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Backtalk with Liz Phair

Checking In With Liz Phair

Cheating Hearts

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By Neva Chonin
Option | July/August 1997

When Liz Phair swore that she was “gonna lock [her] song up in a tower” on the 1995 song “Double Dutch”, she hadn’t yet foreseen the birth of her real son, James Nicholas Staskauskas (“Nick”), on Dec. 21, 1996. Since then, the only one locked up has been Phair herself — in the upstairs recording studio of the Chicago apartment she shares with husband Jim Staskauskas, Nick, and three cats: Ping Pong, Pinkerton and Hot Sauce. There, when she isn’t minding Nicholas or reading Edgar Allan Poe (“He’s so brilliant I could die”), Phair is busy working on her new album, due out in the fall. Occasionally she talks to nosy reporters.

Had you and Jim planned on a baby, or did Nick come as a surprise?

Well, we had, but not this soon. It’s the love child theory. If it isn’t a surprise, you’re not gonna get the love child. And love children are better than scheduled children. It takes an extra-strong sperm to go through a certain amount of resistance, so you know you’re getting the really good ones.

Were you hoping for a boy or a girl?

When I was pregnant, I was all excited to have a girl and was really disappointed when I found out from my ultrasound that it was a boy. Which is ridiculous, because the minute you have a baby it doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dog. I just had this whole narcissistic sense that it would be myself, it would look like me and all that kind of neat stuff. Plus I spend a lot of time around men, and I thought another girl around the house would be nice. But then, if it was a girl she’d hate me in high school, whereas a little boy will always love his mom.

What was the birth like?

It was a 30-hour labor that began at seven in the morning. I was gonna do it all naturally. I imagined this heroic scenario where I was dilating wonderfully, and I’d get to the hospital and they’d say, “We can’t believe you waited so long! You must have been in great pain!” But when we got there at 10 p.m., they told me I hadn’t even gone through the early stages of labor yet. I looked at them with horror. Then I went home again. I made it for another three-and-a-half hours and then I was just, like, “OK! Painkillers!” That was it for me. I’d done my natural baby birth stint.

I hope the album is coming along a little easier.

Well, it was going fantastic until I erased the track I was working on yesterday. And the night before that I erased everything else. So we have techincal problems going on here. It’s not the cathartic experience that I thought it was gonna be. It’s like a techincal obstacle course.

Maybe your will is being tested.

I was just sitting around the other day getting introspective about that exact thing, thinking, “When in my life is it gonna be all new?” I thought having a child would do that. I thought there should be a whole new me and a whole new outlook and everything would be clear, and my priorities would be straight and I could burn like Joan of Arc. But it’s so much more about poop and diapers and sleep deprivation.

Assuming you don’t erase it, does the album have a working title?

White Chocolate Space Egg.

Sounds very sweet.

Very edible. Very much like a baby’s head.

Or a puppy’s tummy.

That too.

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