The CultureMap Interview
She's strong, she's invincible, she's woman and she's back roaring her way through a concert tour that includes a stop in Houston. Helen Reddy, the Australian-American pop sensation that rose to stardom in the early 1970s, has come out of retirement to perform again after 10 years of private life.
Reddy is mostly known for her 1972 anthem "I Am Woman," a song that the United Nations adopted as a theme for the Year of the Woman in 1975. Her classy, easy listening vocals in "Delta Dawn," "Angie Baby" and "Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady" are part of a string of a dozen Top 40 hits that earned her a spot on The Strip in Las Vegas. Celebs such as Joan Rivers and Barry Manilow were her opening acts.
Why, at age 72, would this dame decide to go on the road again?
Ahead of her appearance at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 23, CultureMap chatted on the phone with Reddy from her house in California to learn about her recent past and future plans.
CultureMap: You've been in retirement for more than a decade. I know that's a long, long time. What were the highlights of this time off?
Helen Reddy: How long would it take me to tell you that? It was a long time.
I just took a long holiday. There were health issues, there were family issues, but it was time to stop singing "Leave Me Alone" and get on with life.
CM: Why come back now?
HR: I was bored. I have a lot of other interests. I love doing research, I enjoy history. I took some time off and really enjoyed what I was doing. But it came down to this, and you may think this is weird.
"I think we're at the end of women saying, 'I don't have to be a feminist because my husband lets me do whatever I want, I only have to ask him.' "
It was my sister's 80th birthday, actually, and she asked me if I would sing a duet with her. One does not turn down one's older sister, true? We sang "Breezin' Along With the Breeze" together. When I heard my voice through the speakers — and I hadn't heard my voice in 10 or so years — I thought, hey that's not bad. So I decided to sing again.
CM: Arguably your biggest hit, "I Am Woman" was adopted as a theme song for the feminist movement. Do you call yourself a feminist?
HR: Absolutely yes, I am a feminist. No question.
CM: How do you define being a feminist?
HR: It means that you honor yourself and your sisters. For too long we weren't reaching out to each other. For too long we were stuck in our own little holes and missed out on a lot. A great deal has happened in the last 25 years — maybe more — and I think we're at the end of women saying, "I don't have to be a feminist because my husband lets me do whatever I want, I only have to ask him."
You know what I am saying, right?
CM: I sure do. Has the meaning of feminism changed from the '70s through today?
HR: I think it's something personal to every woman. You know we don't agree on everything, of course. But then, who does?
When I was in school, we had a vocational choices. We had something like five — school teacher and librarian, that sort of thing. There was never any expectations of going beyond that. It would be nice to have some sort of a skill, sure, but then you are going to get married and have children — and that would be the end of your life.
I found that kind of strange because I come from a show biz family. My mother was on the boards (on stage at the theater) when she was five. So was I. It's a different life.
CM: What's interesting is that in your teens, you rebelled against your family. In an interview, you said that all you wanted to do was to get married, have a family and be a wife.
HR: We all rebelled during our teenage years, didn't we? Being a wife was what all the women's magazines were telling me. I religiously read them so I knew what I should be doing. It's a different world now.
CM: Your greatest hits as we know them: Are they your favorite songs? What will you be singing on this concert tour?
HR: All the songs are meaningful to me or else I wouldn't be singing them. But I am not doing all the greatest hits individually, although we've put them in a medley.
Basically I am focusing more on beautiful ballads. Because I was always seen as a pop artist, there are so many beautiful songs that I've been longing to sing — songs that I've recorded, but have never had any airplay. The only way I can get them heard is to sing them in person.