Sunday Sounds: Ani DiFranco

When I was younger, I heard a lot phases. I had a lot of challenging listening habits (think lots of metal), so maybe it was a mantra my parents recited to get through the day. Or that weeklong vacation in Orlando when I exclusively listened to Metallica’s “Kill Em All” and “Incesticide” by Nirvana. Naturally, I rejected the concept of phases, insisting I’d still be listening to Sepultura well into my seventies. I’m sure mom and dad shuddered at the thought.

It wasn’t until I burned through a few hundred listens of Bob Marley’s “Legend,” then took a long step away from Stir It Up that I recognized the concept of phases. One of my subsequent phases was about Jim Morrison and The Doors. I loved his deep, thoughtful seriousness, juxtaposed against the flamenco guitar, his poetry, persona, everything. A phase is a brand of obsession, where you try and get in their head and try to see the world through their lens.

Ani DiFranco was one such phase, where I dove deep into her back catalog, her writing, other people’s writing about her, her relentless tour schedule and her record label, Righteous Babe Records. I tried to find what made her tick, what fueled her consistent stream of outrage, what made her belly laugh, growl, sneer, and scream throughout the course of an album.

It turned out that an Ani phase is a great lesson in feminism, and a thought-provoking commentary on our painfully patriarchal society.

Growing up in the suburbs of Minnesota, there wasn’t a lot happening around me, and I didn’t feel like I could gain any life experience outside of finding new and novel ways to combat the all-powerful boredom. I felt like I didn’t have any worthwhile problems, so in a way, I decided to adopt somebody else’s. Music provided a gateway out of that boredom, out of the suburbs and into somebody else’s mind, as well as their problems.

That’s why my Ani phase was so paramount to rounding me out as a person. My dad was pretty awesome in that he didn’t relegate laundry, dishes, or cooking to a “woman’s duty,” or anything antiquated like that. He shared in all the domestic, household tasks, but that went away as soon as I left the house.

Ani DiFranco illustrated the struggle that comes from living in a world that thinks of you as less than, and makes very little effort to hide it. A world where people feel like they can say what they want to and about you, whether it’s commentary on your mission to turn the world in to a bunch of feminists, or how your recent change in hairstyle marks a step backwards for the women’s rights movement.

There’s no way I can really know what it’s like to be a woman, or Jim Morrison, but there are lessons I can learn from them, and those lessons can lead to changes in my perception, my decisions, and my daily life. It can open dialogues, even if they’re only internal, that get you thinking about the things you do and say, and how they affect other people.

Beyond her message, Ani’s music is also based around her masterful guitar work, at times delicately skimming across the strings, while in other songs she plucks and twangs with ferocity. There’s nobody else who plays it quite like she does. In most of her music, she’s accompanied by a bass and simple drum kit, which props her range of lyrics and guitar work on the appropriate pedestal to display them, to let them shine.

This Sunday, consider a phase, even if it doesn’t span a month or even a week. Give credence to an artist and their message, and try to learn something from them.



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