Deborah Conway has been putting feminism in her songs since back when she was the lead singer in the Australian band, Do Re Mi in the 1980s. Remember lyrics like this in Man Overboard?
I’m sick and tired of this position
Hatched underneath an arm
Your crutch under stress
Your rudder when it’s calm
I’m bored of staring at the ceiling
While you point out my flaws
I’ve watched the wallpaper peeling from slamming doors
You talk about penis envy
Your friends applaud
What am I expected to do?
Shout man overboard?
That was a big deal back then. The song made its way up the Australian charts in 1985 with almost no commercial airplay and people were a little aghast to find themselves listening to a song about some ex-boyfriend pontificating about ‘penis envy’. It also contained a lyric about pubic hair and absolutely no chorus. Her biggest hit was the love song, It’s Only the Beginning but Conway has always much preferred writing songs about the darker aspects of relationships. Conway has had musical influences across her career as varied as punk rock, trip-hop and Patsy Cline. Conway has never been afraid to live her feminism out loud, from her early days as a model with under-arm hair to her later days as a working mother:
What are some of the reactions you’re getting from the audience and press at performing in a very pregnant state?
I’ve officially got about six weeks to go, but my gut tells me it’s probably more like four. The first leg of the tour was with a full band and a six-month belly. I frocked up in red sequins with a large heart cut-out over the lump in gold mesh and highlighted with rhinestones. It was a showstopper with a slow reveal as the guitar which I played for the first 5 songs covered the heart completely. I wanted to get Shirley-Bassey-meets-Danny-La-Rue in a postmodern pastiche of glamour and earth mother—alien-style. Anyway, it had the desired effect and audience and critics alike sent up a collective gasp. It is, after all both sexy and funny and I think that came across. There’s also a tendency to see a pregnant woman as something delicate and fragile, so if you’re seen doing anything out of the ordinary, it’s somehow spectacular. Dancing would always get a reaction. In some ways the pregnancy almost overshadowed the album. It became a focus for the straighter press as something they could hook a story on in a country that rarely takes its music seriously enough.
Here’s Conway’s Alive and Brilliant from the Bitch Epic album.
Alive and Brilliant
The clouds are black
They say it’s gonna pour but I haven’t been keeping track
So now we’re here
In this cage
The Ferris wheel of love, my love, what a charade
It’s been a long time, a long time, a long time, a long time, a long time, a long time, a long time since anyone meant what they said
One step forward
Two steps backward
I won’t wrestle, you won’t talk back
Three deep breaths I’m still alive and brilliant
And be polite
I’m so sick of listening to your crap about the breasts you like
Look at me
I am restrained
I’m not screaming like some jealous adolescent here in vain
So you got me
On this ride
What was it darling what exactly did you have in mind
Up and down
Is this some dumb metaphor to tell me you’re not hanging round