Remembering Liz Phair (tonight)

Category: Blog — @ 1:37 pm December 8, 2005

Besides the fact that it’s One Percent Production’s 500th birthday, I do actually want to go see Liz Phair tonight. This could be a surprise to you younger readers, those who are only aware of Phair’s last two albums. Why would Lazy-i be interested in a performer who’s music is so vanilla, so candy-white boring, uncreative and clearly manufactured to please MOR FM “adult contemporary” music programmers? They might say, as I do, that Phair’s self-titled 2003 Capitol Records outing is merely an adult’s attempt at Avril Lavigne’s moronic pap. And they’d be right, of course. The only thing more mundane is the just-released Somebody’s Miracle, which takes the same bland, bordering-on-country-music formula and slows it down slightly. It is worse than bad, it is boring.

You see, kids, it wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time there was an album called Exile in Guyville that came out on indie powerhouse label Matador Records in ’93. If you haven’t heard it, get up right now, go to your nearest Homer’s record store, and plop down $10 and take it home. It’ll be the best $10 you spend this month. Exile easily is one of the 10 best albums released in the ’90s. Not “the 10 best indie albums.” Not “the 10 best albums by a female vocalist.” One of the 10 best albums released in the ’90s. Period. It is a testament to what can be done by a songwriter. It is personal and confessional, dark and sexy, and above all, it rocks. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time. It is a “stranded on a desert island” selection. I do not stand alone in this assessment. Many of my generation, who grew up with indie and punk and music that isn’t afraid to push the boundaries, looks upon Exile as an achievement. From a female vocalist standpoint, it’s the best thing done by a woman since Joni Mitchell’s Blue album changed everything in ’71. It is one of a kind, and there will be nothing like it again. Certainly there’s no one doing what Phair did back then currently on the concert circuit, except for Phair herself. And even she doesn’t exist anymore.

Now the best thing you can say about Phair (other than Exile) is that she perfectly defines the concept of a “sell out,” and she did it unashamedly. She turned her back on her former self because she was tired of being deified by the indie music scene and glorified by the critics only to have to crawl back inside a van and tour the same smoky clubs that she toured for a decade. She wanted better — financially. So she brought in some “songsmiths” (among them, the same team who created the Frankenstein monster of idiocy named Avril) and tried her damndest to write a radio-friendly album. Then she did whatever an artist needs to do to get the radio industry to pay attention (so ugly and sordid, that I don’t want to go into it on a publicly accessible website… let’s just say it involves a lot of schmoozing) and lo and behold, Liz had a hit on her hands. The totally forgettable ’03 album connected with that great unwashed audience of people who prefer celebrity over creativity when it comes to their music (how else could one explain shit factories like American Idol?). Now, whenever there’s a discussion at a record store and a kid asks a clerk “What exactly is a sell-out?” the clerk can say “Someone who compromises their art to make money, you know, like Liz Phair did.” A confused look with cross the kid’s face before s/he says “You mean lady that sings about motherhood on Q98? She’s awful.” “Yes, my child, she’s awful, but she wasn’t always that way.” And then the clerk will put on a copy of Exile and the two will laugh and cry and wonder why — like plastic surgery or becoming a Republican — why would anyone do that to themselves?

See you tonight.

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