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Judging Liz phairly

Turnabout is Phair play

It’s a wonderful ‘Life’ for alt-rocker Liz Phair

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Coming off the last album’s play for pop success – a move that generated as much ire as it did sales – Phair is leveling the gunwales with a more plain-spoken sound in her current record Somebody’s Miracle

By Bao Le-Huu
Orlando CityBeat, October 6, 2005

Since making arguably the most important feminist albums of the ’90s (Exile in Guyville) on her first outing, Liz Phair and the public have been locked in a wrangling affair. We’re not sure what to make of her, yet we can’t stop talking about her. Coming off the last album’s play for pop success – a move that generated as much ire as it did sales – Phair is leveling the gunwales with a more plain-spoken sound in her current record Somebody’s Miracle. In characteristic frankness, she (who plays Friday at House of Blues) discusses her evolution with CityBeat:

Orlando CityBeat: What precipitated the step away from the edginess of your early work?
Liz Phair: The edginess just left because I grew up and I was just feeling different. The edginess, that’s natural. I mellowed out. I’ve been a mom for nine years; I’m 38. I just have a different outlook. I don’t point fingers as easily.

OCB: Your tango with the press has been, well, complex ever since you arrived. Has it been a challenge dealing with the fickle way you’ve been received throughout your career?
LP: It is because part of me loves to do interviews because I’m a writer. Even on the last record when I would be interviewing with people who didn’t like the record, if they were respectful, it was interesting. I relate to writers so there’s a part of me that enjoys the exchange. But it’s also a little frustrating how short memory is. Guyville was not an open-arms reception by any means. It was pretty harsh at first. “She can’t play, she can’t sing, she’s outta tune, what is this crap? She sold sex and that’s why she’s so important.” And now it’s considered like this great record. It’s fickle.

OCB: How much of it did you invite?
LP: Probably all of it. I’m definitely opinionated and suffer from a lack of awareness of my own impact.

OCB: I don’t believe you.
LP: No, I’m very clueless. I’m very much in the moment. There’s no great overarching strategy in terms of manipulating the press. I literally wing it everyday of my life.

OCB: It’s not some sort of sociological experiment at times?
LP: Well, there’s a performance-art aspect to it because I come from a family that the last thing anyone thought anyone we even knew would be doing was entertainment. So to some extent, I have an irreverence for the job, which I think displeases a lot of people. But to me, it’s like, c’mon, it’s a CD.

OCB: You said that you’ve always been at war with the indie world. Then was that indie queen image you were given early on just a result of happenstance and that your sensibilities actually lied elsewhere all along?
LP: It’s neither. It’s a little bit of both. I was indie authentically and I was going to all the shows. Once I got married and had my son, I just wasn’t going out to clubs as much anymore and I wasn’t living in Wicker Park, so I wasn’t really part of the indie scene. So it never occurred to me to try to be indie if I wasn’t actually doing that. It just seemed like that would be disingenuous.

OCB: How much of this embrace of stark frankness is a power play?
LP: Well it’s definitely a power play in the sense that it’s sort of my little feminist mantra, which may need updating. Rock ‘n’ roll has been appropriating sexuality; I have to almost appropriate it farther to make it an impact. I’m not your object, I’m your subject kind of thing. One of the reasons I do photo shoots the way I do is because it was basically done to me. They would throw a cocktail party for the shoot and I’d be half naked – totally vulnerable and freaking out – getting my picture taken while everyone else was drinking and watching. And it was so scarring that I flipped over and was like, if you want sexuality, I’m gonna give you my sexuality and I’m gonna take control of it and I’m gonna put mine out there so that you can’t put yours on top of me. And then, of late, I’ve begun to question whether that works anymore. The Vegas-ization of sexuality in mass media these days, it’s the base level to get a trigger rise out of people. And it bothers me and I’m not exactly sure how I feel about my role in all of it.

OCB: Your brand of feminism is the object of much misunderstanding. Care to clear the air now?
LP: Sure! My brand of feminism is choices. She can be a Diane Keaton and cover every inch of her body or she can bare it all. But I wanted women to be able to be as varied in their personal statements as they wanted. For so long a woman had to be a certain way. And men didn’t. So my brand of feminism has always been to give women the widest range possible of choices in life and the least amount of prejudice. It shouldn’t be that someone else is defining who we are. We should define who we are.

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