Indigo Girls Documentary Empowers With Personal Stories Of Queer Acceptance In The Music Business

The Indigo Girls
(Image credit: Multitude Films)

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Indigo Girls, singer-songwriters Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, weren’t enormously popular and universally adored folk rock musicians dominating the scene with their unique raspy but melodic voices, self-proclaimed “pretentious” poetry for lyrics, and unforgettable hooks written for acoustic guitars. But the way that the Indigo Girls remember it in the refreshingly honest, sentimental and thorough documentary It’s Only Life After All – which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival – the road to success was paved with countless obstacles thanks to their chosen genre and, sadly, their openness towards their sexual orientations.

Director Alexandria Bombach had access to a wealth of archival footage when assembling this documentary, thanks in part to Amy Ray capturing almost every phase of the Indigo Girls’ lengthy career on VHS tapes and cassettes. (Ask your parents what those things are, kids.) Like most musician-driven documentaries, we go all the way back to the early days. For Ray and Saliers, this goes back to elementary school, where their passion for music, guitar, and songwriting drew them into each other’s orbits. 

Only, It’s Only Life After All isn’t content to simply recycle the hits and document how songs such as “Galileo,” “Hammer and Nail,” “Land of Canaan” or “Closer to Fine” became concert staples. Bombach embraces the band’s activism, which has been a crucial component of their art since Day One. Both Ray and Saliers are queer, and they are candid in their interviews for this documentary about how their own struggles with acceptance at the personal and professional level have guided their songwriting. It’s heartbreaking hearing Ray admit that the emotionally raw song “Blood and Fire” from the duo’s 1987 album Strange Fire still brings her pain because of the headspace she happened to be in when she wrote it. But it’s empowering, at the same time, to see how the band’s identities as proud queer artists only helped inspire more stories of fans coming out to their family members, and mile-marking emotional moments in their own lives to the music of the Indigo Girls.

Still, just listen to this incredible live version of “Blood and Fire,” because Amy Ray’s beautiful interpretation of the song only lends it more emotional weight after seeing It’s Only Life After All:

From a musical perspective, It’s Only Life After All satisfies fans of the band who want to hear incredible live performances from early television appearances, local Georgia dive bars, and international stages in front of thousands of fans. The Georgia explosion that introduced R.E.M., The B-52s and Indigo Girls was a moment captured in time, and Ray’s footage properly documents the breaks that have to occur for a band – any band – to break into the mainstream. We see plenty of cringey moments where rock journalists (and even Bryant Gumbel) openly doubt the Indigo Girls’ ability to succeed. The fact that they shattered so many barriers on their way to the top only makes their difficult journey that much more rewarding. 

Fans who sit for interviews conducted by Alexandria Bombach confess, “The Indigo Girls saved my life.” And both Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are confronted with that huge statement. But with their reaction, and the events captured in this inspirational documentary, we understand completely how and why that can be a truthful, beautiful reality. 

More from our Voices section:

The Last Of Us broke ground for queer characters in video games.

Marvel has younger and more diverse heroes on the way.

We recommend 14 great LGBTQ+ rom-coms, and how to watch them.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.