Trans Americana Veteran on the Hard Journey That Led to His New Album
By Mya Byrne, Staff Writer
A voice fresh and vital, but also indicative of the man who’s seen it all and lived to tell the tale. Cidny Bullens has one of the deepest resumes of anyone in rock and Americana. Millions know his voice from tours with Elton John, Bob Dylan, and more; seminal 1970s albums by artists like Rod Stewart and Gene Clark; and his own major-label projects. He’s appeared on American Bandstand and been nominated for two Grammys in a career that has spanned over 45 years. Moreover, he’s a songwriter’s songwriter, and, not least by a long shot, is one of the most high-profile folks to come out as trans in the last decade.
And on August 21, he releases Walkin’ Through This World, co-produced by the legendary Ray Kennedy. It’s a breathtaking and beautifully-crafted piece of Americana that is his first solo release as himself, and, as such, makes a powerful statement about living life on your own terms and the freedom that comes with it. For many of us in Americana and country, Cid’s re-emergence as himself is a beacon in a world largely devoid of mainstream trans voices. Our hope is for his album to be the first of many to represent the essence of trans artistry in our field, on this level. Forged by his transition and years of honing songwriting skills, this album is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time, and to hear a fellow trans person tell trans stories within the zeitgeist and sonic soundscape of modern Americana is deeply inspiring.
Cid is also a mensch who wears his heart on his sleeve and has a smile you can hear, with anecdotes for days. We spoke on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in the summertime, with him dodging mosquitoes in his Nashville yard and me holed up in my Berkeley home office. This is the kind of interview I would have loved to have done in person, but despite the miles between us, it was like we were in the same room. There is something magic that happens when two like-minded trans folks can just talk to each other.
MB: You’ve just released your first album as, well, you! Congrats. How does it feel?
CB: Thank you. It feels really good. I mean, I finished recording the album a year ago; then, I was in the middle of “Are we moving, are we not,” and everything else. I was kind of looking for a record deal–not a big record deal, but you know, something. And then the pandemic happened and we moved and suddenly it was summer, it was just like, “You know what, I have to do this. I have to put it out.” And it’s interesting because when I put out Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth, about the death of my daughter, which was 20 years ago–well, it’s very different, but the same in that I was baring my soul, and that in that way, it was about the grief over my daughter. And then this way, this album is all about me.
But the death of a child and being transgender are not necessarily the most accepted subjects in the world, or the most understood. So, one more time, it was like, “Holy crap. Here I go.” But I started transitioning eight years ago, so it’s not like I’m fresh out of the box. I’ve been living as Cid for eight years. Even though it hasn’t been in public. When I started doing my one-person show in 2016 [Somewhere Between: Not An Ordinary Life] was when I started being public. So doing my show was kind of the softening of coming out publicly. and so now it’s like, just, yeah, let’s get it out there.
MB: Let’s talk about your first single, “The Gender Line.” What were your thoughts behind that, and did you encounter any pushback on that decision? It makes a giant statement…it’s a bold move.
CB: For me, “The Gender Line” is not so much about me as it is about us, right? It’s about [trans] community, our presence in the world, you know, our issues, our, the fact that people misunderstand us and rightly so. I mean, how could you understand that’s your issue if you don’t understand? I have to give credit to my publicist Cary Baker, because he was the one who said, “You really have to put it out first,” because I wasn’t sure. I was a little nervous about it, but then when I really thought about it and we talked about it, I realized of course it had to come first. You know, the whole album is about my transition, but again, that song is about us. And it’s really about bringing some kind of direct attention to the subject of being transgender.
MB: The song itself seems ambiguous as to its intended audience —that is, it seems in many ways like a message to cis folks, who might need some guidance on transness, but it’s also provocative—since you fly into the second person a lot, saying “They won’t take you over the gender line”, and ending the song on “Are you a boy or a girl?”
CB: As you know, music is the great equalizer. It’s the way straight into the heart. It bypasses the brain when you hear it. My hope is that people will hear it, see the video by Scot Sax—which I think is brilliantly done—and just go, “Oh, it doesn’t have to be any more than that.” You know what I mean.
MB: I do. It seems to me both a reflection of things we as trans people both think and say to ourselves and get from the outside world, and also a direct challenge to non-trans listeners to perhaps ask themselves some deep questions. Was that your intent?
