Posts Tagged ‘music’

Ani DiFranco is bumming me out.

I’ve been a fan of Ani DiFranco since the late 1990s, when I bought cassette tapes of Little Plastic Castle and Out of Range–still my favorites, of the nearly two dozen albums she’s released. During that phase of her career, Ani was an out and proud queer punk feminist dirty folksinging ladydude and I was all about it. I mean, here’s this performance of the title song from Little Plastic Castle:

And this one, the title song from Out of Range:

So that was cool, especially for a babyfeminist who was trying to figure out the politics of being a ladydude in a culture that doesn’t particularly like ladydudes. I was 20 years old, and I was starting to get angry, and also by the way I was starting to worry about how grossed out I was by biodudes and how interested I was in bioladies and whether I was going to have to figure out that whole sexuality thing if I ever wanted to try being, you know, happy.

At the time, when I was 20 years old and basically a naive white kid from suburban Detroit, I really liked Ani’s brand of feminism. It was simple and clear, and contained a few key talking points:

Dudes aren’t really all that nice to ladies.

“I am not a pretty girl / that is not what I do / I ain’t no damsel in distress / and I don’t need to be rescued / so put me down punk / maybe you’d prefer a maiden fair / isn’t there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere” (Not a Pretty Girl”)

The Man wants to stick it to you, primarily by banning abortions.

“I opened a bank account / when I was nine years old / I closed it when I was eighteen / I gave them every penny that I’d saved / and they gave my blood / and my urine / a number / now I’m sitting in this waiting room / playing with the toys / and I am here to exercise / my freedom of choice / I passed their handheld signs / went through their picket lines / they gathered when they saw me coming / they shouted when they saw me cross / I said why don’t you go home / just leave me alone / I’m just another woman lost” (“Lost Woman Song”)


Ladies are pretty and I can have sex with them if I want to.

“We can touch / touch our girl cheeks / and we can hold hands / like paper dolls / we can try / try each other on / in the privacy / within new york city’s walls / we can kiss / kiss goodnight / and we can go home wondering / what would it be like if / if I did not have a boyfriend / we could spend / the whole night” (“The Whole Night”)


And of course all of the above points are totally valid and important to address. But they’re also the easiest parts of feminism to embrace, because they place the blame elsewhere and open up space for some good old righteous anger. In this respect, they represent an an early, immature version of feminism–a kind that can, given time, proper care, and lots of sunlight, mature into full-blown, complex and nuanced feminist politics.

As a feminist gets older, if she’s paying attention, she starts to see that the world is a little more complicated than she thought, and that a lot of different types of prejudice and oppression are acting on people all at the same time, and sexism and racism and classism and ableism and heterosexism and other forms of oppression are all wrapped up together. As a feminist gets older, she starts to see that the way a man treats a woman is just a symptom of a larger illness: Institutional disease. Our institutions–culture, education, government, religion–are all wrapped up in perpetuating oppression as a means of keeping themselves afloat. It’s baked right in to everything we do, every interaction, every transaction.

Not only that, but an American feminist–if she’s white and middle class–should start to see how “mainstream” feminism tends to focus on issues of relevance to white middle class women, to the exclusion of the interests and needs of nonwhite, non-middle class women. (It often takes a while, if you’re a white, middle-class feminist, to realize that your feminism can be a form of oppression of women who don’t look like you.) And she should start to see how feminism cannot stand alone as a belief system: A feminist who wants change needs to be critical of government and the law, needs to see the complexities of social action wielded for the public good. A feminist needs to be critical of feminism. She needs to be critical of herself. A feminist needs to change, in other words. She needs to get more complex and use that complexity to treat the world she’s fighting through as more complex as well.

Since Ani DiFranco is, as Wikipedia explains to me, “widely considered a feminist icon,” I’ve been holding out hope that her music would move from that immature, buzzword feminism to a more mature version that embraces complexity and confusion. But instead I got this, the title song from her newest album, which is a remake of a Pete Seeger protest song:


Let me just repeat some of the lyrics, in case you missed them. Heck, I’ll just go ahead and include the entire song!

They stole a few elections,
Still we the people won
We voted out corruption and
Big corporations

We voted for an end to war
New direction
We ain’t gonna stop now
Until our job is done

Come on all good workers
This year is our time
Now there some folks in Washington
Who cares what’s on our minds

Come one-come all voters
Lets all vote next time
Show ’em which side are you on now
Which side are you on

Which side are you on now / Which side are you on / Which side are you on now / Which side are you on

Which side are you on now / Which side are you on / Which side are you on now / Which side are you on

30 years of diggin’
Got us in this hole
The curse of Reaganomics
Has finally taken it’s toll

Lord knows the free market
Is anything but free
It costs dearly to the planet
And the likes of you and me

I don’t need those money lenders
Suckin’ on my tit
A little socialism
Don’t scare me one bit!

