First off, I think it’s only fair to admit that I’m a big Liz Phair fan. And my wife is an even bigger one. And after proofreading the first draft of this piece, I got the “God, do you hate everything?” question that I’ve become a little sensitive to recently. And it made me realize that I have been pre-judging music that I have not heard yet (see my reaction to the news that she was working with Michael Penn and Gary Clark back in November, 2001). So I’m going to restrain some of the cynicism in this version…
The Liz Phair fan site, Mesmerizing, has published the contents of an email message allegedly from Liz Phair herself. While Glorious Noise has been unable to verify the origins of this message, if the email actually came from Liz Phair, it sounds like we can expect a new Liz Phair album in May, which will include four tracks produced by “the Matrix,” the team behind Avril Lavigne’s Let Go album.
There seems to be a small furor going on about release dates and evil production couplings, and all I can say is, really, no REALLY, don’t worry. The Matrix songs are great, mainstreamy, but really exceptional as such. I needed to get on the radio, and they and I have had an unusually fruitful four song pairing. It’s obviously different than my own quirky stuff, but we’ve amazed the label with a four for four hit-type factor, and no one who’s heard it (myself included) can stop playing it because it rocks and is fun and slick and smart. So that’s that.
I can only imagine the frustration of watching Sheryl Crow having a major mainstream hit with “Soak Up the Sun,” a song that sounds so much like a Liz Phair song that Crow felt obligated to invite her to contribute background vocals. Hopefully, the rock and the fun and smarts will outweigh the slickness of the Matrix. Plus, we’ve got to keep in mind that those are only four songs, and her three previous album have range from 14 to 18 tracks. Even if the Matrix songs suck total ass, that still leaves the potential for 10 good songs, right?
Inside the game of the music business, I’ve turned my fate around with these tracks and am poised for a nice ride. Which is important to me. A huge part of my motivation in any creative endeavor is ignoring, if not down-right spitting in the face of, the words “No, you can’t.” I’m just rebellious. I hate that they say you can’t get on the radio. I hate that those suited executives look at me (Or looked, thanks to some fabulously generous and outstanding work by Michael Penn, Gary Clark, and The Matrix) and think, “Art Piece. Hang it on the wall. Can’t do anything else with it.”
This is the Pretty in Pink style of rebellion, of course. It’s no surprise that Liz Phair was raised in Winnetka, Illinois, the setting of all John Hughes’ movies of the Eighties, in which our beloved, quirky heroes always have to change themselves in order to hook up with the popular kids. In Breakfast Club, Ally Sheedy has to wipe off all that goth eyeliner before Emilio Estevez, the jock, will notice her. In Weird Science, our nerdy protagonists build a hot sexbot in the form of Kelly LeBrock, not so they can fuck her, but so the kids at school will think they’re cool because she’s hanging out with them! The goal in all these films is to be popular, whatever the cost to your own sense of self, which is why I think John Hughes is the devil. And remember: Molly Ringwald always chooses Blane over Duckie.
You might understand that Music Industry is just another Guyville and I want to take it down. Or sit on top of it. It’s just my nature. And it wouldn’t be satisfying if I didn’t love the music I make. I absolutely love some of those Matrix songs. I finally made music, like ‘Extraordinary’ and ‘Rock Me’, that I want to blast out of the windows of my car, waiting to park at Universal Studios for KCRW Christmas show. The Matrix stuff is the kind of stuff you take to rural America and play at top volume for your cousins because they get it, and they like it, but when they hear the words, it shocks them. I live for that reaction.
Let’s all join forces with Liz Phair to take down the mighty Music Industry. How? By getting halfway-decent songs played on the radio, first of all. Okay, 2002 was an okay year for that, I think. The White Stripes and the Strokes and the Hives were all played on commercial radio stations and even got some exposure on MTV, as well as Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly magazine and lots of other media that try to co-opt cool. So maybe Liz Phair will be able to sneak some more good songs in that realm. And maybe our “rural cousins” (we all have them) who just listen to mainstream radio really will be turned on to something different, something that makes them feel, something that makes them want to dig deeper. At some point, we all got turned on to good music by something or someone. Why not by Liz Phair?
As for my own art, there are many, many songs recorded over these last four years that we’re deciding what to do with. Many are just me and my guitar, maybe not as good as at twenty-five, when all I had to do in the world was sit around, get stoned and play guitar, but a lot are pretty special. I even thought of starting a subscription service to do like a song-a-month club on-line, because, why wait? I write songs all the time, and in their nascent form, are quite possibly more brilliant, especially to all my brainiac fans out there who don’t need their art pre-digested.
This is the stuff that makes us—the dorks—drool. An online subscription service for her brainiac fans? Sign me up. Or is she just throwing us a bone to make us feel better for being ditched for someone who lives on the nicer side of the tracks? Is this the “We can still be friends” speech? Still, we’d rather have her in our lives by way of a song-a-month club than not have her at all. And shit, for as long as it takes her to finish an album (like, four years!), 12 songs every year would be a lot more than we’re getting now. But it sort of has “pity fuck” written all over it, doesn’t it? Still though, it sounds like a cool idea.
Release date for the professional album is very firmly May 22, 2003, because any longer than that and I run out of money. Expect to see me playing shows very soon, as per that money thing. No title as of yet, but I’m hovering around a ‘night’ image.
This is a little weird. May 22 is a Thursday. In America, albums are released on Tuesdays, and on Mondays in the UK.
I don’t know what else to tell you, but if you can stand to move a few feet closer to the center, I promise the album rocks. And if you can’t, then have a laugh and wait for the demo material to trickle out. It’s only music. You don’t have cancer. I write it for me. It fulfills my need to speak, to be understood. And if I change, and you don’t like it, I can’t help you. Because only when I’m traveling in my life, when I feel like I’m transforming, or having some adventure, will music come flooding out of me. Friction, baby!
You’ve got to admit that it’s funny to make fun of people (like me) who take this sort of stuff so seriously. Sure, we’ve all been known to debate the relative merits of obscure pop minutiae well into the early morning hours, after we’re kicked out of the bar, and even after our girlfriends and wives tell us to shut the fuck up already. But it’s still funny to hear someone get called out for being a nerd, like when Annie Potts says Duckie must practice kissing “on melons or something.” Because really, as much as we love it, and as important as rock and roll can be in our lives, it is just music, we don’t have cancer, and we can always wait for the demo material to trickle out.
But still, it hurts to see the girl we love leave the prom with the preppie guy. But if the mainstream ignores Liz Phair, and her heart is smashed to the floor, is she gonna go looking to the Duckman to pick her up again? We might say that next time we won’t be there, but I bet we will be. “Blane? His name is Blane? That’s a major appliance, that’s not a name…” See you at the prom.