CB: I have a very hard time writing songs about specific subjects and I’m not a political writer. I’m not a subject matter writer. I’m a writer who writes about my life and, and things from my heart. And you know, what you see is what you get kind of stuff… nothing fancy. I tell my story in a few words or less.
MB: Relatedly, I like that you don’t use extensive metaphor, in a lot of the album. You’re very upfront about your experience in plain language.
CB: Well, that, that’s pretty much me as a songwriter. Everything’s on my sleeve. What I feel, what I think… it’s pretty much there. I write from my direct experience. That’s what I’m best at. I’ve learned a lot over the years about the craft of songwriting, but as individual songwriters, we put our own unique perspective on it. I’ve always been a fan of “Just put it out there.” You can use a nice metaphor once in a while and you can use a pretty little line here and there on a song or two, but basically, take it or leave it—that’s just my style.
MB: “The Gender Line” holds a lot, though, both through story and through metaphor. Where did that song come from?
CB: It’s interesting. There’s a short documentary about my life called The Gender Line.
MB: And that’s done pretty well at festivals.
CB: Right. It’s won some prizes and stuff like that. The title came from my one-person show, where my daughter says to me, just after I’d started going to the gender therapist, “Mom, here’s the gender line.” And she puts her hand up in front and she goes, “You’ve always been on just this side, the female side. Now you’re moving over to just this side, the other side of the gender line.” And that’s where that term comes from. The documentary came out of a feature film called Invisible, about gay women in Southern music. [Note: It was supposed to come out this year, but hasn’t because of the pandemic.] They filmed me for it, even though I’m a trans man, because I was a woman in Nashville writing songs back in the day. And then the director, T.J. Parsell, and the producer, Bill Brimm, had a whole section that they pulled out and it became that short documentary on my life, which they called The Gender Line. T.J. said to me, “You know, you have to write a song called ‘The Gender Line’.”
I rolled my eyes. I thought to myself, “No fucking way I’m going to write a song called ‘The Gender Line’”. You know, how am I going to do that? How do I write a song about being transgender without it sounding trite or like a hammer over the head? I couldn’t even imagine it, because like I said, I don’t write about subjects. I don’t write specific things or protest songs or controversial subjects. So then I had to drive home from Maine to New Mexico where I’d just moved with my wife. So I’m driving cross country. And I don’t know where; I was somewhere in the West. And suddenly, the first verse came out. And as I’m driving, and I’m sure you’ve done this a million times…
MB: Oh, yeah.
CB: I do a lot of writing while driving. I have a notebook or a napkin or pen or something that I can jot something down. So I started writing it and I thought, “Oh my God, I might actually be able to do this.” And so that was the first verse: “If you were me, what would you do? / You look in the mirror and you’re not really you.” And I thought, “Okay, I think I can do this.” And then the second verse…that’s when I started forming, “What is this song about? What is it, what are you saying? What are you pulling into it? What do you want to convey?” That’s when I really started thinking about it. I mean, I’m a trans man, but you’re a trans woman. We’re the same, but we’re not the same. We have issues that are similar. We have issues that are different. And so I wanted to, in one verse convey the experience—of course not the whole experience, but something about being a trans woman. But being a trans woman—I think it’s harder.
MB: It’s definitely a hard ride. And that second verse is really heavy, about the person assigned male who takes their own life because they couldn’t find a path out toward transition. It made me cry. I get chills thinking about it.
CB: It’s hard to write about somebody committing suicide. It’s not a fun subject, but it’s real. And if I was going to write this song, I needed to make it real. And so that’s the second verse; the secrets that we all carry, the monsters that are under our bed, that nobody knows that are there, that we do. There’s the dismissiveness [of people when we disclose our transness]. I don’t know about you, but I grew up knowing from the time I was four years old that I was in the wrong body. And I talk about it in my show. It wasn’t that I told every person I’d ever met in my life, but all the people close to me knew, and it was dismissed by a lot of people, you know?
MB: Yeah. It was similar for me. I was dismissed by many of those I chose to disclose to, and it kept me from transitioning for years.
CB: Well, that’s the other thing…it’s often dismissed by our gay brothers and sisters…When you’re dismissed all the way on the spectrum, except from your own kind, which I didn’t grow up with…I mean, I’m older than you, and in the fifties, sixties, seventies, there weren’t a heck of a lot of role models…
CB: In fact, none, except, I don’t know…in the fifties there was Christine Jorgensen. You probably don’t even know that name…
MB: I know all about Christine Jorgensen. [Both laugh.] I don’t think she gets enough credit for the work she did.
