Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Growing Up Righteous

Me & My Dad, David (1998)

When I was a 17 year old artsy rebel girl in the dusty prairies of Winnipeg, my theatre friends introduced me to the music of Ani Difranco.

She was 28 years old and it was her Little Plastic Castle album that hooked me. I moved on to Dilate followed by Not A Pretty Girl and then her entire catalogue (which was vast!) and finally back to her debut album Ani Difranco -- which, holy shit, she wrote and produced all the tracks for when she was just 18 years old.

Gasp! How could this be? At 18 I was literally a dumb fucking kid with barely two brain cells to rub together.

OK, maybe I'm selling myself short.

At 18 I was pretty boss with my accomplishments in the performing arts and my level of self-confidence. I had written my own plays, starred in hefty live theatre productions, coached a co-ed cheerleading squad, had a few part-time jobs and a few shady businesses and had a few salacious relationships under my belt.

By the age of 18, Ani had grown up in Buffalo, moved to New York City, mastered the art of songwriting and guitar, was out-and-proud queer, and had started her own record company: 

Such a clever name. Such a badass logo. She was so wise, so articulate, so cool, so politically savvy, so educated on Feminism, so experienced in love, sex and heartache. She also had this effortless musical talent as a vehicle in which to express her cleverly-written poetry.

It just didn't seem fair. I was envious and inadequate. But I was also enlightened, bewitched, and definitely on the road to infatuation. I also wondered if someday I might catch up to this woman -- figuratively and literally.

My current Ani car collection (2015)

I look back now on one of her earlier songs (from her debut album) which she must have written when she was a teenager. I was the age listening to it for the first time as she was when she wrote it. I absolutely, whole-heartedly loved it. But I have to admit, I didn't understand it. The concept was too big for me. I didn't understand the metaphors and I didn't understand the sadness and I didn't understand the point of view. But I knew that The Story she was singing about was hers, and was probably mine too if I was paying attention in the world.

And then I started paying attention to the world and I started paying attention to the song. I learned about Feminism. I too related to the rage of living under the Patriarchy. I too, despite this, had a positive male role model in my life who was raising me.

It's probably one of my favourites and I think it is the song to play any young girl of today:

I would have returned your greeting
if it weren't for the way you were looking at me
this street is not a market
and I am not a commodity
don't you find it sad that we can't even say hello
'cause you're a man
and I'm a woman
and the sun is getting low
there are some places that I can't go
as a woman I can't go there
and as a person I don't care
I don't go for the hey baby what's your name
and I'd like to go alone thank you
just the same

I am up again against
the skin of my guitar
in the window of my life
looking out through the bars
I am sounding out the silence
avoiding all the words
I'm afraid I've said too much
I'm afraid of who has heard me

my father, he told me the story
and it was true
for his time
but now the story's different
maybe I should tell him mine
all the girls line up here
all the boys on the other side
I see your ranks are advancing
I see mine are left behind

I am up again against
the skin of my guitar
in the window of my life
looking out through the bars
I am sounding out the silence
avoiding all the words
I'm afraid I can never say enough
I'm afraid no one has heard me

and despite all the balls that I've been thrown
and forced to drop
on the social totem pole
I'm preciously close to the top
they put you in your place
and they tell you to behave
but no one can be free
until we're all on even grade

and I would have returned your greeting
if it weren't for the way you were looking at me

Here's the flashback to when Me and Ani were young girls:

Flash-forward a few years and my Ani CD collection is under my arm all over the world as I travel -- China, Thailand, the UK, Canada. I buy each and every album she releases and I see her in concert whenever she comes to town. I convert my friends to Ani-philes, I preach the Ani gospel. Any man who crosses my path knows my die-hard devotion.  It's my schtick.

I am 11 years her junior and I manage to get married and have babies before she does. Now we're in a slightly different league. She's still singing about politics and fucking in dirty motel rooms and I am making roast dinners with a breast pump attached to my sagging tits. I stay devoted, but I've got bigger fish to fry.

And then in 2011, she releases the album Red Letter Year.  She's married now and has had her first child.   I just gave birth to baby number 2.  We are both grown-up women now, probably going through the same joys and slumps of motherhood.  To think, our babies may both be crying at the same moment -- Hey, Ani look at us Righteous Babes getting "locked up in some house" (lyric from her fiercely feminist song Out of Range). Sadly, Ani's father is deceased, mine is still healthy as a horse. Ani has found true love with her man and my marriage has been slowly falling apart for years. 

And I play the album Red Letter Year on my computer (I'm downloading now) and I hear THIS song that she wrote after having her new baby girl.

Lately I've been glaring into mirrors picking myself apart
You'd think at my age I'd thought of something better to do
Than making insecurity into a full time job
Making insecurity into an art

And I fear my life will be over
And I will have never lived in unfettered
Always glaring into mirrors
Mad, I don't look better

But now here is this tiny baby
And they say she looks just like me
And she is smiling at me with that present infant glee
Yes, and I would defend to the ends of the earth
Her perfect right to be, be, be, be

So I'm beginning to see some problems
With the ongoing work of my mind
And I've got myself a new mantra
It says don't forget to have a good time
Don't let the sellers of stuff power enough to rob you of your grace

Love is all over the place
There's nothing wrong with your face

I cry and I smile at the beauty of the sentiment. And I think about what has evolved and the things that remain the same. I still pay attention to that Story and I pay attention to this one.

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