The Curious Case of Ani DiFranco
The release of DiFranco’s new album ¿Which Side Are You On? comes after an unprecedented three year pause in what has otherwise been a career defined largely by its frenetic pace. A logical culmination of what has come before—16 studio albums and a handful of live recordings— Which Side marks a return to her earlier acoustic guitar-based songwriting without rehashing anything. This is an artist looking back at her own life in wide-eyed whirly wonder, intrigued by the un-likeliness of it all, and processing it all through the still-fresh lens of motherhood. (DiFranco and husband Mike Napolitano’s daughter is now 5 years old.)
She confesses with a grin that being a mother has “slowed her down quite a bit,” though acknowledges that she is “finding inner peace for the first time in my life.” She reflects this new sense of stability best in the funky cool dissonance of Which Side’s “Unworry.” It’s a cautious step into the alien world of calmer waters and a lesson from folks in her adopted hometown not to question a good thing when she finally finds it: “They teach me to unworry/ I will teach you to unhide/ in the city where they don’t need x-rays/ to see each other’s insides.”
This concept of transition and rebirth extends darkly through the powerful album closer, “Zoo,” in which she talks about daily realities of American life that encourage selfdestructive behavior: from the spiritual blight of harmful television programming (“I can no longer watch TV cuz that shit really melts my brain”), down to her own past insecurities (“I walk past my old self-loathing like I walk past animals in the zoo/ trying not to really see them in a prison they did not choose”).
For all of its contemplative uncertainty, “Zoo” resolves on an immensely hopeful note: The matter-of-fact finality of which isn’t anything short of inspiring (“Pour your love into your children and there’s nothing left to say”).
Still, as with any DiFranco record, she tempers her optimism and visceral joy of being alive with her own brand of patriotism, urging Americans’ to take a step back from their inclination toward self-absorption and greed to consider the benefits of making a few sacrifices for the greater good. Which Side’s “Splinter” illustrates the point well: “Something about this landscape just don’t feel right/ hyper-air-conditioned and lit up all night/ like we just got to see how comfortable comfortable can get/ like we can’t even bring ourselves to sweat.”
“You know, as humans, we devise this supposed way of being above nature. And even with the level of privilege and comfortability we have in our society, it’s almost like we’re trying to eradicate pain altogether,” she says of the song’s origins. “The idea that we must suffer to be alive is unacceptable to us almost. If we are a group of people who refuse to feel pain and the pain of existence, somebody else has to feel double, you know? And that’s the natural law.
“When I was giving birth—it’s very violent, it’s terrifying, it’s bloody, it’s awful. It was a nightmare for me—but that is what it takes to create life and a whole other manifestation of joy and creativity.”
The first line of the album’s opener, “Lifeboat,” begins with a confession, albeit one that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek: “Every time I open my mouth, I take off my clothes.”
As is her way as a lyricist, DiFranco manages to make a powerful statement with just a few well-chosen words, and, as metaphors go, there probably isn’t any better way to describe the lifestyle of intense exposure and vulnerability that she has made for herself during the years.
The song relates her own life experiences through the eyes of an anonymous homeless woman who feels isolated in the midst of many (“This park bench is a lifeboat and the rest a big dark sea”), but by the second verse, you begin to sense that the message of the song goes well beyond herself.
“This song has a little bit of a plot twist because when I start singing, you think, ‘Oh, another song about me,’” she says. “I can feel [the audience] when I’m singing onstage— and the first line is like, ‘Yeah, we noticed that about you, and that’s me, too!’ And we’re having this moment. And then it’s like, ‘Wait, who is she talking about?’ And I guess, for me, writing the song, it was…”
DiFranco pauses as she considers the thin line between personal and private, and how far she wants to take this conversation over that line. Suddenly, the clatter of dishes from a neighboring table and the passing rumble of trucks that routinely jockey between nearby warehouses seem quite loud to me. After a moment, she continues:
“I’m a very emotional person, biochemically. But I have friends, especially one very dear friend who’s even more emotional than I [am]—they term it ‘bipolar.’ Sometimes when I’m walking down the street, I see the woman ranting, shuffling and alone in this world—unable to connect any longer with the rest of us. But for one little drop of some chemical that I don’t even understand—that’s me, you know?
“If I had had that baby or those babies,” says DiFranco, who had two abortions when she was much younger, “if I’d have not been able to get the music out there and heal myself through the music, and connect and stay connected with people—I feel like, ‘there but for the grace of the goddess go I.’
“So [‘Lifeboat’] is sort of about me, and it’s a little bit of an extrapolation of ‘this person is me,’ you know?”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
- Relix Live Fridays: Trey Anastasio at The Fox
- Grace Potter & The Nocturnals "The Lion The Beast The Beat" (Official Video)
- The Allman Brothers Band Before Gregg?
- The M & Ms: Medeski, Mali, Mercurio, Moore at (Le) Poisson Rouge (A Gallery)
- Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger "The Pequod"
- Trey Anastasio with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center
- More Visions of the Hangout Music Festival 2013 (A Gallery)
- A Blowout for the So So Glos
- Interlocken Festival to Feature Neil Young, Furthur, String Cheese Incident, Black Crowes, Zac Brown and More
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Friend of The Devil" at the Beacon
- The Salvation of Page McConnell (Relix Revisited)
- Interlocken Adds Widespread Panic and John Fogerty, Furthur to Play Workingman’s Dead
- Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa "If Heartaches Were Nickels"
- The Final Ingredient in Dogfish Head’s Grateful Dead Tribute Ale Is…
- Stone Gossard Readies His Moonlander
- Trey Anastasio Band at The Hangout (Video Stream)
- Doctor’s Orders: So what should we call the Super Ball IX Newspaper?
- John Kadlecik Posts Statement on Bob Weir’s Collapse
- "I Wanne Be In moe.": The Latest Volunteers
- Bob Weir Escorted Off Stage During Furthur Show
- Vote for Your Favorite "I Wanne Be In moe." Contestant
- Furthur Cancels BottleRock Show as Bob Weir Is Out Of Commision
- Doctor’s Orders: What’s Your Favorite Furthur Song? (Win Copy of Relix Signed by Phil and Bobby)
- On The Verge Poll