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All’s Phair in Love & War

Guitar World: liz Phair

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Liz Phair sheds some light on the intimate meaning of her single, “Jealousy,” line by line

I THINK THIS IS A VERY FEMALE SONG — I DON’T THINK MEN actually do this when they’re jealous. Women hear it and they’re like, “I know exactly what you mean!” But when men hear it, they just see an irrational girlfriend.

He’s got a million-dollar car.

The jealousy theme is about my imagination of what’s going on, which is far more outrageous than what’s actually going on. That feeling of “He’s so great, he’s got a million-dollar car,” when really it’s probably something like $5,700. With a trade-in.

He’s got a thirty-seven-year-old guitar.

Not only is it the hyperbole of imagining how extra cool his possessions and trappings are, but it also plays off that rock ‘n’ roller thing: “I’ve got a pre-CBS Fender… how old is your guitar?” It’s that collector mentality.

He’s got a family who deals heroin / You’re on the edge of your chair and you feel it.

When I lived in San Francisco, there was this guy who was very much like Puck on MTV’s Real World. He was this skateboarder who would come over and walk our dogs every once in a while. I thought he was kind of scary, but my roommates were intrigued by him. We got this idea, or maybe he told us, that his family was one of the oldest heroin-dealing families in the world. He spoke about them as though they’d come over on the Mayflower. Not exactly blue bloods — more like brown bloods.

He’s looking at you, he’s laughing at you, it’s happening.

That’s sort of a filmic moment for me. Jealousy is a very specific sudden flush of blood to the face, and you get mad really fast and irrationally. I didn’t get that way often until I started going out with the man who is now my husband. This line is a turning moment, when you’re seeping into this second reality and you’re like, “Oh my God oh my God oh my GOD!” Like a three-beat camera turn.

I can’t, I can’t believe it, but it’s there on the pages I’m reading.

I flipped it around again. I’m back in normal reality and it’s some woman I’m reading about in a magazine — a collegue, if you will, in the rock world.

It’s all I can do to conceal my feelings of jealousy.

Pretty self-explanatory.

I know it’s just a drawer of photographs.

Every time I’ve ever gone out with a guy, there’s always been the Forbidden Drawer. The first couple of weeks when you’re going out with someone, you respect that. Then, as you start to become more involved… Usually they had had a day job and I didn’t, so I found myself waking up, getting the coffee, sitting down, getting more and more… curious. What’s in there?

They’re ex-girlfriends, I try to remember that.

When you’re going through the Forbidden Drawer — which, inevitably, you do — it’s mostly scraps of paper, phone numbers, etc. But every once in a while you find a picture of him with his ex-lover. And you realize that someone else had been there, and they felt the same way: They were in love too — there’s concrete evidence of that. Kind of gives you an eerie feeling that you’re traversing time. You could be her, she could be you, there could be someone after you.

I don’t wanna look, but I’m already hooked on jealousy… jealousy.

When you’re looking at the photo and you see that look of love in someone’s eyes, it seems pretty fresh and current. It’s hard to get away from that feeling.

I can’t believe you had a life before me.

My husband just threw that at me the other day — “You wish I didn’t have a life before you!” I said, “Don’t quote my lyrics at me.” It’s true, though: I don’t like to hear stories about his ex-girlfriends. But he can’t say, “I hated everyone before you. I’ve never been in love as much as I am right now.” And it’s not even true for me — it’s a huge double standard. This whole jealousy issue for me is really about childishness because it doesn’t have anything to do with logic or fairness — it’s just an emotional explosion.

I can’t believe they let you fun around free.

That’s just me coveting his sexuality and wanting to think that this is his fresh, perfect, pure body that was born for me. It’s never been touched by human hands, except his mom’s. Maybe.

Just putting your body wherever it seemed like a good idea.

Again, hyperbole. Now that I know how good it is, I can’t believe that this hot man was allowed to just go about. Here I’m blowing it out of proportion, thinking he could have done it with as many and as often as he wanted! My husband once asked me why I was jealous about someone, and I tried to explain it: “It’s like I have this big piece of cake, it’s lying in the middle of the road, and all these girls are walking by going, ‘I want that cake!'” It’s a very vulnerable feeling when you find out how fabulous someone is.

What a good idea: standing on the corner watching the ladies pass by.

That’s me, voyeuristically watching them. The next step is that you reappraise women — imagining, if you were not in the picture, who would he like?

Imagining me behind your eyes / And then what did I see? I saw hips, I saw thighs.

I’ve turned around and gone into the jealousy room, and suddenly I become exactly what I’m accusing him of being — I’m like a doggy man, objectifying women in a way that he doesn’t do at all. So I’m imagining that I’m him, and really I’m a woman’s worst nightmare. Women do that to each other — it’s female fever.

I saw secret positions that we never try / I saw jealousy, I saw jealousy.

We have good but basically very normal sex, and here I’m imagining there’s a secret side of his sexuality that he’s keeping from me. It’s the idea that another woman has some kinky twist to her that I don’t have, and somehow he’ll know this at a glance.

I can’t, I can’t believe it, but it’s here in this place and I see it.

Me perusing the room again, the potentiality of this female fever attacking me. If I walk into a restaurant, I can see women playing power games, and I swear men don’t know what the hell women are doing. Quite a bit goes on in a room, especially when you first walk in, and they just miss all that. But I know what’s going on.

It’s all I can do to conceal my feelings of jealousy.

That’s a toss-off.

Standing on the mudflats watching the salmon fly.

If you ever watch salmon in their spring rush to mate on your stoner-channel nature special, it looks like sex in a weird way, all these slippery bodies flying around against each other, against gravity. Once again, I exaggerate this: I’m just sitting on the side of the river, stuck in the unappealing part of things, watching the salmon flying up the river in a mating frenzy. It’s so disparate from my stasis.

Wonder if I’ll ever bury the hatchet inside.

Wonder if I’ll ever not feel this way. If I’ll ever be self-contained. As you age, you feel more and more secure. You know what’s appealing about you and you don’t need to compete on so many different levels. Then every once in a while this thing comes up and blindsides you and you’re suddenly going, “My things… my things!” It grips you as if you were thirteen again and you were sitting around the camp cabin going, “My hair’s not as good as hers…”

Liz Phair has been happily married since March 11.

Details, August 1995

Featured image: Photo credit needed.

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