CB: No! And that was the only name that I ever knew. And then there was Renee Richards in the seventies. But that thing about “Are you a boy or are you a girl?” That’s the thing that, if you’re not like us, you don’t think about it.
MB: Right. And you don’t question what gender you are ever. And that’s what people who are cis don’t get—that this is a thing that we are thinking about. They literally don’t think about it. That is not part of their brain process.
CB: Exactly. And that’s why the question is in that song. So whether or not somebody asks someone the question, because it’s a question that needs to be asked? Great. But if somebody who’s cis says, “Well, I have never had to ask myself that question?” Yeah, that’s right! So imagine having to ask that question of yourself, who am I, what am I? And so I’m going to just say this–being creative people, being songwriters, we’re blessed because some of it comes from our brains and some of it just comes out. I mean, I don’t know where my talent comes from, or my gift comes from or anything. Sometimes I just think the universe gives me something in a very short form that just makes it clear. And with this song, that’s the point—to just make somebody go, “Oh!” And whether it’s one of us, or whether it’s a cis person, young or old, just, “Oh!” “Oh, I didn’t know that,” or, “Oh, wait, what would that be like?” Or, “Oh, maybe that’s me.” Does that make sense?
MB: It makes complete sense. And I’m really glad that you did it, especially in that manner, because it’s hard! Something I talk about a lot in my public speaking is building bridges to empathy. I mean, I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. . .
CB: God, no.
MB: . . .Yeah. I certainly want them to be supporting our art and signing us to record deals and for there to be equity for Black trans women and all of the things that we really want to see, which is why I’ve been writing this series of articles. But, at its base, “The Gender Line” is a pretty great Americana song. It’s powerful, accessible, and its strength as a song in and of itself— I think people will respond positively to that. I certainly hope they do. And it’s interesting, too, because there have been songs that have come out about gender that aren’t as blunt—certainly, I’ve put out some, as have Ryan Cassata, Joe Stevens, and others… So I think with the song, because it’s in this genre and it’s in this time and because of who you are and because of those who have supported you through your transition, I think that it’s going to make a great statement. And hopefully a lot of people will have a wonderful, positive response to it. So all that said, tell me a little about the production process and the record.
CB: Ray Kennedy, my co-producer, is a brilliant sound magician! This is our third full album together and he just keeps getting better. He just produced three of my recent fave new albums—the latest for Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell. Speaking of Rodney Crowell, that’s him singing on “The Gender Line” with me. This single and the whole album I think, is my best collection of songs since Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth, which I wrote and recorded in the first two years after the death of my 11-year-old-daughter, Jessie. Walkin’ Through This World is themed, like that one, about a specific but cell-changing part of my life. The songs are an extension of my soul.
MB: I’ve read a bit about your own coming out to yourself, and how in some ways these songs emerged out of the in-between feeling surrounding that grief. My own transition was similarly forged in a time of grief. You have my empathy. Without getting too uncomfortable, I’d like to ask you how that process informed this record.
CB: Once you go through a profound loss—for me, it was my child—it changes you on a cellular level. And without going into the process of grief and the years afterwards that I barely could take a breath, and the horror, which lasts for a long, long time, what happened for me was this sense that I wasn’t going to put up with any shit ever again in my life—that doesn’t mean the daily stuff that we go through and the stuff of life. It means the profound fear, or trepidation, or lack of will or whatever impacted my life before Jessie’s death.
In the long term, that allowed me to be all of who I am, to find places in me that I would never, ever have uncovered, have touched, have brought out, have experienced. Not that I don’t have issues that I still have to deal with for the rest of my life, but the very last deep, profound area that I had never addressed was my gender. So nine years ago this month was when the “Aha!” moment came—and it wasn’t “Aha, I’m trans,” it was, “Aha!…Oh shit, I’m going to have to do something if I’m going to address this.” It was kind of sparked by a young friend of mine. I hadn’t seen him in two years when he called me, and told me that he had transitioned and was living as a man. When I got off the phone with him, I fell on the floor and started sobbing, grieving the fact that I had never lived as my true self. I was beside myself.
