearly 16 and attempting to come out of the closet. Hearing “Constant Craving” on the radio for the first time (in the back seat of my family’s station wagon), I nearly wept. Then it happened… k.d. lang officially came out as a lesbian in The Advocate. What followed was lang’s sudden embrace by mainstream pop culture, and MTV, which both eased my teenage anxiety, and also afforded me exciting distractions (i.e. the 30-year-old Vanity Fair cover with Cindy Crawford).
So, if a future reader wants to know why I wrote about Ingénue for the 33 ⅓ series, out of literally any album ever, it’s cliche to say it, and sounds a little like I adopted a pet, but here it is: k.d. lang’s music chose me!
In spring of 2021, after a year of attempting to homeschool my four-year-old kid during the pandemic, I checked online to see if 33 ⅓ had an open call for submissions. Get this – they did, but the deadline was only a few days away. Suddenly I remembered what having adrenaline felt like!
I’d read a couple 33 ⅓ series books, and had some experience writing about music, but I wasn’t sure how quickly I could turn around a proposal. So, I quickly purchased How to Write About Music, and devoured the chapter on pitching to 33 ⅓. After that, and about three sleepless nights in my “home office” (my laptop in my bedroom), I submitted my proposal.
A few months later, thinking I’d blown it, I was beyond thrilled to receive a “yes.”
Now that the book is done, one of the things I wished I’d done was land an interview with k.d. lang. Believe me, I tried! I wanted to hear her most recent thoughts about Ingénue at its 30-year vintage, but I was also curious about k.d.’s take on gender identity (and the contemporary language around it). Not speaking directly with k.d. played on my psyche a bit, but I was lucky enough to speak with Ben Mink, lang’s co-writer/co-producer of Ingénue, and several other of lang’s collaborators including bassist David Piltch, and singer-songwriter Laura Veirs.
The 33 ⅓ book is available for pre-order now, and comes out (pun intended) on Nov. 2, 2023 (coincidentally k.d. lang’s birthday). In the meantime, here is my curated Spotify mix called “k.d. lang in 20 tracks” that shows off the diverse range of k.d.’s vocal abilities, including songs with key collaborators, and quintessential live tracks.
Joanna McNaney Stein is a writer and an Assistant Professor of English at the City University of New York, Kingsborough. Her creative work has appeared in Short Takes: Brief Encounters with Contemporary Nonfiction, PopMatters, Bust, LGBTQ Nation, The Brooklyn Rail, and the satirical Hard Times. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram (@joannafolk). Visit her website at: www.joanna-stein.com
k.d. lang’s Ingénue is publishing November 2nd and is available to pre-order online (including at Bloomsbury.com).