Monday, October 17, 2005

johnny, my love

(Please note: any similarity, real or imagined, to actual men named John is purely coincidental.)

Get out of the business.

I remember exactly where I was sitting the first time I heard Liz Phair say "c**t" (please don't be alarmed at my uncharacteristic delicacy regarding this word. my mother reads this blog).

I was sitting at the kitchen table in the double-wide trailer my friend Bobbie had rented from her mother. It was 1994. Spring. "Exile in Guyville" had recently been released. Sitting across the table from me was a guy named Noah. He was taking bong hits from a glass bong. Having never been a pot smoker, I was not. Liz Phair dropped "c**t" in a sing-song voice in the middle of the song "Dance of the Seven Veils." She implored some unknown Johnny to get out of the business. "I only ask because I'm a real c**t in Spring" -my friend stopped mid bong hit. The whole world changed.

It was a historic moment in my life. Picture me, aged 18: hair bleached beyond white, wallet on a chain. I'm guessing that I was wearing baggy jeans, an a Goodwill tee-shirt, and Vans. From that moment on, I wanted to be Liz Phair. Suddenly, it was okay to be bad. And smart. And to want a boyfriend. And to be a smart bad girl who wants a boyfriend. Who is insecure AND arrogant. To be a cursing, makeup wearing feminist who wants to have kids. When I was 18, this kind of possibility was enormous. It is now.

And voila. As soon as I heard Liz Phair say "c**t," I set out to conduct my life to the soundtrack of "Exile in Guyville." And in the ensuing 12 years, I have more or less lived a song-by-song response to the Stones' "Exile on Main Street." That one "c**t" defined a cultural moment that resonated far beyond its shock value; I stretched it out by growing into it.

To my mind, "Exile in Guyville" is one of the best and most important records of my generation. I was defined and defined myself, even when I didn't realize it, by way of its tracks, which were themselves defined in opposition to c**k-rock's monopoly agressive, expressive sexuality. Liz Phair's "c**t" let her claim vulnerability for herself.

And Johnny, it's worth noting, is still in the business.


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