Thursday, January 22, 2009

Once More, With Feeling

Several months ago, I realized the following: Liz Phair released Exile in Guyville in 1993 when she was 26 years old. Fifteen years later in 2008, when I was 26 years old, she released a re-mastered anniversary edition. There is clearly some kind of crazy synchronicity going on here! The year Liz decided to release her anniversary edition, I was the age that she was when she originally released her classic, groundbreaking album. The same age!

Naturally, once the effects of this magical synchronicity subsided, the self-deprecation began. I started to think, “Wow, Liz released one of the best albums of all time when she was 26. What do I have to show with my 26 years?” So to commemorate the incomparable Liz Phair, and to answer my own question, I decided to write this, so that I can say, “Here, this. This is what I have to show with my 26 years. A blog entry at the age of 26 about how Liz Phair was a genius when she was 26.” As they say, “Those who aren’t geniuses, write about them.” Also, I’m 27 now.

I met the music of LIZ PHAIR in seventh grade. At first, admittedly, my 12 year old ears were hooked by the naughty taboo nature of the word “fuck” so blatantly out in the open for all to see. Not only was the first song I ever heard by Liz called Fuck and Run—the word “fuck” is also proudly displayed in the chorus and appears an impressive eight times total. (Incidentally, the chorus also consists of the lines “Fuck and run/even when I was 17/fuck and run/fuck and run/even when I was 12.” At the time I thought, “Even when you were 12? Whoa, that’s not me. Are some of my friends doing that? I don’t know. Whatever.”)

The song Flower was an even bigger lyrical diamond in its crudest form—any song that starts off with “Every time I see your face/I get all wet between my legs” is bound to get better, AKA dirtier. It does not disappoint. This is the one that gave us the infamous line “I want to be your blowjob queen” and ends with Liz’s declaration that she will “fuck you till your dick is blue.” Is that even possible? It doesn’t sound pleasant. So the initial intrigue for the flannel-flanked, grunge tween version of me had much to do with the shock value of Liz’s words, her as-of-yet-unheard musical stylings and how cool it was that I could share those kickass songs and their badass lyrics with my fellow middle school cohorts.

Then one day, for whatever reason, I actually started listening to the album. It was called Exile in Guyville. Once I started paying attention, there was little I could do to reverse the effects. I have distinct memories of my college brother (and owner of the CD) singing the opening lines of 6’1” at the dinner table. I listened to it so much that I emblazoned every song name and its corresponding track number into my memory. I know that track listing better than I know the alphabet. (Granted, the alphabet is longer and trickier.) The fact that I was exposed to this record at the ripe and tender age of 12 ensured two things: 1) that I had no idea what the lyrics meant and 2) that I didn’t care. What I responded to back then was the aesthetic musical flow, plain and simple. Her voice, the way she sang-spoke some words and swallowed others, the production quality and overall sound that was NOTHING like anything that had ever come before it (or that has come after it); the layers of her backing and lead vocals. In 2008 when Liz decided to release a re-mastered 15-year anniversary version of Exile in Guyville complete with accompanying DVD, there was a lot of talk down Memory Lane about how she brazenly busted through the oppressive landscape of women in 1993. How she used her sexuality to unabashedly speak for an entire reticent female generation that had been too conditioned for too long by a patriarchal smog.

And I was never knowingly a part of any of it. I was 12. I had no attachment to what she was singing to me—I had the utmost emotional attachment to her sound. As I grew with Liz’s music from middle school to high school to college, I obviously started to care more about her lyrics. They’re brilliant, fiercely vulnerable and knowingly self-conscious. There is also close to nothing I can relate to in any of them, both then and now. I’m a first-generation Vietnamese lesbian. (Whoa, weren’t expecting that one, were you?) The experiences Liz had with boys to men in the Chicago music scene are a far cry from the life I’ve led. The thing is, I’m a lyrics person. The formula for my appreciation for music goes something like this:

Love just the lyrics + like the music enough = awesome

Love just the music + like the lyrics enough = awesome

Love the music + love the lyrics = awesomer

Love the music + love the lyrics + the lyrics are relevant = JACKPOT

And so, here is my amazing thing about Liz Phair. While her lyrics are sometimes brilliant, sometimes not, and rarely applicable for me, I can say with confidence and without hesitation that she is, and will always be, my favorite musician of all times. I know this because I love music and have listened to a fair amount of it in my 27-yeared life. No matter how much I love any other band or song, no one and nothing ever elicits the feelings in me that Liz Phair does. In my world, she is in a league of her own.

And that’s the truth of subjectivity. How do music critics even exist? Different notes and different words touch different people in different ways. What determines whether you like a song or not? What determines whether or not it moves you, touches you, inspires you, brings an involuntary smile to your face, makes you cry or makes you emo? It’s all ridiculous. But I know there is the issue of taste, as in good and bad. And I know there are songs that I consider awful and others that I think are amazing. So I like what I like and you like what you like. I have yet to understand how that defines something as better or worse. For me, it’s about how the music makes me feel. The songs I find extraordinary are the ones that cause me to laugh out loud with incredulousness at how ridiculously brilliant they are. (Bear with me and my hyperboles—I mean every single one of them.) The songs I find terrible are the ones that cause me to laugh out loud with discomfort and embarrassment and/or retch. So I love Liz Phair’s music more than all the others’ because of what comes up for me when I hear her combination of notes, words and beats. And because nothing else has ever come close.

1 comment:

  1. This is brilliant. Now, we demand more posts! 8)