Exile in Hitsville: xxoo Liz Phair

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.

You can find links to a new Liz Phair song, “Take a Look,” on the Supernova fan site. There’s a cool video for an as yet unreleased song, “Down,” on Capitol Records’ site.

31 thoughts on “Exile in Hitsville: xxoo Liz Phair”

  1. Great article, Jake. It’s good to get the news from Ms. Phair’s own brainiac brain, but also to hear your take on things. I agree about John Hughes. It was so sad when Ally Sheedy got rid of her cool goth look and wore that dumb little headband, just to get Emilio Estevez.

  2. Avril Lavigne’s production doesn’t bother me as much as her songs do. Did The Matrix co-write these four tracks? Just wondering.

    Interesting article. I can’t help but think of Rhett Miller and how his recent solo album, and Elektra’s attempt to make him a pop star, pretty much went kablooey. Will Liz have better luck? Or, would it be better luck if she failed to get on the radio? We’ll see.

  3. Don’t be dissin’ Rhett’s solo album just because it didn’t get on the radio. It is only pop music, but it’s a great album with some durn fine songs that stick in your head for days. The only complaint about it I have is the artwork – it just screams “LOOK AT ME!! IT’S ALL ABOUT ME ME ME ME ME!! C’MON YOU GUYS, LOOK AT ME!! ME ME ME ME!!”.

  4. What I find to be exceedingly disturbing is that Kelly LeBrock went from “Weird Science” to “Hard to Kill” with Steven Seagal, which essentially ended her filmic career, such as it was.

    I wonder if she ever tried singing. . .?

  5. First of all, great writing Jake, great job bringing Illinois, John Hughes, and self-admitted “nerds” into the analysis. And the part about the “can we still be friends” speech had me rolling.

    I just think Liz’s talk is pretty easy to dismiss. Jordan pretty much hit it on the head. Liz Phair has laid about as strong of a case for wanting to get onto the radio as George Bush has for wanting to invade Iraq.

    “the music industry is just another Guyville and I want to take it down. Or sit on top of it.”


    It’s like, Liz, are you gonna pick one of those two options? Because they’re pretty fucking different options. Fucking hot air.

  6. “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!”

    Never thought about that but holy crap you have a point there. That was really stupid of those guys.

    Ol’ Liz may have missed the boat with the mainstream success jazz. If she was going to give it a real go, she probably should have tried when she was younger and “alternative” was big bucks. Alls she really would have needed was a video where she wore a tight ribbed t shirt, didn’t shower for a day or 2 before the shoot and a song where the verses were kind of quiet and then she sung really loud into a bullhorn for the chorus part. I bet she could have bagged a cameo on 90210. That ship done passed long time now, though.

    On the other hand, she’s still a cutie. Maybe there’ll be a post- Townshend era of renewed interest in adult women. Could happen.

    I gotta say, those songs don’t sound too different from her other stuff, though. Do they?

  7. Does Rhett Miller remind anyone of a more effeminate version of Wyatt from “Weird Science”? Has anyone seen Wyatt since Old 97s got popular?

  8. For the record, Kelly Lebrock was either married to, or at the very least seriously involved with Steven Seagal when she made hard to kill. Either way, she still can’t act her way out of a paper bag. (if that were even possible)


  9. I am sure you are the first to bring the North Suburban John Hughes connection into play. Although I personally always found Liz Phair boring, I thought Liz Phair was undermarketed in her day, she does have a shitload of charisma. I’m sure when she is done reprogramming with “the matrix”, she will crank out at least one Q101 hit, shit, she puts on a neck tie and thats a “Buzzclip” right there… he he he… anyways… great writing.


  10. Thanks for the article. It made me feel less alone. This is evil of me, but I hope the mainstream thing totally fails. I don’t want to share her with the world. I don’t want to just be one of the “brainiac” fans. I don’t want to spend all my time telling people, “But *I* listened to her when I was 13! We used to use tape trees! You could never love her the way I do!” But I’m a jerk like that.

  11. Well, Ryan, you have a good point. I guess Liz did say two things in saying she wanted to be both rebelling against the music industry and sitting on top of it. But was it really all hot air? Wasn’t she maybe speaking metaphorically? I mean, isn’t it the same conundrum as a woman who really likes guys but doesn’t want to be pushed around or treated like shit by them? Liz has been edging closer to the mainstream for a while — whitechocolatespaceegg was very poppy, and that’s why Matador dropped her (that’s what they said anyway). She may enjoy writing in a mainstream vein and sees nothing wrong with mass acceptance like, say, Kevin Smith and the White Stripes and, for that matter, Nirvana achieved.

  12. Going back to Kelsey’s comment – We all like to belong to little clubs as opposed to big clubs, because we feel more special. But give the girl a break – she wants to be big – let her be big. And if she sells out to do it then we can slag her off and if she does it on her own terms then we can still like her and brag to our mates “Liz Phair? But I think her debut album was much better.”

    We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful. Hey, someone should use that in a song sometime….

  13. I don’t mind if Liz Phair gets big, I guess I just take issue with her claiming “rebellion”. If you’re really a rebel, you don’t have the Avril Lavigne team tweaking your music, you don’t allow your image and music to be commodified by one of the corporate pillars of an industry that is fundamental function is to perpetuate itself by marketing an ever-rotating roster of young, disposable icons to the greatest audience possible. An industry that, with Avril Lavigne herself and all her Hot Topic accessories, takes once-meaningful symbols of rebellion and co-opts them into the very model of consumer culture that the real rebels bravely rebel against.

    In her own words, Liz is a “rebel” who comes before the “suited executives”, and wants desperately to please them.

    Now that’s a condundrum.

  14. Ryan, I don’t think that’s what she was talking about. I think she _is_ being rebellious by having the Matrix produce her in that she’s rebelling against the indie rock expectations. She might not being saying “fuck you” to corporate America, but she’s definitely saying “fuck you” to you and your rules dictating how to be a proper rebel.

    re·bel·lion – An act or a show of defiance toward an authority or established convention. – American Heritage Dictionary

    While she’s certainly not defying the authority of Capitol Records by collaborating with a schlocky hit-making machine, she totally is blowing off the established conventions of indie rock. And that’s rebellious. Especially since the indie rock community is generally more close-minded than the Young Republicans.

  15. She’s saying “fuck yeah” to the money, and saying “fuck you” to her fans. But it’s disguised under a layer of Orwellian doublespeak worthy of the real Republicans. I think she is a Republican, shit, she’s thinking like one. I’m waiting for the next message on her website when she’ll be rebelling against paying taxes.

  16. I say good for her! She loves what she does and isn’t stupid. If you sell no records, you can’t make more. I never thought of Liz as this underground indie queen the critics labeled her as. I mean, have you ever heard “Polyester Bride” or “Supernova”, some of the best pop/rock released in their respective years. All music is “pop” once it becomes mainstream anyways. So to all the music snobs who think they are above trying to earn some cash as well as release great discs, I say…..LIZ PHAIR DROP A HUGE ASS ALBUM ON US IN MAY AND BLOW UP ALL YOU WANT, THERE ARE TONS OF PEOPLE WHO NEED TO HEAR YOU AND I WILL BE FIRST IN LINE TO GET MY CD!

  17. i don’t know what is worse politicians or indie snobs? i have heard the new cd by liz phair and i love it. her best ever. after i bought the cd i put in in exile and started to ask myself why did i like this cd or why did i like this song. i have had exile for 3 years and already i am not into it. it’s not that i hate the early stuff. i love whip-smart ,the girlysound recordings, and whitechocolatespaceegg. but this new cd will stick with me more for years to come. mmuch like whip smart has. you indie snobs need to get over it. there is nothing worse in the world then hearing indie snobs whinning.

  18. Mike, you are obviously a complete moron. The only reason “indie snobs” as you call them discuss music as much as wedo is that we love it. If you only hear it as whining, then you don’t have the passion that true aficionados do, and thus have no right to be commenting on what you don’t understand. It’s great that you like the new album. I hope more people who are uneducated and underexposed to music do. I’d rather have them singing “Rock Me” than “Sk8er Boi” any day.

  19. There seems this idea that to be indie you have to be a starving artist. It’s amusing because there’s also the idea, as Ampage suggests, that in order to make money you have to sell lots and lots of albums. There are plenty of artists who have had long careers and are okay financially without having to make a song as atrocious as “Favorite.”

  20. If I want to listen to Guyville, I can pop it on any time. Liz’s new CD fucking rocks.

    Take off your Goodwill/DAV clothes and funky eyeglasses, shave your goatee, spill your overpriced Starbucks latte on the ground, pop in the her new CD, and have some fun for once you uptight contrived indie bitches.

  21. I’ve been a fan since I was 14,when one day in art class someone popped in a blank tape. Ten years later I’m still a huge fan. I’m glad she’s going mainstream I can keep up with her new stuff, and hopefully get to see her play, FINALLY! I will cream in my pants. Her new album is pretty poppy.(I love when it comes on the radio). In Firewalker though, I can definately hear her voice as if it was on her first. Maybe that’s just me though.

  22. the idea that i am not passionate about music is stupid. i have or will have paid for the new abra moore cd 3 times. i have 2 copies of suzanne’s best of she released last year. for many many years of my life i listened to music non-stop. i had no life. music was my life. then i met someone and fell so in love. music has since taking a major backseat. which is fine with me. i still love music but i just don’t get worked up over it or make it my whole life anymore. everyone is entitled to their opinion but jeez people it’s just a cd. let it go. this late response shows how much i keep up with what everyone is saying. instead of spending my time typing up responses on sites like this and surfing the web reading this stuff i am listening to the music being discussed. i am also hanging out with the love of my life. music is great and even better when you can really connect to it. but man i’d rather connect with that speical someone i love so much. that’s my two intelligent cents. deal.

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