Painting Stripes On A Leopard

“I had 20+ years of being a singer and songwriter, and then decided I couldn’t continue to paint stripes on a leopard and call it a zebra…” so began my interview with Alexander James Adams. Alex was formerly known as the “red hair firebrand warrior queen” Heather Alexander to legions of fans who called themselves Heather’s Heathens: the singer, songwriter and fiddler of the legendary band Phoenyx. In the years that followed the formation of the band, Heather released many solo and group albums.

The legendary CD. Heather is at the front row on the left.

One of Heather’s most powerful songs was called “Creature of the Wood” — a song that always sounded to me like a song in the very masculine voice of the Pagan God Pan. At one of Heather’s concerts that I attended, Heather silenced a roomful of the “Heathens”, who commonly sang along to her songs, with the words: “This song I sing alone, or I will not sing it at all”. The room fell silent until the end of the song, when everyone broke out into applause.

Heather also sang songs of magic and the Fae folk. In Heather’s song “The Changeling”, she always prefaced the song with a small story: “When a human baby is born, sometimes the Fae will take the baby away and raise it as their own, and in the baby’s place, the Fae would leave one of their own kind…”

From the CD Gypsy’s Home.

When Alex explains his story by describing the song Heather wrote many years ago, he said that the children who hear it instinctively understand. Perhaps the eyes of a child see things we adults don’t. So perhaps, all those years, Heather was the Fae Changeling, writing songs about the baby, Alex, that the Fae folk had taken…

Alexander James Adams

Prior to Alex’s transition, Heather recorded parts of duets where Alexander would later sing the other part. It was risky, because it was not certain that Alex’s voice would retain the singing voice in a lower register, but it did, and now Alexander is once again performing as a musician.

Heather’s sometimes prickly persona tended to invoke fearful respect and worship among her fans. Alexander, by contrast, is more down to earth, relaxed, approachable, and comfortable in his own skin. The Yin and the Yang — but I daresay that Heather was perhaps the more Yang of the two.

For the project “Hearts on Our Sleeves — portraits and stories of transgender people on 4x5 large format film. See the work in progress slide show here: