Sunday, January 15, 2012

Kat's Korner: Ani DiFranco's embarrassing odor

Kat: "And you can smell me coming from half way down the street." Oh, Ani.

Ani DiFranco

One-time punk 'rocker,' one-time 'lesbian,' one-time 'angry girl,' one-time 'artist' Ani DiFranco is back with another collection certain to prompt the question: Why?

DiFranco's talent once included inventive guitar work (her original manner of playing is no more due to injuries) and brave vocals but it never included good judgment. Had she been signed to a major label, about half her songs never would have appeared on an album. A label with executives would have refused to release those underwritten notions passed off as songs. But she was a do-it-yourself-girl.

Girl. Ani famously picked a fight with Ms. magazine over their noting her success in the do-it-yourself field. She picked a fight with Ms. over that. Not Musician magazine, which noted the same success in much greater detail. Ani was thrilled with that and worked overtime helping to edit that article on herself, so thrilled was she to make the cover. She didn't pick a fight with Rolling Stone for repeatedly noting those facts. But Ms. magazine?

Them she picks a fight with. She writes an angry, bitter letter about how they're reducing her to units sold and she's an artist, an ARTIST!!!!!!

Again, she slammed no other publications for that. She knew that, if she had, the music mag coverage she needed would vanish. Again, she basically edited the entire article on herself that ran in Musician magazine (I was sleeping with an editor at the time and the whole magazine was laughing about her 'rebel' stance as she worked to create her own hagiography) and she allowed those facts on units sold into the article.

But most importantly, Ani was do-it-yourself. If she never wanted people to focus on how many units she sold, that was up to her. Only she knew the sales. It's not as if she's got platinum albums in her canon (or that she'd pay for certification). As the head and CEO of her label, if she never wanted anyone to know about sales, no one would have ever known.

Having put it out and having pimped in every music magazine possible (Ani lobbied very hard for the Musician story, they did not seek her out), she then turned around and stamped her feet and hissed at Ms.

And, really, hasn't that become the story of her life?

When Melissa Etheridge's coming out and success made it hip to be gay in the early 90s, there was Ani proclaiming she was gay. Talk to anyone who interviewed her back in those early days and they'll tell you that before the tape was rolling, Ani would be insisting that they ask her about that. A good friend still swears Ani was "the ultimate marketing major." So, all these years later, our lesbian has married twice. Both times to men. She's not had a high profile relationship -- and she marketed those relationships with women when she needed press -- with a woman in nearly two decades.

In the past, Ani's music hasn't prompted a great deal of thought. Not from Ani who churned it out constantly or from the fan base which was overwhelmed with product, product, product. But then came the double disappointments of 2007 Canon and 2008's Red Letter Year. On Canon, Ani collected past tunes but that wasn't enough for her, she also had to remake "Both Hands" as well as four other songs fans had enjoyed. As I noted in 2007:

"Both Hands" is the only one I've heard negative comments on and they have been severe. One person compared it (the re-recording) to The Hooters. That band's famous for songs like "And We Danced" but the comparison was to the work they did with Cyndi Lauper on her album She's So Unusual. Four other people complained that the vocal was rushed and "phoned in." It's a reworking and, with "Both Hands," that is a problem because that's a song that people are very possessive of. Ani's been reworking it for years in concert and to tremendous effect but this version does seem rushed and when she's singing "How hard we try" the "try" is disappointing. It's a beautifully written song and if this is your first introduction to it, you'll fall in love with it the way everyone does. But if you know the song already you may likely feel that not only is she not going for the notes of "try" but she's got no breath on the word. It no longer flies, it's tossed out strong and then just dies -- never exploring the word or her own range. That may be due to the clipped pace it's set at. I haven't formed an opinion on this version yet. When she reworked it on Living in Clip, she reached a level that would mean anything after -- that didn't recreate the live version note for note -- would be a disappointment.

I tried to give it a chance. I tried to let it breathe. In the end, the opinion I formed was: Dreadful.

