Something tells me I am going to get in trouble talking about the unapologetic indie-rock rebel Liz Phair. Anyway, here we go….
Hailing from the north side of Chicago, a twenty something Phair had her heart set on a career in fine arts. When things didn’t work out, Liz’s fascination in underground indie rock led her to start writing songs. She recorded a four-track tape that soon found an audience among Lo Fi enthusiasts and before long she was given a $3,000 advance to record an album. The result was 18 breathtaking tracks about a woman’s song-by-song answer to the Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main Street (1972).
Like most guys I was caught up in the grunge explosion of the early 90’s, but not blindsided enough to notice the sublime fuck-you spirit of Liz Phair. She arrived stirring up shit, like a cat among the pigeons, into an alternative music culture predominately made up of guys. Almost overnight she became the spokesperson for a new generation of women in the early 90’s, when her debut studio album Exile in Guyville (1993) gained incredible momentum on the charts. Her message was clear and to the point, she wanted to talk about men and relationships and often in the most graphic way. (Her most famous song ever is arguably Fuck and Run.)
“I have looked all over the place/ But you have got my favorite face./ Your eyelashes sparkle like gilded grass/ and your lips are sweet and slippery/ Like a cherub’s bare wet ass …/ ‘Cause you’re a human supernova/ A solar superman./ You’re an angel with wings of fire/ A flying, giant friction blast.” – Supernova (Liz Phair)
She took what she talked about on Guyville and amped it up significantly on her follow-up album Whip-Smart (1994). It’s fair to say, many conservatives cringed at the thought of another Phair album that delivered more of the same. Some observers even likened her form of social commentary on sex to that of a shock jock. But while many conservatives cringed, the rest of us got it, especially young women. In short, Phair was writing songs that girls could relate to, even if it was occasionally sexually explicit.
In the years that followed many critics and fans accused her of selling out. She had transformed herself from an alt-rock’s feminist pioneer into an indie pop princess. Personally, I don’t see her generally assumed ‘betrayal’ of her fans as anything but as a nature break or evolution of the times. Everyone expected her to continue on in the same vain, but Phair didn’t have that same vision anymore. She reinvented herself, leaving the nineties behind for a more pop friendly existence.
Photo credits: The image of Liz Phair is by flickr user Stratopaul and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license.