Long before the #metoo movement, Mary Lambert was speaking her own truth, sharing stories of abuse, triumph and pain in songs as a young, gay Christian and a survivor of multiple assaults.
The world met Lambert, an unapologetic plus-size beauty with a gorgeous voice, singing the hook on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ game-changing 2013 hit “Same Love,” which called out hip-hop on its homophobia and became an anthem for marriage equality. Lambert co-wrote and recorded her contribution within about three hours of being asked to do it, and the song took her all the way to the Grammys, where she sang with Madonna as 33 couples took their vows during the telecast.
After a stint at Capitol Records and a dance hit of her own, Lambert returned in 2017 with the Kickstarter-funded “Bold,” a pop EP big on love and acceptance. Before the next chapter – an orchestral album heavy on spoken-word interludes – she’s hitting the road with friend Mal Blum for the Everybody is a Babe Tour, which stops at Neighborhood Theatre on Sunday.
“Whether it’s a hashtag or not, time is up,” Lambert said in an interview with the Observer in January. (This show was originally scheduled for Jan. 18 but was postponed due to a snowstorm. “As an assault survivor, it’s really empowering to see people, especially white dudes with so much power, being held accountable. In sharing our stories, there is action. I think it’s Rebecca Solnit, in one of her books, she’s talking about how we have an understanding of fight or flight. But she says there’s another one, and that’s finding community. That’s typically the feminine response. This really is indicative of that.”
What’s inspiring about Lambert is that she speaks about her past without shame. She addresses growing up poor, her father abusing her, mental health, drugs, rape and coming out matter-of-factly.
“I don’t think I ever allowed myself to feel shame about it,” she said. “Part of the problem was I didn’t realize I’d been assaulted till three or four years after. I had a concept that rape was a guy hiding behind a bush with a knife. I was laughing about this night I had where I’d cheated on my boyfriend, but I actually didn’t want to have sex.”
Friends pointed out that she was describing rape.
“I think my humor and storytelling had become a deflection of understanding what happened to me,” she added.
The takedown of Hollywood elites and the events that led up to it indicate a broader universal shift that had already taken shape in Lambert’s mind.
“When Tori Amos came out with ‘Me and a Gun’ – that broke so many rules and was so powerful, and everybody knew that song at the time, but there still wasn’t a greater conversation. The impact of accountability wasn’t there yet,” she said. “That happens with repeated accounts.”
Lambert’s serendipitous career trajectory through “Same Love” was coincidentally in line with where she saw herself heading anyway.
“When I was in middle and high school, I watched C-SPAN. I wanted to go into politics. My prerogative was to change the world. Then I learned about lobbyists,” she said. Instead, she’d planned on teaching, getting her bachelor’s in music education. Then she discovered spoken word.
“I became immersed in this culture that was founded on vulnerability that was pivotal for me. I got to openly weep with people, and a lot of times their stories were similar to mine,” she said. “These were just regular people standing in front of a microphone turning trauma and pain into art – into life-changing language that was so moving. The idea of saying exactly what happened to you in a way that isn’t centered around shame was so powerful to watch.”
When: 8 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.
Details: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.