We could do a whole lot worse
Than Europe or Canada
C’mon Mr. president
C’mon Congress make the law

Which side are you on now / Which side are you on / Which side are you on now / Which side are you on

They say in Orleans parish
There are no neutrals there
There’s just too much misery
There’s too much despair

America who are we
Now our innocence is gone
Which side are you on now
Which side are you on

Too many stories written
Out in black and white
C’mon people of privilege
It’s time to join the fight

Are we living in the shadow of slavery
Or are we moving on
Tell me which side are you on now
Which side are you on

Which side are you on boys / Which side are you on / Which side are you on boys / Which side are you on / Which side are you on boys / Which side are you on / Which side are you on now / Which side are you on

My mother was a feminist
She taught me to see
That the road to ruin is paved
With patriarchy

So, let the way of the women
Guide democracy
From plunder and pollution
Let mother earth be free

Feminism ain’t about women
No, that’s not who it’s for
It’s about a shift in consciousness
That’ll bring an end to war

So listen up you fathers
Listen up you sons
Which side are you on now
Which side are you on

Which side are you on now / Which side are you on / Which side are you on now / Which side are you on

So are we just consumers
Or are we citizens
Are we gonna make more garbage
Or are we gonna make amends

Are you part of the solution
Or are you part of the con?
Which side are you on now
Which side are you on?

Ok, so a couple of things:

  1. Actually, feminism is about women. That’s actually the definition of feminism. I’m on board with you arguing that feminism is for everyone and that a natural result of feminism is peace, but don’t tell me that feminism isn’t about women. Two big middle fingers up on that one.
  2. Uhhh ok so this song includes a lot of buzzwords, dudes: I don’t think any song in the history of ever has found a way to include Reaganomics, socialism, free market, patriarchy, and mother earth ALL IN ONE SONG! So that’s cool. But on the other hand…buzzwords suck as lyrics. The first rule of creative writing, as you probably know, is show, don’t tell. Buzzwords tell. And they are therefore not the most awesome language to use in song lyrics.
  3. I wonder if Ani really thinks we the people really did win in the last election. Sure, we got a better President than any we’ve seen so far this century, but by no stretch of the imagination can anyone argue that electing Barack Obama led to a mass exodus of corrupt politicians and corporate lobbyists from Washington, D.C. Politics are as corrupt as ever, our Supreme Court is invested in maintaining corporations’ power over legal and political institutions, and most of the time when we watch “Congress make a law” these days it’s a law that works against the best interest of those who are most in need of Congress’s help: Women, the underclass, gays, nonwhite minorities. These days, I prefer that Congress not make a law, thank you very much.


If a person has been identifying as a feminist and practicing feminism for more than two decades, as Ani DiFranco has, we should hope that her politics would become more finely honed with time. Instead, this latest album has Ani relying on buzzwords and the most simplistic political messages: Vote, you guys! If you vote, the people win! It’s a disappointingly naive message, one that echoes the simplistic messages of her earlier albums–only this time, without the righteous anger.

Ani DiFranco is a female folksinger who has fought her way to her spot as a prominent contemporary folk singer who has been selling out concert venues for two decades. Along the way, she’s not only had to battle an industry that didn’t particularly want her, but she’s also had to deal with her fans’ criticisms of her life choices. Most significant among these criticisms was the shock, outrage, and disappointment expressed by her lesbian fan base when Ani got married to a man–and then divorced him and married another man. I’m not trying to judge Ani DiFranco as a person here–she’s had enough of that over the years. (Although I’m firmly in the camp that believes that she can do whatever she wants with her personal life, but if she chooses to talk about her personal life in her music she shouldn’t be surprised when people are disappointed in the paths her life takes–she made her life choices fair game for analysis when she decided to include them in her lyrics.) But I do think that what happened to Ani DiFranco can serve as a cautionary tale for younger feminists. Our society wants you to get your righteous (and deserved) anger out while you’re young, then it wants you to settle in to a set of political beliefs that don’t cause too much hassle for anyone.

There will be so many different pressures on you that are set up to turn an angry young radical feminist into a calm political moderate. By “political moderate,” I mean “anyone who thinks that voting for the better of two choices for President of the United States is sufficient to lead to victory for ‘we the people’.”

It’s our job as feminists to stay angry for as long as we can sustain our anger, because there’s plenty to stay angry about. It’s our job to put our queer shoulders to the wheel.





Cee-Lo, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Muppets sing “fuck you”

Why? Because how often do you get to see Cee-Lo dressed as a muppet?

do it like a dude / affix spikes to our lips

Here is the video for a song called “Do it like a dude,” sung by Jessie J:

In case you scrolled past the video without watching it, I’ll just tell you that it’s an absolute celebration of gay ladies and the sex they have together. Here are some lyrics:

I can do it like a brother
Do it like a dude
Grab my crotch, wear my hat low like you

Do it like a brother
Do it like a dude
Grab my crotch, wear my hat low like you

We can do it like the man’dem, man’dem
We can do it like the man’dem, man’dem
Sugar sugar sugar
We can do it like the man’dem, man’dem
We can do it like the man’dem, man’dem
Sugar sugar sugar

Boom Boom, pull me a beer
No pretty drinks, I’m a guy out here
Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ money like a pimp
My B I T C H’s on my d*ck like this

Dirty dirty dirty dirty dirty dirty sucka
You think I can’t get hurt like you, you motherf….

