Behind The Song: Drag Queens In Limousines

Mary Gauthier

(by Mary Gauthier and Crit Harmon) I hated high school and prayed it would end. The jocks and their girls, it was their world, I didn't fit in Mama said, "Baby, it's the best school that money can buy, Hold your head up, be strong, c'mon Mary, try."

I stole mama's car on a Sunday and left home for good, Moved in with my friends in the city, in a bad neighborhood. Charles was a dancer he loved the ballet, And Kimmy sold pot and read Kerouac and Hemingway.

Drag Queens in Limousines Nuns in blue jeans Dreamers with big dreams All took me in

Charlie and I flipped burgers to cover the rent And Bourbons at Happy hour for 35 cents One day before work we got drunk and danced in the rain They fired us both, They said, "Don't ya'll come back here again."

Drag Queens in Limousines Nuns in blue jeans Dreamers with big dreams All took me in

My dad went to college, and he worked for the state He never quit nothing and he wanted me to graduate. My brother and sister both play in the marching band They tell me they miss me, but I know they don't understand.

Sometimes you got do, what you gotta do And pray that the people you love will catch up with you

Drag Queens in Limousines Nuns in blue jeans Dreamers with big dreams Poets and AWOL marines Actors and Bar Flies Writers with Dark Eyes Drunks that Philosophize. These are my friends.

This song came out of half-baked gig in NYC, a gig that ended before it began because nobody came except the two friends whose apartment I was staying at in Manhattan. Yes, it was a bummer, but my two friends offered to take me out to a New York diner to cheer me up, the night was ours to do with as we wished. They decided to take me to their favorite late night eatery The Midtown Diner, right outside Times Square.

As we approached the diner, I noticed the parking lot that horseshoed around the front of the restaurant was filled with limo’s and black cars. It looked impressive—all those fancy cars lined up and parked there. The chauffeurs were inside, engines running, drinking coffee, some of them eating out of takeout boxes, waiting for their next job. My friends told me they park there because there are not may places to park in NYC, and the restaurant lets them hang out between their fares if they buy something to eat.

We made our way past all the limousines, walked in, sat down, got our menus and ordered coffees. I sank into a bit of a funk, feeling sorry for myself, wondering if or when the tide would turn for me in NYC, if I would ever find an audience in the big city. As I sat there brooding, a door swung open in the back and two drag queens in full makeup, high heels, sparkly dresses and big, big hair strutted in, ordered coffee to go, and stood at the counter, talking loudly and laughing in that loud drag queen “look-at-me” tone. They got their coffee, loaded them with sugar and milk, and walked back through the swinging door, styrofoam cup in hand. All that was left of them when the doors swung shut was their perfume.

It was kooky, but no one except me even turned their head to look at them. Turns out the staff and customers were used to drag queens runway-walking through the restaurant, but I wasn’t, and I looked at my friends in amazement. They were New Yorkers, they did not react, and I was beginning to feel pretty small town, sitting there in that booth with my mouth open. I laughed and said, “C’mon guys, isn’t this a little surreal? Don’t you think this is just a little amazing?”

My friends smiled, nodded and said, “This place is great. We love it here—its always Drag Queens and Limousines.”

BINGO! The whole trip to NYC was worth it, just for that moment, hearing those words rang out loud and true to me as a song title. Getting humiliated for a single night in Manhattan was turning into a blessing. The next day I drove back home to Boston where I was living at the time, and started the song.

As I worked on it, “Drag Queens in Limousines” became an autobiographical story song about coming of age as a gay kid in the South. It’s more or less my story, but over the years it’s become an outsider’s anthem. The song speaks to the outsider in all of us, though when I wrote it I had no idea that people of all persuasions from all over the world would relate to feeling like an outsider. Often times when I am singing it I look out into the audience and I see folks who look a whole lot like insiders wholeheartedly relating to the outsider in this song, singing every word. I’ve learned that insiders feel like outsiders sometimes, and high school was hard for an awful lot of people, not just the gay kids.

Songs are amazing, and so often the songs I write become my teachers. When I am in Texas, I look out in the audience and I see heterosexual he-man cowboys singing along to this tune. In Scotland I’ve seen middle-aged lorry drivers pump their fists to this tune. In Norway, the Vikings love it. All over the world, over and over again, this song has shown me that I have no idea what’s going on inside a person’s heart, that judging people by how they look is a really bad idea. We all feel outside of something sometimes, and sooner or later we all have to make decisions that are scary, knowing someone we love is not going to see it our way. We all need a group to fit into, a tribe, and no one wants to be alone.

For me, I found acceptance as a young person among those who, like me, did not fit into socially acceptable roles. The artists, gays, rebels, geeks—these were the people with whom I found refuge. They took me in when my family tossed me out, and became my patchwork family early on.

I haven’t changed all that much. Today I am still drawn to the people who break rules, who dare to stand out in a crowd. The people who create something out of nothing, take risks and stand bravely outside the group because they have to, who do it their own way because they have integrity.

This song won me my very first music award—Best Country Song/Best Country Artist GLAMA Award, 1999. I think the Gay and Lesbian American Music Awards created the category in honor of my little homemade self-released Drag Queens In Limousines record, it was the first year for a Country Category at that particular award show. Today, 16 years later, the idea of a gay country artist is still out there. I mean, C’mon, in Nashville, it just ain’t done. But guess what? I came here in 2001, got a publishing deal in 2002, and a major label record deal in 2003. I also got to play the Grand Ole Opry on live television, then again 4 times at the Gaylord Opry House, the first openly gay artist to do so. No closet, no hiding, no apologizing, no kidding, no problem. Nashville, The Opry, Cowboys, Vikings, these are my friends. Isn’t life interesting?

Order a copy of Live at Blue Rock HERE.

P.S.: I made a Video for the It Gets Better Project, using Drag Queens In Limousines as a theme. Find out more about the It Gets Better Project.