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Righteous Mothers just roll on with the changes

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They're a band of mothers, voices raised together in sometimes poignant, sometimes piercing social comment, in tender tributes and naughty humor for 25 years this month.

Among them, Seattle's Righteous Mothers have raised (and are raising) seven children, the awareness of more than one wary audience from Canada to Texas and each other's spirits as their melodies, attitudes and, yes, their bodies have matured.

Their silver anniversary concert Saturday night at The Triple Door won't draw the notice of a Rolling Stones tour. But then, the Stones haven't simultaneously worked second and third jobs and Mick never had to agree to help pay Keith's child care.

Although the Mothers have lasted nearly three times longer than TV's "Friends," the deep and enduring off-stage friendship and on-stage collaboration won't get the attention of a nine-year sitcom cast.

But, just as a University of Arizona-Duke University study tells us that the average American has only two close friends -- one of them probably a spouse -- it's worth a raised glass of news ink to ask, how the heck have they done it, and why?

When they met in college or just after, Lisa Brodoff, Marla Beth Elliott, Clare Meeker and Wendy Crocker just longed to make music with kindred souls and blow some steam off. (In the early years there was also Molly Staley, whose social work took her to Guatemala and other destinations too far from which to commute. So she left, ever after to be known as the equivalent of the Beatles' first drummer, Pete Best.)

The other mothers are not only still with the group, they are also with their original personal partners as well. And, with dispersed careers in education and law and literature, with husbands or partners to consider and kids' chicken pox and graduations to tend to, scheduling alone has not been simple.

"Don't Bury Me With My Filofax," a song from one of their CDs, sprung from one bleary-eyed night after a far-flung concert when, thumbing their calendars, they realized that the only rehearsal date they could all agree on was the Saturday just passed.

Crocker remembers driving 200 miles from a family vacation in Bend, Ore., to a gig in Olympia, then driving 200 miles back. Everyone, including the women's family members, has gone "the extra mile" for the group.

But the reason that no one has given up or walked out is a testament not only to friendship and commitment but also to the importance of allowing yourself a collaborative creative outlet, even if you're somebody's mother.

"The satisfaction is worth the extra stretch," said Crocker, by day a Shorewood High School biology teacher and the mom of a high school senior and a 7-year-old.

Their children -- all born after they began the group -- have always accepted that this is something Mom does and that, if she can squeeze it in among all the other things pulling on her time, it must be important.

"I think I'm showing them (the kids) it's good to find ways to create something with other people," Crocker said. "That there's renewal in collaboration, in letting your hair down and coming out again renewed. I don't have this outlet in the other parts of my life, and I would be missing something huge if it ended. In fact, we can't figure out how to end it, so we just keep going."

"To be a good mother you need to be creating something for yourself," Elliott added.

All four singer-songwriters have performed "close on the heels" of the deaths of their fathers, according to Crocker. "And it's been very healing to come together with rock-solid bosom buddy friends at that time."

It works the way a good marriage of long duration does, Elliott said. "We know each other's dynamics really, really well."

They're attuned to the tone of voice or small gesture that tells them, "Oh, oh, I know what's coming next." And they stop to take inventory. Do they want to do that tour just now? Book that gig at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas or stick closer to home?

In all the years and all the venues since they went from singing "covers" of other people's songs to writing their own, The Righteous Mothers have never had that Blues Brothers moment when an audience turns on them and starts hurling beer bottles.

They once had the experience of sharing a changing tent with Tuvan throat singers.

They were invited once, but never back, to the Lacey Fun Fair at St. Martin's College (now University) where their repertoire included "We'd Love to Get Kinky With You."

There was one awful pro-labor benefit during the NFL players strike when burly Seahawks and their fans sat uncomprehendingly through a set while a band on the other side of a partition bleated "The Bunny Hop."

And the occasional listener has walked out. Maybe it was something about the song, "Lesbian Honeymoon Holiday"?

When they started, the Reagan era was in full swing. And some of the early topics -- like war -- have "looped back," Crocker said, to be taken up all over again.

As their voices have matured and mellowed, so have some of their messages. "Young people tend to be more absolutist," Elliott said. "We're still idealistic, but older idealism is rooted in the complexities of life experience, although I think we've actually gotten funnier with time."

The songs on their CD, "The Best of ... the First 25 Years," are resonant and vibrant. It includes the stirring "Arise" based on the words of Mother's Day advocate Julia Ward Howe, which they performed at the recent Town Hall appearance of peace activist Cindy Sheehan. But it also contains "Old Fat Women for Peace" ("Knock it off or we'll take it off, we're old fat naked women for justice, old fat naked women for peace," it says. "Even Dick Cheney doesn't want to see his granny's 'T.T.'s' in the breeze.")

Some audiences are filled with faces of old friends who've come to hear the Mothers time and again. Others bring newcomers, like a recent Texas audience Elliott describes this way: "My sense was that the women were thrilled to hear authentic feminist voices and the men were bending over backward to tell us they weren't sexist."

Through it all, they've managed to keep on recording, covering expenses and child care and actual paychecks. It's nothing the Stones would write home about, but it's a rich life nevertheless.

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