In 2004, I heard a voice and a question that I would never forget.
That voice was Antony Hegarty's, performing "I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy." He asked, "Are you a boy or a girl?"
Here, gender didn't matter. The story, the truth and the voice mattered.
There were bits of Nina Simone and Jimmy Scott, Klaus Nomi and Lou Reed. The voice was glorious, otherworldly and spoke to me like very few voices ever have.
The more I learned about Antony, and the more I listened to his work, the more I fell in love. Here was someone who was unafraid to open himself in song, writing heartbreaking songs mingled with uplifting, almost spiritual tunes about love, rebirth and gender. Antony has spoken publicly about living outside of gender norms, in his dress, his performances, his songs and more. Who else could sing a song titled "For Today I Am a Boy," with lyrics such as "One day I will grow up and be a beautiful woman. One day I'll grow up and feel the power within me." Even the name of his band, "The Johnsons," is a reference to performer Marsha P Johnson. Antony challenges his audience to listen with intent and openness, often performing entire portions of his show in next to complete darkness, the light slowly but surely creeping in as the show goes on.
Hegarty is an accidental champion of sorts, speaking out on everything from environmentalism to finding beauty in the fringes. He has collaborated with everyone from Lou Reed, Björk, CocoRosie, Hercules & Love Affair, Boy George and Rufus Wainwright and has been a proponent and friend of mathematician/performance artist Julia Yasuda. He has even covered Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love," creating what is perhaps the most meta covers of all time.
Last weekend, Antony performed a show in New York at Radio City Music Hall entitled Swanlights. The performance was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art and was touted as “a meditation on light, nature and femininity.” A friend had the opportunity to see the show and described it as a "magical" experience. I would expect nothing less.
Hegarty is an artist for the 21st century, an antidote to the pap of pop, and is asking us to do something very few of us do anymore when it comes to music: to listen to each other intently.