Monday, September 08, 2008

Liz Phair, Latoya, and a Break from Righteous Indignation and Rambling about Chores

If you haven't been reading Latoya's recent posts over at Feministe, get your asses over there. Latoya normally blogs at Racialicious, too, so you can find more of her stuff there. I read Feministe all the time, and I always am happy when I do, but every post Latoya has done has rocked my world. So consider this one of the few shout-outs I've ever given, and take that in the spirit that it's intended, i.e., this is really somebody that you'll want to read if you enjoy reading what I write here. Or at the very least if you'd like to know what I think kicks ass. Anyway.

I've been wanting since last week, though, to write in reaction to her post about Liz Phair's rerelease of Exile in Guyville. Latoya does all of the great linking to other posts about this re-release, so check out the link if you want to read more. And Latoya's post talks about feminist "click" moments, and how those are different depending on one's community and cultural references. Check out the comments to the post as well.

The reason that I want to respond to Latoya's post, though, is because 1) I got on the Liz Phair bandwagon right at that zeitgeist grrrrl-power moment and 2) I think that the whole "rerelease" thing, much like Alanis Morisette's re-release of Jagged Little Pill, is totally wack.

So here's the thing. I don't think that Exile in Guyville is, in itself, a feminist record. I think it's a record that honestly spoke to how I felt at 18-19 years old. It was a record that didn't pretend to that all that happened in a girl's life was fucking love (some hits from that year: "I Will Always Love You" (1), "Can't Help Falling in Love" (3), "That's the Way Love goes" (4), Dreamlover (8), and I'm not even going to talk about the fact that "Rumpshaker" was also a hit that year). The point is, while it's true that I had The Sugarcubes (and Bjork's Debut which was also released in 1993) and Kim Deal in The Pixies (and then in The Breeders, with 1993's Last Splash), I didn't have, even with my vaguely alterna-girl leanings, a chick who sang about what I was fucking going through. Liz Phair didn't sing like a pop-tart - on that album her voice is gravelly and she doesn't even try for the pop-friendliness of "Why Can't I?" - and in fact she sang in such a low register that first-soprano-from-high-school-choir-me found that one of the benefits of dabbling in smoking during college was getting my voice lower so as to sing along. I know, faulty logic, but you see what I'm saying. She wasn't, on the record (for I never saw a video from it), trying to be some chippy. She was just talking about what it was actually like to deal with assholes and with life and with everything.

And one of my favorite songs, "Canary" is rarely one that people talk about from the record. It's not one of the grrrl-power faves, and it's not about fucking and blowjobs and whatever. No, it's about the following:

I learn my name
I write with a number two pencil
I work up to my potential
I earn my name
I come when called
I jump when you circle the cherry
I sing like a good canary
I come when called
I come, that's all

This album, because of this song and other songs that never get talked about much, spoke to all of my anxieties about being ambitious and feeling like I couldn't do enough to please people, while at the same time it spoke to all of the developing sexuality crap that happens when a girl is in her late teens. It spoke to feeling like I wasn't enough and yet like so much was expected of me. It spoke to me feeling like I wanted to be so much and yet I didn't know how to get there.

And, for me, that's not about feminism. That's about adolescence. And sure, this album was, for me, about a girl version of adolescence, but it wasn't about feminism, not really.

So here's the thing: the rerelease thing? It felt like it was an attempt to capitalize on my adolescent angst. Or on some feminist zeitgeist that got imposed on an album that wasn't, actually, about making a feminist statement.

I can't claim the same identity category as Latoya, or as some of her commenters, but Queen Latifa's U-N-I-T-Y was a more pivotal feminist text for me than any song off of Guyville. Or Salt-N-Pepa, too. Or, let's kick it old school - Aretha Fucking Franklin. Or even Janet Jackson's "Control" or Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach." Liz Phair was awesome to me, but her record didn't make me a feminist, or even speak to me as a feminist. It just spoke to me. To the fucked up girl that I was just before I was 20. And I still love that record. But dude, the rerelease? Lame. And I'm saying that as a fan.


Maggie said...

"Canary" is one of my FAVORITE Liz Phair songs, and you're right: nobody ever talks about this song. But I love it for all the reasons you state.

I interacted with that album much differently than you, though: for me, it absolutely WAS a feminist statement, albeit of a particularly cryptic and 3rd wave variety. Since I work in a male-dominated field, the fact that she was making that kind of music, and writing those kinds of songs, in this completely male milieu -- that really resonated with me as a feminist. (I was starting grad school when this album came out).

Second Line said...

One of my favs has always been "Help Me Mary": "They leave suspicious things in the sink ..." I was living in a house with 5 others when the album came out, and feminist or not, it (the album as a whole) and this song in particualr resonated ... right down to the angry chick in the basement who wore black cowboy boots and never said anything to anyone.

Divorce Song" is pretty f'ing good, too!