Lori Dokken, seasoned performer and educator, sits opposite me looking nothing short of a 70’s rock and roll star. Dressed in a faded denim, loose fitted shirt and matching blue oval glasses perched high on her nose, Dokken’s personality and aura fills the huge empty auditorium space that only seconds before her arrival dripped with an air of solitude. “I hate being late,” she apologises profusely; her nervous energy comforting my own anxiety and insecurities about interviewing someone I admire so much. We settle into an awkward rhythm of her apologising and me thanking her for her time until we exhaust all pleasantries and resolve comfortably into conversing about her early family life and growing up in Texas.
Brought up in a Scandinavian, Lutheran family Dokken was the youngest of five, with parents that where closer to the age of grandparents. She reminisces on the lack of punishment she received as a child, her first piano performance at the mere age of three and a half at her family’s church and how her household, while not financially rich, were so rich in many other ways. Dokken draws me in with a beautiful, genuine description of her father “When my father died he had five dollars in his back pocket, not because of his lack of wealth but because he would give everything he had to others that were in need.”
I can see her settle into her chair more comfortably as the thought of family is visibly relaxing that infectious high energy persona of hers, the hands that were dancing across the table outlining every point she was trying to communicate fall into her lap and she moves the conversation onto her college life. I’m comforted when Dokken informs me she attended three different colleges, didn’t graduate and left with the desire to live life. She rolls off a lifetime of jobs she did within this time from selling swimming pools in Texas to bartending in Chicago. I’m reminded of my own life experiences, interchanging colleges, taking time off from study to work and live and how inspiring it feels to have her follow similar paths in her life and still succeed in her music career. We touch on a heartbreak in Chicago that brought her back into music and when I ask her if she always knew she would return to music she humbly smiles and says “no not at all, I got to 25 and said…well I’m still alive I should probably start getting serious”
1985 to 1986 Dokken worked at the Minneapolis piano bar called The Gay ‘90s, she is physically excited while talking about the bar and describes it as the best piano bar she has played at in the world. While she did many extraordinary things within her self proclaimed ‘100 life times’, we organically start the discussion about what was happening to the LGBTIQA+ community at this time. “This was the inception of the aids crisis, half of my friends died.” Dokken describes her despair and how out of this pain she would work with organisations delivering food to affected people and the most selfless act of giving away her tips, “My tip jar, you know a lot of people couldn’t pay for their partners funeral so I would just give them 600 dollars or whatever”. Knowing what an average musician makes I’m amazed at Dokken’s kind spirit and willingness to give away her salary to help the queer community and the people that would come out to see her play. I make a mental note that while I’m trying to get ahead in my career not to loose sight of what I can do for the people in my community.
I steer the conversation onto more of her charity work and her connections, I’m familiar with Dokken’s work with a HIV/AIDS fundraiser that had 300 entertainers over 13 hours of continuous comedy, dance and music. Dokken indulges me in how she not only organised all the performers to volunteer their time but how she gained free flights for artists from all over the country for these events. I’m baffled at how she was able to coordinate and achieve such success with this event and ask whether she believed it was with help from the connections she’s gained through her professional career that she was able to get so many volunteers. Dokken rearranges herself, sits up stiffly in her chair and crosses her arms, with a low and serious voice she starts talking to me about the importance of authentic connections and how she runs into this question quite a lot. When people ask her if her connections can do anything for her she replies with, “she does, she’s my friend we have lovely breakfasts together and (she) asks me how many pieces of bacon I want”. Dokken gives me some great advice and says what’s more important is being able to take an opportunity through a connection, deliver your product and that will get you your next opportunity not exploit your connection or make a connection with an ulterior motive.
I take the last few seconds we have together and ask her to dish the dirt on how to succeed in this business, she laughs loudly, looks at me from across the table with her warm blue eyes, shuffles amusedly in her chair and says something that is the complete definition of Lori Dokken “I think the key is no fear”.