And that was the one-word description of 2008's Red Letter Year. It was an album so bad that I didn't review it, didn't note, didn't want to say a word. I had never heard music so fake in my life -- and I took photos on one of the Monkee reunion tours in the eighties.

I told myself that her personal issues (new mother -- and I warned about that before it happened) and her medical issues that prevented her from playing guitar as she once had were going to require adjustments for both listener and artist.

It's four years later.

How much time and slack is Ani supposed to be given?

The new album drops Tuesday and is entitled Which Side Are You On?

I'm on the side of music but listening to the album leaves me unclear about Ani's allegiance.

Especially when playing the title track.

If you ever wondered what Pete Seeger would sound like fronting Bachman-Turner Overdrive, wonder no more. And, yes, it's as ugly and embarrassing as you might have suspected.

Even worse, Ani and Pete have 'updated' (changed and destroyed) Florence Reece's 1931 song ("Which Side Are You On?") about miners fighting for their rights, for their very survival.

Ani and Pete want to lie about Barack, want to whore for Barack.

Listening, you're struck, yet again, by the fact that Pete Seeger's singing ability took a train to a destination unknown back in 1963. Still, he does bark with authority. Ani's vocals are nasal and unattractive. She's both lost her range and the brightness of notes that could cover up for it.

Still no amount of lip stick would pretty up the pig they present:

They stole a few elections
Still we the people won
We voted out corruption
Big corporations
We voted for an end to war
And new direction
And we ain't gonna stop now
Until the job is done

Come on, all workers
This here is our time
Now there folks in Washington
Who care what's on our minds
Come one, come all, come voters
Let's vote next time
Show 'em which side are you on
Which side are you on?

We vote out corruption and big corporations? I believe it was on CNN that Michael Moore noted the obvious (his strong suit), "Wall Street has their man and his name is Barack Obama."

What war got ended Ani? The drone war? The Libyan War? Surely not the Iraq War which, Ani, I remember your stance against before it started and then . . . . crickets . . . silence from you ever since. The occupation of Iraq continues with the CIA, the FBI, the contractors and so much more. Moqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly decried the continued occupation of his country by the United States but you, Ani DiFranco, know so much better?

If, after listening, you're not getting how bad Ani's version is, click here for a version by Natalie Merchant which is amazing and honors the message.

Ani serves up a bad version, a "send this back, I'm not paying for it" version. She destroys the song. And it's about nothing but Ani lying to you and proving what a liar she is. Vote!!! She wants you to vote for Barack!!!!

For those who have forgotten, Ani wanted you to vote for Ralph Nader in 2000. In 2004, she started with that position but, after Janeane Garofalo and Sam Seder chewed out her ass on live radio (The Majority Report), Ani backed down and became a John Kerry booster. She's been the eternal coward ever since.

So she may sing of "your next bold move," but you quickly notice that Ani has none of her own.

You may also notice, if you reflect on the new album or just her past work, Ani's really not about the women. Even when she was a 'lesbian,' women really only showed up as lovers.

Many female singer-songwriters have been able to reflect a world where women took part, a world where women were friends with other women, where women helped each other. Stevie Nicks, the Wilson sisters of Heart, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, etc. all managed to convey such a world -- a world most women are familiar with. But Ani's writing, when you really examine it, really is and has been a male reference point, a male point of view.

On the new album, her male point of view is most noticeable in "Amendment." She sings the song in a tired, bored manner and, allegedly, it's about equality for women; however, she can't even maintain the focus for the entire song because she's so uninterested in the topic. The entire song? Try even the first verse. 30 seconds into singing -- such 'classic' lines as "chicks got it good now" -- she's suddenly off on "it's worker against worker."

Yeah, I know this crap. I know this ideology. It's not Democrats, people, it's that pathetic strand of Socialists, those Democratic Socialists, who posed in public as Democrats in 2008 over and over and toss the word in front of "Socialists" because they're ashamed for people to know they're Socialists. Yes, that does include our so-called feminist hero and leader of several decades (you know who I'm talking about) but, as we saw in 2008, Little Leader Happy At Last couldn't stand up for women but went on KPFK to join in the stoning of Sarah Palin and to suggest that Palin stay home and take care of her children. That's not feminism but it is what closet political cases do. (FYI, Ani's out of her political closet on this album demanding, in song, Socialism and that it be put to a vote.) Democratic Socialists don't feel feminism is an issue by itself (they're like the Communist Party of the early half of the 20th century in that regard). It's only a 'feeder' issue to something more 'important.'

And that's what Ani's bad song portrays, a feeder issue. At the start of the seventies, Helen Reddy proclaimed, "I am woman, here me roar . . ." Yet Ani's writing about women as if they're the other and don't include her. It's not about "us" throughout the lyrics of "Amendment." And if a man sang this song, he would be booed off the stage by men and women because it's so insulting. In fact, "Amendment" makes Paul Anka's "You're Having My Baby" seem positively progressive in retrospect.

"Trust," she sings, "women will always take you to their breasts." And pair that with "Splinter" where she adds, "Oh women, won't you be our windows, women who bleed and bleed and bleed [. . .] show us we are connected to everything" -- in other words, stealing from Robert Altman's The Player, it's The Gods Must Be Crazy and women are the Coke bottle?

Uh, Ani, don't try speaking for me and certainly don't go making promises on my behalf. You may have a vagina but we do not share anything else. If you want to 'put out' for 'boys who say yes to ERA,' you go for it, but don't expect me to be a Playboy centerfold of faux liberation, pretending that my putting out for a man equals fulfilling my own liberation. Or that I must "bleed and bleed and bleed" -- really, for who?

And why?

Post-menopausal women who are bleeding have either been beaten or have a health condition. The same for women who have had a hysterectomy. Ani's need for women to bleed is deeply sexist and goes to the violent imagery Ani DiFranco embraces. And to the fact that women exist, in her songs, only for what they can do for men. They're metaphors and machines, not full bodied persons, certainly not independent ones, or rational ones, these nature-centric women Ani apparently observed on some 70s vintage feminine napkin commercial. Ani writes as if her brain has taken off 'on the wings of a Maxi.'

Her muse must have taken off for parts unknown because, over and over, the music and Ani's guitar playing sound tired and lifeless on this album. The opening of "Unworry" teases that it might be a song with life but then it's big band time and a simple thump-thump-thump that's tired and dull. It also humorous -- at least it is when Ani reveals that she thinks she can scat. "Scat" might actually be the term to apply to this album, but not in the jazz sense.

"Amendment" starts off with what sounds like radio static (how very R.E.M. of her) and nonsense sounds kick off most tracks like the start of "Hearse."

That one's yet another ode to 'lesbian' Ani's eternal love for being in bed with men ("I just want to lie here with you"). She then wants to really worship the phallus by telling her man, "The little baby in the next room dreaming is just icing on the cake." For someone with such hot loins, you might think she could write one song with music that was convincingly sexual. You would be wrong. And topping her music on the dispassionate measure are her tired vocals. "I will always be your lover," she insists sounding as if she's asking, "You want Thai or Mexican for lunch?"

Sexy really isn't a quality that's ever applied to Ani. And there's something really f**ked up about anyone who thinks "like a dog chasing after a hearse" is a metaphor for sex. Does Ani get how f**ked up she is?

Of course not. Which makes Which Side Are You On work . . . as a comedy album. But fail as anything else.

Laugh at "Splinter" as you grasp that Ani's now ripping off corporate jingles ("The touch, the feel, the fabric of our lives"). But mainly, laugh at the millionaire poser. Ani doesn't like it to be pointed out that she's a millionaire several times over. And certainly that fact doesn't jibe with her 'protests' songs. But no real protest singer does an album applauding a US president -- especially when this one has continued empire and war.

"And you can smell me coming from half way down the street," Ani sings on "Life Boat" and also makes very clear throughout Which Side Are You On.

You know Ani, if Massengil worries you, there are homeopathic cures for vaginal odor -- including garlic and tea tree oil. Either way, you should certainly have looked into that issue before stinking up America with your latest release.