Sunday, July 23, 2006

Righteous Baby

I should have guessed it. She's glowing with happiness, awash in love, writing songs like she never has before, with bright, wistful lyrics: "We can jump around like monkeys/after the paparazzi have gone home/having let go forever/of the phallacy of ever being alone." Ani Difranco announced on July 21, upon receiving the National Organizaion of Women's "Woman of Courage" award, that she and current boyfriend and "Reprieve" producer, Mike Napolitano, are going to have a baby in February 2007.

In 1995, I had a friend who decided she was a lesbian. Because of this temporary shift in her sexuality--she's dated men exclusively since then--she started buying Out Magazine. In the back pages of that summer issue of Out, there was an ad for a record called "Out of Range," by singer/songwriter Ani Difranco. We'd never heard Ani before--who knew what the music would sound like--but she looked, from the picture at least, like she was once of us.

We listened to that album a thousand times, driving oursevles around Chattanooga--surely a place where there were no other Ani fans at that time--our rollerblades in the trunk, drinking strawberry malts. The tape (Ani on cassette!) would turn over, playing one side after another, and we'd listen again and again to the same songs we'd heard not an hour before. There was a song called "Overlap," an acoustic ditty laid right in the middle of the record, so quiet and so powerful that it forced you to listen, and when you did it broke your heart. Ani sang "I build each one of my days out of hope, and I give that hope your name," as we drove to the top of Signal Mountain, where we hiked up and down the trails, off the trails, and swam ourselves silly (and cold and tired) at Rainbow Falls.

Later, after Dilate and Little Plastic Castle, my then-lesbian friend fell off the Ani bandwagon, (and Ani fell off the lesbian bandwagon, a place she never claimed to be anyway) but I've remained there ever since. I have all the records, even the odd one-offs and international releases. I have the stuff: people have given me the coffee mugs, the headshots, I have some clothing. None of it I really have any use for, but it's here. As evidence.

I've got so many bootlegs that I juggle the playlists to include not just my favorite songs, but my favorite performances of those songs: the never-released "One More Night," from that Rochester gig in 1992; "Independence Day" performed on the radio show Acoustic Cafe in 1997--I listened in my dormroom, laying in bed with my then boyfriend, it was my birthday; the 1999 version of "Firedoor" from the Stockholm show; "I Know This Bar" from that year's Falcon Ridge Festival; tons of stuff from the full-band years; and now, after "Evolve" and "Educated Guess," and "Knuckle Down," and more and more live recordings, I'm listening to the unreleased new stuff: "Round a Pole," "Alla This," and the slow, twinkling medley she's been playing in concert so often lately: "Red Letter Year/Star Matter."

Do you speak the same language?

What if I tell you that I've got 19 versions of "Shameless?" 17 versions of "Evolve?" 14 versions of "Gravel?"

Ani is one of those artists that seem so completely transparent in their work, like Tori Amos or Fiona Apple, whose rabid fanbase wants to own the musician like they own the records. I've long wondered when I might tire of seeing Ani in concert--not her performances, but the audience: the ridiculous teenage girls, the long-haired hippie children bouncing and swaying and screaming every word. It comes with the territory.

Already the pregnancy chatter on the message boards is ridiculous: "can you imagine what an amazing mother ani will make?" and "or how cuuute she'll look when she starts showing???!!" Ani speaks to the alienation, to the love, to the otherness, to the angry, invisible line between the personal and the political, and it's impossible sometimes not to see yourself in her.

In some ways, that was me--only without the technology, or the community of people to feel a part of. And I like to think that, for me, it's always been about the music. Back in 1995, in that white Buick Celebrity, tearing down Highway 58, the backseat full of towels wet with lake water, Ani sang "I know I can't be the only/whatever I am in the room/so why am I so lonely/why am i so tired."

We stared our sunburned faces out the window and sang with her.


ALina Browne said...

where can i find "Round a Pole," "Alla This," and esoecially "Red Letter Year/Star Matter." I heard it at the concert in central park and need it for my soul. If you could help that would be great. Thanks

in solidarity

Lee Houck said...

If you want to email me I can email the tracks back to you. My email is above.