I called my daughter, Reid. I picked her up at her house, which was across the street. I took her in the car and I sobbed. And she said, “Mom, you have to do something about it. You have to do something about this.” And then two months later, I had my first shot of testosterone. It all happened very quickly. But that’s the freedom of losing a child. When you go through a profound grief, it’s like, “What the fuck else do I have to be afraid of? I have lost a child.” When I told my youngest sister that I was thinking of transitioning, she said, “You might lose half of your friends.” So I said, “Okay, I’ll lose half my friends!”
There were all these comments coming back to me when I was telling people that I was thinking of [transitioning]—but, of course I already knew I was going to do it. Someone said, “You’re very much cooler as Cindy, as your androgynous self; why would you change that?” But the answer was: If I lose everybody in my life, if I lose my family, I’ve already been through the worst that can happen. Nothing can be like watching my child take her last breath—nothing.
So that’s the gift of grief in loss—and I don’t wish that kind of profound grief, whether it’s losing anybody in your life, on anyone—But if you can bear it, then there is a—I mean, Jessie gave me my life. She gave me the life that I have today. There is no question about it. I wouldn’t be Cid, first of all; I wouldn’t have met my wife. I wouldn’t have written Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth, which I do think is my legacy. But I would trade it to have a 35-year-old redheaded spitfire daughter; God knows what she’d be doing. I’d trade it all to see her again, but she’s not coming back. She’s in another form. And man, she is still very present in my life.
MB: And I’m getting goosebumps, friend. I appreciate you going deep for that one. I knew it was going to be a hard question to ask and to answer, so thank you.
[There’s a pause while we sit with this.]
MB: So let’s go back to the production of the record. Ray Kennedy is one of my true musical heroes in terms of production. And I just have to ask you about the day-to-day process of making this record, once you had all the songs together.
CB: Ray is brilliant. He’s one of my dearest friends on earth. We’ve known each other for over 20 years. This is our third full album together; we’ve done other things too, but we’re just best friends and I love him to death. He’s just a genius. And I don’t throw that word around at all. Talk about somebody who has brilliance, but also has a soul and a heart as pure as anybody I’ve ever met. So he has a heart, he has perfect ears, and he knows the technical side of things. So that combination—to have somebody who’s a technical genius, but who also listens with his heart and his soul and knows what’s going to work—it’s just like how you and I know how to write songs, even though we don’t know why we know how to write songs, you know what I mean?
MB: Ha! Yes!
CB: Like that, he knows what makes a good record. He knows what makes a good song. He knows how a voice should be heard through which microphone. And if he never did another album as long as he lived, I’d still adore him as a human being. But he also happens to be my friend and I happened to get him to make my records. He and I are the same age, and you know, we’re not spring chickens, but I think he gets better all the time. And I think that’s what artists do. And let me just say that about Ray, too. He’s an artist. First of all, he started out as a songwriter and a singer, as an artist himself. And he’s a damn good artist, but he’s an artist with technical ability. He’s the whole ball of wax and I adore him. I just love him. And I tell him I love him all the time. We have such affection for each other. He just called me before you did. He calls me pretty much every day now.
MB: It feels like there’s a lot of love in those tracks. Did you record live with the band and then do overdubs?
CB: We did it all with the band live and a couple of my vocals were live, too. As much as could be done live, we did live. And then we did overdubs, whether it was the synth string sound on “Walkin’ Through this World“, which I overdubbed, or whether it was the lead guitar parts on “Purgatory Road”, which Ray did, and “Lucky for Me”, which was Stanton Edwards. George Marinelli did all the other guitars. But yes, all the tracks are live drums, live bass, live guitar, live keys. I played acoustic where there’s acoustic and sang at the same time, and then I overdubbed my electrics and stuff like that. We overdubbed background vocals, and most of my lead vocals, but some of them are live. Ray will do everything live if he can. And we all had the same headphone mix; he’s not precious in terms of that. He wants everybody to sound like a band. He wants everybody to hear what everybody else hears so that they’re not just hearing only themselves; the feel has got to be there. Ray is all about feel.
MB: Sonically, for me. this is one of the best-sounding records that I’ve heard since first hearing my two benchmarks for excellent recordings: Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft, and Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road…
CB: …Which Ray produced!