I can do it like a brother
Do it like a dude
Grab my crotch, wear my hat low like you

Some have expressed concern about the message of this video. Over at the woman-slanted queer site Autostraddle, riese tells us that though her first response was “YES THIS YES THIS LIKE IT YES THIS!,” more careful consideration led her to conclude that “despite its genderfucking qualities, many might argue that ‘Do It Like a Dude’ paradoxically uses men/maleness as a golden standard by which to define itself.”

The gay male-targeted blog Manhunt suggests that “Do It Like a Dude” is about, er, penis envy. If that’s so, or if it’s a reasonable interpretation of the song or video, then this is an additional reason to think hard about whether it’s fair for the queerlady community to embrace it.

But I don’t, believe that it’s reasonable to interpret this song or its video as being about penis envy. First, this is a queerladies-only song–no straight men allowed. The video especially makes its hostility and righteous anger clear: The camera becomes the “you,” the “dude” of the song, and Jessie J lunges and menaces at it like this:

The jerkiness of the women’s bodies, the refusal to sexualize or to make palatable their limbs or breasts or lips or attraction to other women, that’s an outright “fuck you” to the male gaze.

There’s one quick juxtaposed shot that Autostraddle finds problematic: The only women in the video who actually kiss look like this:

Riese asks: “why do we have all these hot dykes of color dancing in wifebeaters but the only women who kiss in the video are these two, dropped in mid-frame like out of someone else’s music video?”

I think the reason is simple: the kissing women are a ‘fuck you’ to a male-dominated, heteronormative culture that likes its lesbians girly and wet dream-ready. They seem like they were dropped in from someone else’s music video because they really are absolutely out of place in this spike-lipped, sausage-butchering world. Since the rest of the video is so seamlessly hostile and angry, since there are no other instances of women touching in a heteroerotic way, it seems valid to assume that the clip was inserted, Tyler Durden-style, into the Fight Club world of Jessie J.

This is a smart, sassy video that’s probably only sexy to a subcategory of queerladies and maybe a few queergentlemen. I found it deeply sexy, FYI, and though god knows I like to be critical of stuff I find no solid foundation on which to critique this song or video as heteronormative or a product of penis envy.

As to the language of the lyrics, the “Boom Boom, pull me a beer / No pretty drinks, I’m a guy out here / Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ money like a pimp / My B I T C H’s on my d*ck like this”: It is a misconception and an enormous disservice to genderqueerladies and butches and drag kings to assume that women who perform ‘masculinity’ want to be ‘like men.’ Even when they say, for example, that they can ‘wear my hat low like you,’ they’re not imitating men–they’re (re)claiming ‘masculinity’ for their own purposes. When a (cisgendered) man dresses in drag, we don’t assume he wants to be just like a woman; we assume–and rightly so, in my view–that he is claiming a gender identity that crosses, transgresses, or transcends a gender binary.

That’s what the Jessie J video does, and nearly perfectly. And thank christ for it–we finally have a good reason to replace Katy Perry’s ridiculous, insipid, and problematically straight-friendly “I kissed a girl.”

Ok Go: “White Knuckles”

Here’s the latest Ok Go video, “white knuckles.”

You know what would be really innovative? If OK Go made a video that didn’t involve every band member rigidly marching roughly in time with every other band member while alternating looking directly at the camera and moving offscreen to pull in some new prop. I’m not bored of this gimmick yet, but I’m getting there.

good album: Emmylou Harris’s Red Dirt Girl

I’ve been listening nearly nonstop to Emmylou Harris’s 2ooo album Red Dirt Girl. The music shines and shimmers, the lyrics flex and warp, and Harris offers up a twelve-part vision of how we learn to live and love, imperfectly, in an imperfect world.

Here’s Harris performing “My Baby Needs a Shepherd”:

My favorite song from the album is “My Antonia,” a duet with Dave Matthews. I had finished reading the Willa Cather version of My Antonia immediately before hearing this song, and I was touched not only by the tribute to the book but also by how the song is not afraid to extend and alter the story. Click here to watch this song on YouTube.

Pink, “Funhouse”

This is Pink’s video for her 2008 song “Funhouse,” from her studio album of the same name. Apparently, this album’s original title was “Heartbreak is a Motherfucker,” which would have made me so happy if it had stuck.

This is such an awesome video that it makes me want to light things on fire. I can’t help but point out my two favorite moments, both facial expressions, at  :43 and 2:40.


best. live performance. ever.

I just got back from a show starring the Indigo Girls, with a special appearance by a band I’d never heard of. The group is called Girlyman, and they are drop-dead fantastic. They knocked us all absolutely dead, and it was obvious that the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, had a great deal of respect for these guys.

Here’s a vid of one of their recent songs, “Young James Dean.” In the live performance, they also had a drummer, JJ Jones, who added a nice kick to their sound. You might want to consider checking them out if they come to a town near you.


in case you were looking for a reason to like Yoko Ono

This is “L’Eclipse,” from Sean Lennon’s 2006 album Friendly Fire.


nerdcore is dead? long live nerdcore

seven things I know about Michael Jackson

He changed the way we think about movement: