It’s Only Life After All: The Intimate and Unscripted Tale of the Indigo Girls

Indigo Girls in the 1990s

It’s Only Life After All, But It’s A Lot More Than That

It’s Only Life After All – in theaters April 10th!

“I’m in love with ’em like you are! Here they are–the Indigo Girls!” Woody Harrelson yells as he introduces the band at a 1990 Earth Day Celebration, on April 22nd, in the trailer of the newest documentary–a rockumentary from director, producer, and editor, Alexandria Bombach, “It’s Only Life After All.” Premiering at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, audiences felt something powerfully warm in this candid and completely unscripted film about more than music: it’s about connection.

Bombach, known for her moving documentaries, described taking this project on as “intimidating” and “a blessing but a challenge,” calling herself a fan since the age of 12 and listing them as her “mentors and people I look up to” at one of the doc’s releases.

It was like drowning in honey or something. It was amazing.– Alexandria Bombach

Documentary subjects, Amy Ray (L) and Emily Saliers (R) of Indigo Girls and Director, Alexandria Bombach (C) attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “It’s Only Life After All” Premiere at The Ray Theatre in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

In her latest film, Bombach zooms in on icons of both the folk-rock and the activism worlds, the Indigo Girls, comprised of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers: humble heroines, queer friends, and artists for over 40 years. “It’s Only Life After All” combines over 1,000 hours of home footage, decades of interviews, and film archives to tell a touching story of overcoming life in true cinema verité, emphasizing its very real subjects in very real life. “What we understood is that you were gonna figure out what the story was…and we didn’t have to worry about it…Our hope was that it could be about something besides just us,” Ray exclaimed to Bombach at the 2023 South by Southwest premiere.

“It’s Only Life After All” borrows its title from a line in the Indigo Girls’ beloved single and opening track, “Closer to Fine,” a song well-known to die-hard fans and recently discovered by new admirers, partly due to Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. Their eponymous 1989 LP delivered then and now, spanning a lifetime, or a good chunk of it, for listeners. Barbie reflected the introspection sparked by the Ray and Saliers effect: Even the most polished, manicured hands must rise to pose more urgent questions. The Indigo Girls gave us the songs to do this and for this. “The best thing for me is if you can leave behind people (who) did what they were meant to do,” Ray said, discussing the film to press.

Now, through Bombach’s lens, we see some of their answers as they found them one hour, day, show, and obstacle at a time.

In full disclosure, I’m a fan of 30 years. I heard the Indigo Girls for the very first time in elementary school (and as a teenager, first saw them live), and I can thank my two older sisters for that along with some mature fashion choices. Interestingly enough, that’s one year younger than the age Ray and Saliers were when they met in elementary school in Decatur, GA, beginning a lifelong friendship that led to their first band together in high school.

While my peers were listening to the Olsen twins’ double cassette tapes, I was screaming Meatloaf in the first grade. But, upon hearing two women play guitar in harmony and belt melodies with lyrics that stirred something in this young girl’s heart, I knew I’d found something to express what I didn’t even fully understand then. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So, instead, I stole my sisters’ Indigo Girls album and put that into my shiny silver CD player. My unmanicured finger just had to press play. “Something about what you had to be as a girl didn’t fit in with what we wanted to be as the Indigo Girls,” Amy Ray states in the trailer. I felt that.

Art speaks truth in a way that other things in life cannot do. There’s a freedom in art to speak any truth as the artist sees it. –Emily Saliers

Indigo Girls in concert circa 1992

Their music wove through my own evolution as I grew out of that childhood sponge-painted room into teenage years and my first car’s singalongs (RIP, red Explorer), to early adulthood apartments, and now, into my late 30s on solitary subway rides and long walks home. Indigo Girls have provided a soundtrack to my life, literally. They sang their way into many of our hearts and heads with words of epiphanies, beliefs, and opinions that weren’t always popular. They didn’t scream them, though. They were pensive but unafraid. That’s what I wanted to be.

“I just think that the way that we work together and respect each other is the way that we want to live out in the world as well. It’s something that we work on as people. We find it an important way to try to be,” Saliers said at the Sundance Film Festival. Watching this documentary, we look back at the Indigo Girls on that journey, which continues right now as they tour this month. “The reason why we’ve stayed together so long is because we have a real respect for each other, for each other’s autonomy–artistically and personally. And also, a respect for what we do together as Indigo Girls.”

Indigo Girls championed the unseen and the unheard, speaking up and out on behalf of LGBTQ rights, the youth, racial equality, the planet, indigenous peoples, and so on. “We’re just really fortunate to be able to merge our activism and our music. It really couldn’t be any other way,” Saliers says. They fought with their dueling guitars rather than disrespect and comebacks.

Saliers admits, “Back then, there were very few artists who were out, very few. People feared for their careers.”

Indigo Girls

Often, Ray was holding the camera, beginning with some of their first live performances and behind-the-scenes moments when character shone. Questioned about this footage, Ray admits,

It’s very vulnerable, very vulnerable, I’ll say that. It’s (about) our evolution as queer women and gender stuff, our growth from a very young age, and everything we went through to get to where we are now…and also, the audience’s growth, a lot about community. I shouldn’t leave that out.

The audience grew up with these women, and now, they’re shown in the film too, describing those experiences. Ray reflects, “I think it just makes you feel a part of something, you know? An embrace of some type.”

Saliers and Ray’s musicianship and songwriting were met with resounding applause, worldwide tours with the biggest names in rock, platinum albums, and Grammy awards. But, frankly, their voice as an outspoken rock duo, not to mention as queer women in the late ’80s and ’90s, challenged many, not just meeting with but slamming up against a wall of intentional deafness. They addressed homophobia, sexism, and misogyny in the world, particularly in the music industry, historically run and financed by straight men. This documentary explores the struggle of creativity versus conformity.

“Indigo Girls have never been featured in a mainstream rock press magazine…I’m talking about Spin, Rolling Stone. I’m told the reason for our lack of press is our lack of radio play. But, I know it’s the fact that we’re political lesbians,” Ray says in the documentary, reading aloud in old footage in front of others while she laughs.

At the end of the trailer for “It’s Only Life After All,” Bombach films Amy Ray sorting through a dining room table full of tapes, VHS, and reels. She’s shaking her head. “You’re gonna be sorry that you asked for this… ‘Cuz it’s a lot of shit.”

The Indigo Girls never apologized for their music, who they were as a band or as women, which Alexandria Bombach so beautifully conveys through each of the 123 minutes of “It’s Only Life After All.” Instead, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers live both publicly and privately unapologetically while championing insurmountable empathy for their community and many causes. “Life is better when we all make room for each other,” states Saliers adamantly.

In this film, the two artists’ partnership holds strongly as they continue to tour and create music; their friendship has deepened.

Indigo Girls in concert

The power of community, the power of music as a connecting force in the world–that’s what we hope you’ll take away. –The Indigo Girls re: “It’s Only Life After All”

The Indigo Girls’ harmony sounds loudest, though, through their humility and talent when the arena empties, and the lights dim in this poignant documentary. Because beyond the chords and lyrics, it’s about us—our tangled lives, our fragile bonds, our shared humanity.

“It’s Only Life After All” hits theaters on April 10, 2024. If it’s not showing in your area, call your local theater and ask. We can all ride home and sing along together to the songs that moved us through life and still, clearly, do.

No, Amy, we aren’t sorry at all.

Tour — Indigo Girls

Olivia Inkster (L) “back in the day” with a friend –hanging out backstage.

Writer’s Personal Note:
When I was 17, I embraced becoming a regular rock scene staple at a famous music venue, The New Daisy, located on world-renowned Beale Street in downtown Memphis. I knew the owners, the sound engineers, and ultimately, the bands who came in, ranging from pop and rock Billboard #1s to Eddie Money and The Killers. I never bought a ticket (thanks, Mikey Glenn!) and was generally allowed to wander, watch, and chat my way into conversations, opportunities, and even more shocking situations. I had nerves of steel before the age of 18 except that one time the Indigo Girls came to town and played The Daisy.

For the first time, I felt like a fan. I dressed older (of course), nervously, and I camped out casually by their bus with press and industry folks, and later, in the backstage lounge. I remember thinking how unassuming and kind they were before and after performing so powerfully as I sang each word of the albums I’d listened to over and over. They were unlike anyone I’d witnessed there. Although most never knew my age, and others didn’t care to know, I finally felt safe as an underage girl. I felt understood. I felt like me.

The music swirled around me and in me. I never mustered the guts to give them anything more than a smile, but I’m sure they smiled back. That night as I drove home before my curfew, I was afraid I’d “missed my moment” to tell them how much they, the Indigo Girls as women musicians, had shaped me. Maybe next time, I’ll tell them in person, but until then, I hope this will suffice. So, this is it. Thank you. I was that girl. I am that fan.

–Olivia Inkster

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