MB: Yeah! That album was what first turned me on to Ray’s work! So, for me, when I listened deeply to the record, I was really blown away sonically by what was going on, but also the vibe throughout. And what really got to me was that you’ve been part of what we now call Americana since that phrase started getting kicked around. So the fact that you’re trans and representing yourself as such—while also putting out an excellent-sounding record that is cohesive the entire way through? It’s just mind-blowing to me that I get to listen to that.
CB: That’s great. And I agree with you…I think it’s an incredible-sounding record and the musicians are just unbelievable.
MB: What was the highlight for you?
CB: I don’t know if I could pick out a moment. One of the highlights was doing the background vocals, the “do-doo-doo”s for the title track, where I had all of those people— Beth Nielsen Chapman, Mary Gauthier, Bill Lloyd, Jess Leary, Michael Kelsh, Siobhan Kennedy—six people singing. I wasn’t even living here and I called them like three hours ahead and everybody showed up. That was a great feeling and moment, but there were so many moments where I just went, “Oh my God,” like recording “Lucky for Me,” getting that feel, which is what I wanted with that song. And I just said to the guys, “I want that rub. I want the shuffle against the second beat, you know, I want that thing.” And they were all like, “Yep. We know what that is!”
MB: I was going to ask you about that song! Because as soon as I heard it, I was like, “Oh my God, it sounds like ‘Almost Grown’,” you know? It’s so Chuck Berry, in such a great way. And it’s fantastic.
CB: These musicians are just fantastic. When we listened to it up in the control room, I was like, “Oh my God, this is like my wet dream of a rock ‘n’ roll song.” There were so many moments. George Marinelli has played with me on every album since Somewhere, so 20 years, and I’ve known him for almost 40. The other guys, Steve Mackey and Lynn Williams on bass and drums, I had not met before, but they work with Ray and they’ve of course since become friends. And they’re just amazing. And Mark T. Jordan on keyboards, I’ve also known him for 45 years, you know, and he played a little bit on Somewhere. But I met him when he was playing with Bonnie Raitt 45 years ago, in LA.
MB: What has it been like living in Nashville? I know you’ve been there a lot over the years, but the queer scene has certainly changed, even more so since you came out.
CB: So I lived in Nashville twice before, once in 2001-2002. Then once again, in 2004 til 2006, and I just moved back here two months ago.
MB: Oh, wow. I didn’t realize!
CB: Yeah, but I’ve been coming for all that time. I mean, there was a period from 2012 to 2016 when I wasn’t here at all. And that was the beginning of my transition. And I came down once when I had changed my name and I had [top] surgery, but I didn’t yet look like Cid. I went to the 2012 Americana Music Conference, and it was extremely uncomfortable for me publicly at that time, being in between Cindy and Cid.
MB: I read about that. That sounds like it was an awful experience.
CB: So that’s when I left Nashville, and didn’t come back for four years, until I did my one-person show. But I love Nashville. I’ve always loved Nashville. I always felt accepted here on any level. When I first came here in 1990 to write, having kind of had my little rock-and-roll career in LA and New York, and had nowhere else to go, because nobody cared anymore in the rock-and-roll business. You know, I was in my thirties and who cared? Back then, remember, when you turned 30, 35, you were no longer viable. But I came to Nashville and was accepted immediately.
MB: There’s so much love for the songwriter.
CB: Exactly. And people started bringing me around; I met Bill Lloyd and Radney Foster, I met Emmylou Harris…They all started just taking me around and introducing me to other people. And I would write and write. I just kept coming back; I commuted for 6 years. Then Jessie died in ’96 and I stopped coming for a little while. But anytime I came back, I was accepted here. And this is no different— so far. Even though I only moved here two months ago, I’ve really spent more of the last two years more here than in New Mexico or Maine. Nashville really calls to me—it’s where the creative energy is. And yes—it’s in the South. Yes, there are issues with lots of stuff, but I’m a songwriter. And I get fed here by the people, even in the pandemic, even when we can’t see each other! You know, it’s like, “We’re still here.” I’ve talked to people every day and I just feel the energy. With my transition? There isn’t one friend who hasn’t embraced me.
MB: That is fantastic! And a perfect segue. So, before I came out, I reached out to you and you were so kind in reaching back with your support. It’s a gift that I have tried to pay forward, and one which has helped me through. Who were and are your personal advocates in the music world?
CB: In the music world? I have to say Elton John is one of my advocates.
