The Mynabirds: The New Revolutionists Week at TVD

In tandem with the release of The Mynabirds’ brand new LP Generals, front woman Laura Burhenn has embarked on an ambitious portrait project entitled “The New Revolutionists,” the purpose of which is to “pay tribute to the vast web of women who do various types of important work: artists, community organizers, doctors, mothers, women who embrace their lives and work to help and empower those around them. It is an awareness campaign for non-profits, women and works of art that empower.”

Last week we turned TVD over to Laura to delve a bit deeper into the lives and inspirations of 5 of the many revolutionary American women the project serves to spotlight who are making a difference in their own communities across America.  We saved the last installment for today for reasons that will be clear as you read onward.

I promised Laura we’d add this final quote as The Mynabirds’ tour bus rolls out of DC. “We had so much goddamn fun being back home in DC — particularly at the Black Cat. DC will always be my home…” —Ed.

“Two years ago, I had the honor of introducing musician Rosanne Cash and author, psychologist and neuroscientist Dan Levitin for a joint talk they did at the Kaneko, a multi-platform space for art and intellectual exploration in Omaha. To prepare, I studied up on Rosanne’s music, started following her insightful and hilarious Twitter feed, and read her memoir, which was then only recently released, “Composed.”

As most of the rest of the world, I had known her very simply as “Johnny Cash’s daughter who is also a musician herself.” But the more I read and listened and uncovered, I realized that was barely scratching the surface of who she is. She’s insightful, kind, funny, ridiculously talented, and resilient. She is outspoken and protective of her family and friends. Her memoir contains some of the most gorgeous prose and insights I’ve read. It’s really that good; I highly recommend it.

After that talk, Rosanne and I kept in touch via email and Twitter. And being that she’s warm and approachable, she was one of the first people I contacted when I had the idea of starting the New Revolutionists. She was incredibly supportive and downright excited. When we finally could nail down a time for her to be photographed, she brought along some of her close friends she nominated for the project: Lizz Winstead (co-creator of the Daily Show), Nancy Franklin (critic for the New Yorker), and author A.M. Homes. It’s hard to get one woman of these busy women in a room to sit for a portrait, let alone four. But they met up with photographer Mindy Tucker after one of their regular friend-lunches and looked marvelously powerful in their portraits.

Being that Rosanne is ridiculously busy and yet still generous with her time, she typed out these answers on her phone between flights and soundchecks and performances. She is thoughtful and concise, most certainly a revolutionary among American women, and a real inspiration to me.”

What do you think makes someone revolutionary, particularly in America in this chapter in our history?

A true revolutionary can hold two opposing thoughts. Thinks deeply and carefully before offering an opinion. Acts with integrity when no one is looking. Holds on to her principles when money is involved, especially if it’s a lot of money. Relinquishes her loyalties when it becomes clear they aren’t deserved. Refuses to be manipulated and doesn’t act out of guilt. Doesn’t proselytize.

Who are some revolutionaries who have inspired you in your own life?

Toni Morrisson, Emmylou Harris, Louise Nevelson, susan Sontag, Annie Leibovitz, Georgia O’Keefe, Colette, Madeleine Castaing, Frances Preston, Pema Chodron, Jane Austen, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Meryl Streep. If you want men, I’ll give you another list.

Can you speak specifically about your close circle of friends — your “council of women” — who Mindy Tucker so beautifully captured at the portrait session? They are some truly powerful women, and I was excited at the prospect of enduring friendships between creative, accomplished women, brainstorming over dinner between books and world tours. While the media can try to pit women against one another (as if there’s only room for one or two to rise to the top), what are some ways you and your close friends work to help each other all to achieve greater levels of consciousness and success?

There are several other women in my “council”– a painter, a creative director of a huge empire, a business exec, songwriters, musicians, knitters, photographers, a visionary, a non-profit exec, a film editor, a writer of books and screenplays, an actor, a homemaker…2 are retired…some have no money at all and some have billions.

I love them all. I don’t know what I would do without my women friends. We are all interested in each other’s work, partners, children, struggles and we are all good listeners. We are loyal and make time for each other. It takes effort to keep a friendship alive–which took me awhile to realize.

We care about each other and we show it. When I had brain surgery my women friends showed up every day with food and movies and a hand hold.

From left to right: A.M. Homes, Nancy Franklin, Rosanne, Lizz Winstead.
Photo: Mindy Tucker

When I first told you about the idea for the photo project, you were incredibly supportive. You were one of the reasons I felt confident to move forward with it — so thank you for that. Before you had your own portrait taken, you asked me specifically about the intent of the project, saying that you wanted to make sure that the peace and understanding that women in your generation had worked so hard for was preserved and honored in the project. I love that the expression you show in your portrait reveals a strength, wisdom, and joy in accomplishment — and with your gaze upward, an eye to a future moving forever up. What are some accomplishments related to women’s rights that you are particularly proud of contributing to personally? What advice would you give the next generation of women as they try to navigate a whole new series of legislatative attacks on women’s rights?

I’m not sure younger women appreciate how hard won some of our basic rights came to be: how many women and girls died from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade, the inequity of property laws and wages (although that is an ongoing fight), the tacit social, political, and workplace discrimination, the fact that sexual harassment was accepted in the workplace and the stigma of rape — we had to keep quiet or be blamed. So, so much has changed and we suffered to make the changes, and the far right seems to be trying to turn the clock back, or create some kind of version of The Handmaid’s Tale, and nationalize our wombs and make misogyny part of the social and legal backdrop. I’m angry about this, of course. But I don’t like leading with anger. I don’t like militant force. That’s just me. Some of our greatest strengths as women are compassion, diplomacy (the greatest diplomat in the world is Hillary Clinton) and Power To Truth Through Love. I truly believe that and I don’t want to engage in viciousness.

I would hope young women appreciate what the women’s movement was about, assimilate it, and add to the power by claiming with integrity what is rightfully ours: respect and equality. The surest way to do that is acting and committing to an individual mission, even if that is as a homemaker, which is an honorable choice.

I love that you are not afraid to speak your mind — on social and political issues, and even matters of the heart. What do you say to someone who feels that musicians should stay out of politics (that old “shut up and sing” thing)? 

I’m a citizen. I vote. I have just as much right to express my opinion as any other citizen.

What 5 songs would you insist be on a New Revolutionists mixtape?

Laura Nyro – “Save The Country”
Tori Amos – “Taxi Ride”
The Pretenders – “Precious”
Shirley Horn – “Here’s To Life”
Sister Rosetta Tharpe – “Strange Things Happening Every Day”

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The Mynabirds’ Generals is on your local store shelves now via Saddle Creek.

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