This July 23rd, Eric Alva, the gay marine veteran and first soldier wounded in the Iraq War, joined his fellow gay and lesbian service members on Capitol Hill to testify in the first congressional hearings held in 15 years on the US military’s discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.
On an evening days earlier, and mere blocks away -- at Solly’s U Street Tavern in Washington D.C.’s Columbia Heights -- the striking gay, tattooed pop-rocker Eric Himan introduces possibly the only current song written about the issue. He presents his “Protest Song” to a mixed audience of about 50 gays and bohemian looking straights.
“I wrote this song because these were things I didn’t really hear other artists talking about: family values, gays in the military…” Himan says. He squares his broad shoulders, tilts his marine style crewcut to profile, and rips into “Protest Song”, an aggressive up-tempo rocker rich with the dark blues of Southern Mississippi and the Louisiana bayou.
General, I’m quite capable, my strength is my proofAre you afraid I’ll try to sleep with every soldier in my troop?Are you afraid I’ll be the hero that you are looking for?And you’d have to thank my faggot ass for winning you your fucking war.
His acoustic guitar sounds as big as an orchestra, and his voice rattles the small upstairs rock club while the Solly’s crowd explodes in cheers.
The song means a lot to soldiers like Lane Miller, a gay man in active duty with the US Air Force for 12 years who found Himan’s music through “Protest Song.” Miller says during his first deployment at age 19—in Turkey supporting the then U.S. military operation in Iraq, Desert Storm—he was frightened of a lot of things; but what frightened him most “was watching them kick people out for being gay.”
Although Himan has never been in the military himself, Miller says that with “Protest Song”, it’s “almost like he sat down with a service member and lived part of it. He has that raw emotion of it too… It’s perfect.”
A few hours before the D.C. show, Himan sits down with me in noisy Cosi sandwich shop just off DC’s Dupont Circle. He has a national tour this fall to promote his new album Resonate, and after seven years of pounding the proverbial ‘road’ and building a devoted following, this might be the tour that propels the indie singer-songwriter and his folk-inspired pop-rock to a new level of mainstream visibility.
On stage, the 29-year-old sports an impressive build, one which he has no qualms about working. He wears a form fitting t-shirt and jeans that could have been bought from the nearest Goodwill bin. Meeting him up close though, he’s surprisingly small. But with his heavy ink and full features, he is still arresting.