MB: I’ve heard of him…
CB: Ha! Well, I don’t say that to namedrop. He really is one of my dear friends still after all this time; you know, I was just the background singer with him, but we had a connection back then and we still have a connection. We still communicate, and he heard my album before anybody else. He’s seen the video [for “The Gender Line”]. He just told me he was going to feature it on his YouTube channel, on his show. He’s been such an advocate of my music, but also of me personally. And if I ask him a question—like, “What do you think of this?” he’s always there for me. And it’s my relationship with him. It has nothing to do with the public. We’re just friends, but I deeply respect him. Who else has the kind of experience he has who’s still alive; maybe Bob Dylan or Paul McCartney? So his advocacy for me has been an anchor, and I love him for it.
Bonnie Raitt and I are also good friends, and she’s been a wonderful ally. I haven’t seen her in, well, probably a year or two years; we’re not even in touch as much as Elton and I are! But we are in touch. And she’s just one of those folks I’ve known for 45 years. She knows my family; if I go see her play, she always has me on stage. But we have a personal relationship too. She’s always been there for me. And of course Ray, and Emmylou Harris has always been an ally. After Jessie died, Emmylou took me on the road with her. There have been people—musicians, songwriters, artists —that people do know, and artists that people don’t know, musicians that people don’t know, people in the music business who are not musicians and artists who have been there for me, I’ve been really lucky that I have had people who have stood by me.
MB: All right. I’m going to fangirl here for a second. If you don’t mind and if you remember, what was it like making No Other, with Gene Clark? He remains such an elusive figure, but has had so much influence on Americana. [For our readers who aren’t familiar, Clark was the legendary co-founder of the Byrds, No Other is retrospectively considered his solo masterpiece.]
CB: That was one of the most incredible experiences in my early career. And it was very early. It was before I did anything. 1974. Before Elton, before any of that. And [Gene] was, first of all, the sweetest man. We weren’t friends, but I got to spend a lot of time with him because I sang a bunch of those songs, and we ran in the same circles. Of course, in those days, you just hung out in the studio when you weren’t working. But just look at the players. I mean, jeez, Timothy Schmidt, Leland Sklar, Claudia Lennear… There were so many people who I got to meet and work with, and it’s an incredible album, even today. I was interviewed for it last year [the album was re-released on 4AD in November 2019], and so I listened to it for the first time in many years, and my God, it’s just great! I’d done background vocals before, I was doing hit-or-miss background vocals with people out in LA, And I worked a lot with Bob Crewe, which was the real pop stuff and all that, but singing on Gene’s album, I remember feeling, maybe for the first time, “This is what I want. This is what I want to do…This music is beyond anything I’ve ever done or could think about doing.” And maybe I’m saying this for the first time too: I recognized my own genre, where I felt comfortable, where I felt like doing it. Obviously I’d listened to Poco, and The Byrds, and all the music that became the seeds for Americana. But doing it—actually participating in making the sound of that album —that was just an incredible experience.
MB: That’s so great. When I found out that you were on that album, I was like, “Wow!” It seemed like it would be a really influential moment. Though people have often dismissed Clark outside of The Byrds—which I think is a great shame—many people have rediscovered him. Well, I hesitate to say “rediscovered”, because he never really went away.
CB: He was a very deep person and sweet. And very elusive. I think that’s a good word. I felt privileged then, and I feel privileged now to have been part of that.
MB: Back to your record! “Crack the Sky” just floored me when I heard it. You definitely sound like you’re wrestling with God.
CB: Well, yes, I’m always wrestling with a power greater than myself. You can probably hear that on “Call Me by My Name” as well. I have a song on Somewhere that’s called “Boxing with God.” And it’s probably my most requested song, because I think it’s universal—even though it’s about the death of my daughter—but yeah, “Crack the Sky” is one of those songs that kind of just came, and it’s new, too. “Little Pieces”, “Laugh in the Rain”, and “Purgatory Road” were written in the beginning of my transition, but the rest of the songs were written right before I recorded. “Crack the Sky” was one of those songs where I asked, “How do you do this?” And you know, I think for us to do everything we’ve done—and I’m talking to you personally now—you have to crack open what you think is the roof, what you think is the limit, and you have to trust that there’s something beyond it, you know? And it’s not always evident.
