On NBC, Katie Couric, Ann Curry Swoon Over Helen Reddy And "I Am Woman"
Feminist anthems still draw rave reviews. On Thursday morning's "Today," singer Helen Reddy was scheduled for an interview on her new memoir. As "I Am Woman" played in the background, Katie Couric explained how she knew every word of the song and it "shaped me in a lot of ways." News anchor Ann Curry interviewed Reddy and echoed the swooning: "Oh, that song still gives me the chills."
Coming into the 8:30 half hour, MRC's Geoff Dickens noticed Katie Couric announced over the Reddy song and the outside crowd noise:
Katie Couric: "Matt I'm sure you have this one on your iPod don't you? This of course is Helen Reddy's I Am Woman. When it first came out in 1972 it became an anthem for the women's movement and for feminists everywhere and I have a confession to make."
Matt Lauer: "You love this song?"
Couric: "I know every word to this song."
Lauer: "But you know every word to a lot of songs."
Couric: "Yeah that's true."
Lauer: "You are the human jukebox."
Couric: "This was, this shaped me in a lot of ways because I was in high school and it was, you know it was very inspiring for women who wanted to do a lot once they got out into the world, so --"
Lauer: "And the male equivalent is the Burger King commercial which is out now. You know I Am Man."
Couric: "No, Bud..."
Lauer: "Oh sorry, yeah whatever, yeah."
Couric: "...the Bud commercial. Anyway Helen Reddy has now written a book about her remarkable life and we'll be talking with her about that a little bit later on."
At the opening of the 9:30 half hour, news anchor Ann Curry promised: "We are also gonna be hearing from a woman who is gonna help us all roar. Helen Reddy took the seventies by storm with her hit I Am Woman. And now she's written a memoir of her life. She is here to share her story this morning."
When the interview began ten minutes later, Curry declared: "By the 1970s the women's liberation movement was gaining in momentum and one song became a rallying cry. Helen Reddy's 'I Am Woman' made her the first Australian ever to win a Grammy...the song 'I Am Woman,' with her heartfelt lyrics about being both feminine and determined became the stirring anthem of the feminist movement." Over clips of Reddy performing "I Am Woman," Curry blurted out:
"Oh that song still gives me chills. Now Helen Reddy's written a memoir of her remarkable life it's called 'The Woman I Am.' Helen Reddy, good morning."
Helen Reddy: "Hi Ann."
Curry: "Wow! That song inspired me."
After a review of Reddy’s childhood, Curry turned to the start of her singing career:
"...You had a lot of trouble having record producers, you know pay attention to you because it was the time of what the Beatles and major male bands."
Reddy: "Yeah, yeah male, the, the male group sound was, was that was dominant. In fact when I went out on the road to visit radio stations with my first hit which was I Don't Know How To Love Him, I mean I would have program directors say things like, 'Well we're already playing a female record.'"
Curry: "The one, the one that's allowed."
Reddy: "The one, right."
Hold on one feminist minute. Musical objection: Reddy’s first song came out in 1971, which was hardly the Beatles era. There were a lot more female artists than this plastic dystopia: the hit artists of 1971 included Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Karen Carpenter, Carole King, the Supremes, the Fifth Dimension...it's just an inaccurate feminist memory. Curry continued:
"So nevertheless you became enormously successful. You, you know had nine number one singles, you, several TV shows, you performed and or hung out with some pretty amazing people, Frank Sinatra. I mean just amazing people. Look it, you see Jane Fonda there. Why do you think you were able to go from, 'no, no, no Helen we've already got enough women,' to a woman who roared?"
Reddy: "I think that, I think the time was right. It was an idea whose time had come, basically. And I think also the fact that I was giving a musical message made it more acceptable and, and music, you know, does tend to seep into the subconscious. So I think a lot of women who would've been turned off so, by some of the more strident voices in the woman's movement were more accepting of the musical version."
Then they turned to "I Am Woman," and where feminism has gone these days:
Curry: "You wrote the lyrics."
Reddy: "I wrote the lyrics, yes."
Curry: "Where, where did that come from?"
Reddy: "Oh life experience. No, I, I mean when I first. I mean I had always been a feminist in my heart I just didn't know what it was called and I didn't know there were other women who shared my views. So that was, that was amazing to me that I could actually speak out and say what I felt and it was okay. And when I look, you know there was a lot of pressure at that time for women to be dainty and helpless and that sort of thing. And when I thought about the women in my family, my goodness they were strong. They, they held the family together through two world wars and a depression and there were no songs about strong women. So I had to write them myself."
Curry: "And you, and you not only wrote it but you also sang it in a way that resonated with so many, so many women, affected us all. Are you worried about the feminist movement now, where it's going?"
Reddy: "Well I'm very..."
Curry: "Well I mean people wonder whether if it's even in existence."
Reddy: "I'm, I'm very worried where we're going period but I really think women have, you know, we, we did move backwards in the eighties. There's, there's no question there was a backlash. But there are still, you know, women who come up to me and say, 'you know I went to law school because of you,' or 'I had the courage to get out of a very bad relationship because of you, ' So I'm, I'm, that means far more to me than the numbers and the polls and all that stuff."
Curry was still aglow after the interview ended: "Up next a gourmet picnic in Today's Kitchen but first this is today on NBC. We just talked to Helen Reddy!"
UPDATE: On Friday morning, Helen Reddy appeared just before 10 A.M. on CNN's "American Morning." Co-host Soledad O'Brien was friendly without the feminist euphoria on NBC. In fact, O'Brien even noted that the woman behind "I Am Woman" was having trouble living up to those lyrics in her second marriage:
O'Brien: Years later, when you divorced husband number two, it turns out -- you know, you're singing all these incredibly strong woman lyrics and yet, in your real life and your personal life, you're sort of being walked on by a lot of the guys in your life. A kind of a contradiction.
Reddy: Well, I was emotionally and verbally abused. But because it wasn't physical abuse, I didn't recognize it as abuse. It was only -- I was involved, you know, with battered women shelters and that kind of thing. And I read a questionnaire, you know, how to know if you are a battered woman. And I read the questionnaire and virtually every question applied to me. And it was only then that it really hit me that, you know, verbal and emotional abuse is still abuse, and can have as devastating an effect.