Her Next Bold Move
A Tribute to Ani Difranco.
Sound & Vision, Dana Goldstein, Jan. 26, 2007
A Tribute to Ani Difranco.
By Dana Goldstein
I just read that Ani Difranco – the folk/punk/jazz/rock feminist singer-songwriter from Buffalo, NY – gave birth to a baby daughter on Monday, Petah Lucia. I’ve never met Ani, but I know she’s going to be an awesome mom. Apart from my own mother and grandmother, no other woman has taught me so much about how to fight the battles of being female.
growing up it was just me and my mom
against the world
and all my sympathies were with her
when i was a little girl
but now i’ve seen both my parents
play out the hands that they were dealt
and as each year goes by
i know more about how my father must have felt
- “angry anymore,” 1999
It’s difficult for me to overstate the influence Ani had on my adolescence. I was 14 years old in 1998, my parents were getting divorced, I had just broken up with my first boyfriend, and I was starting to think a lot about liberal politics and liberated sex. And one day, sitting alone in my living room, Ani Difranco came on VH1 (how times have changed). Here was this tiny, dreadlocked woman alone on a stage, playing acoustic guitar and singing, "You can’t hide behind social graces / So don’t try to be all touchy feely / You lie—in my face of all places / But I have no problem with that, really." From then on, I was hooked. I bought all 18 albums. Ani is one of the most prolific independent musicians in the United States, releasing one album a year on her independent label, Righteous Babe, since 1990.
and the music industry mafia is pimping girl power
sniping off their sharpshooter singles from their styrofoam towers
and hip hop is tied up in the back room
with a logo stuffed in its mouth
cuz the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house
- “serpentine,” 2003
Beginning when she was a teenager living in New York’s East Village and playing in underground rock and folk clubs, Ani had opportunity after opportunity to sign with a major record label. As she revealed in song, the offers were tempting, but after considering the creative trade-offs she’d have to make and the misogyny of the mainstream music industry, Ani took a risk and continued to release album after album on her own, eventually taking other artists under her wing. Ani wanted to own not only her music, but her image as well—the choice of what to wear, how much skin to show, on what television shows to appear, for what political campaigns to volunteer, and so on and so forth.
So Ani was a role-model not only because she sang about being a feminist, but because she truly lived feminism, launching her own successful business, revealing that she’d had an abortion, opposing war and racism at home and abroad, calling attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis, and singing about her own bisexuality.
musta blown a fuse or something
it was so dark in my mind
she came up to me with the sweetest face
and she was holding a light
of some kind
and i still think of you as my boyfriend
i don’t think this is the end of the world
maybe you should follow
and go meet yourself
a really nice girl
- “light of some kind,” 1995
Because Ani was so lauded as the poster-girl bisexual singer-songwriter, some of her fans were heartbroken when, in the late 1990s, she seemed to settle into a heterosexual life. In 1998 she married sound engineer Andrew Gilchrist. But even before her marriage—which later ended in divorce—Ani’s focus had changed. She still wrote about politics, but more of her songs were about love and heartbreak. And her punked-out style of combat boots, shaved head, and torn clothes gave way to a relaxed aesthetic of dreadlocks, jeans, and tank-tops. Ani’s lyrics during this period left no doubt that she was hurt by some of her long-time fans turning against her. As she jokingly explained to the crowd at one concert, falling in love had made her less judgmental when it came to other women, and she came to accept lipstick and short skirts. And as for the up-tick in love songs, she laughed, “I just got distracted.”
so here’s a toast to all the folks who live in palestine
here’s a toast to the folks living on the pine ridge reservation
under the stone cold gaze of mt. rushmore
here’s a toast to all those nurses and doctors
who daily provide women with a choice
who stand down a threat the size of oklahoma city
just to listen to a young woman’s voice
- “self evident,” 2002
But Ani’s lyrics jolted back to politics after George W. Bush’s victory in the contested election of 2000, followed by 9/11. On April 6, 2002, my best friend and I attended an Ani solo show at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, a performance that would become one her most famous. On that night, Ani debuted “self evident,” a powerful spoken-word piece that, while acknowledging the shocking tragedy of 9/11, unsparingly attacked all the other struggles forgotten in the midst of the Bush administration’s warmongering, from global warming to decreased abortion access, the death penalty, and voter disenfranchisement. Ani was strident—she wasn’t afraid to use words like “imperialism” or say, “ America is not a true democracy.” But she learned from her mistakes. After supporting Ralph Nader for president in 2000, she campaigned for Denis Kucinich in the 2004 Democratic primaries, saying his politics were most in line with her own. During the general election, she pragmatically encouraged her fans to vote for John Kerry, even though she wasn’t thrilled with his position at the time on the Iraq War. And her “Vote Dammit!” campaign highlighted women’s roles throughout American history in advocating voting rights for all.
i mean, why can’t all decent men and women call themselves feminists?
out of respect for those who fought for this
i mean, look around
we have this
i love my country
by which i mean, i am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history who have fought the government to make right
where so many cunning sons and daughters
our foremothers and forefathers came singing through slaughter
came through hell and high water so that we could stand here
and behold breathlessly the sight
how a raging river of tears is cutting a grand canyon of light
- “grand canyon,” 2004
Last July, as she accepted the National Organization of Women’s Woman of Courage award, Ani announced she and her partner—veteran music producer Mike Napolitano—were expecting a baby. Bringing Petah Lucia into the world is just the latest triumph for this self-professed “one woman army.” So congratulations, Ani. You’ve been showing us how it’s done for almost two decades now. I’m excited to see how motherhood affects your songwriting and activism. See you back on tour.