MB: On that note, “Call Me By My Name” —a thing so many trans people wish other folks would do. You turned it into an accessible concept, and one hell of a song.
CB: I knew I wanted to write a song called “Call Me By My Name” because of the obvious, and it really started with relatives who could not call me Cid for years. Finally, I said, “Call me by my name.” And so, yeah, it’s a plea for all of those people to get with it and call us by our names! But it came out to be a kind of light-hearted song, even though it talks about being through the wringer, and do I have to go through another one, and where the hell’s the grace in all this?
CB: I mean, my daughter laughed out loud when I played it to her and it got to the line, “What am I supposed to call you, Ma? / I said, call me by my name.” And I thought that was the greatest compliment I could get, the greatest kind of recognition. Now, here’s the thing: My daughter said [when I transitioned], “What do I call you?” But it wasn’t Cid: It was “Mom”! I don’t want her to call me anything but Mom; that’s my name to my daughter. So that’s the twist!
MB: “Sugartown” is such a great love song. I found myself singing along to it before I finished my first listen. And honestly, I was having a really crap day when I listened to it. And that first verse —“I got a problem with my thinking / My head wants to take me down / When my motivation’s shrinking / I know I gotta turn it around” — it just lifted me right up out of my depression. I was like, “Oh, wow, that’s damn powerful.” Talk to me about that song, if you don’t mind.
CB: Well, it’s about my wife. But you know, I’ve been in recovery for decades. I’ve got 43 1/2 years of sobriety.
CB: Yeah! And it saved my ass, or obviously I wouldn’t be here. And so that first line, “I got a problem with my thinking / my head wants to take me down” — it’s where I still go. But I learned that that’s my issue that can be dealt with. And so that’s just where that comes from. But my wife? That’s a whole other story. That’s a whole other interview, how we got together. She’s the director of my show, she’s the one that helped me form my one-person show. And she’s now my wife. I love that song. I love to sing it. You know the feeling, when you love a song and you feel it every time you sing it? She just lifts me up. I swore I’d never get married again. I was married to my husband for 20 years, and single for 10. And thought, there’s no fucking way, especially now that I’m an old trans man—who the hell is going to want me, you know? But she came after me and wouldn’t let me go. She’s just an incredible person. And when I get down, because I’m an artist—I mean, what can I say, I get into the dumps and depressed and you know, all that stuff. And again, she just lifts me up. I mean, I really don’t have a lot of words even as a writer! And that song just came out of that. I actually wrote that on November 13th, 2018, my 42nd recovery anniversary.
MB: Cid, what are your hopes for this album and for trans people, especially in Americana?
CB: Well, for the album, I really would love it to be of service. You know what I mean by that, since you’re also in recovery, but just like we were talking about earlier, I hope that, because of the music, it transcends the subject matter into people’s hearts and into their ears so that they can then come back around and say, “Oh, it’s about that.” However and whatever it takes, if the music brings it to an audience that isn’t trans, and helps that audience think about it a little bit differently—or a lot differently—that’s fantastic. And if it helps, obviously I would love it to resonate with other trans folks so that they can just know that they’re not alone. I mean, that sounds trite, but it’s true.
As far as the Americana world goes, if it can help to broaden the road for us? Fantastic. But I don’t think too much about what it will do for the genre. I just do what I do, and it happens to go out into the genre. I really did this more as my experience in transition, and yes, I’m hoping that it will speak to the trans community, but also the greater community to help them understand it more, or at least be more aware that it is a real thing. So, um, I don’t know if that answers your question…
MB: I think it’s a pretty damn good answer.
CB: Okay, good. Because I don’t always know, you know! We have to live in this real world. Do I have to make a living? Yeah, I do. Do I want to make music? Yes, I do. That’s how I’m of service, mostly. So that’s my wish for the record: that it’s just out there and it can serve, in some capacity.
Walkin’ Through This World is available now on all major streaming services and on Cidny’s website.
[Author’s note: It is generally best practice to refer to trans and nonbinary people past and present with their affirmed name and pronouns, but some folks, including Cid, use their previous name when referring to their earlier lives. Country Queer encourages anyone writing about trans people and their lives to follow the GLAAD media guide (https://www.glaad.org/reference/covering-trans-community), and also to honor their subjects’ personal preferences. If conversation is not possible, don’t make assumptions about how to use pronouns—always default to the pronoun the person uses now.]