Canonizing Ani DiFranco


At last count, the longest I’ve lived in one place since I moved away from home is two years (stability is a casualty of grad school). As I’ve packed up apartments over the years — and thrown out many an item I don’t want to cart around — one of the things I’ve learned is that there aren’t many musicians who wear well. Five years or so later, I’m tossing out CDs and thinking, well, what was I thinking? The Ghost Town DJs? Really?

But there’s one singer who’s been with me through all of the moves (and whose work doesn’t make me question my taste), and that’s the tremendously talented and brilliant singer/songwriter/activist/poet/businesswoman and recipient of NOW’s Woman of Courage award, Ani DiFranco.

Yeah, I like her a little bit. OK, a lot. (And I’m not the only girl around here enamored of her. You can catch an closeup on her here.) If my life had a soundtrack, she would be on it — some of my biggest moments of high dyke drama were set to her music. Like “Untouchable Face,” with its truly magnificent chorus. Hands down, it’s The Best. Breakup. Song. Ever. I only listened to it 47 thousand times or so on a two-hour drive home from that bad breakup. Here’s a glimpse of another perennial queer favorite, “32 Flavors”:

All of this is a preface to say that a two-disc compilation of DiFranco’s 16-year career is being released today: Canon.

As you can see, DiFranco is sticking to her activist folk-singing roots, and the track list takes listeners from her early confessional work through to the poetry of her recent releases. She makes clear over at Righteous Babe that this retrospective wasn’t slapped together to earn some cash, but instead to look at where she’s been as a mark of a new phase of her career. In one recent interview, she says:

“I really feel like I’ve only begun to make records I can stand behind for years to come. It’s such an elusive process making good recordings, but I think having a little more experience and perspective has helped me start to get there. My ongoing mission at this point is to retain my joy and gratitude no matter what else is happening. I always want to feel happy when I get up on that stage.”

She’s rerecorded five songs for this release, including one of her most beloved ballads, “Both Hands.” Here’s video from that session:

Gah. Could she be cuter? And her daughter is absolutely adorable. It’s a little hard to imagine such a musical road warrior finding time to raise a child, but DiFranco feels the experience is giving her perspective:

“Having the baby has definitely shifted my lifestyle, which I think is good for me. I had a moment of resisting, where I’d be imagining myself saying to the baby, ‘What do you mean I can’t get deep into my thing and lose a day — you want to feed again?’ So it’s good for me to have somebody demanding I come out of my world. It’s been very grounding.”

Along with Canon, DiFranco has published a book of original poetry, Verses. This I might actually consider buying (and I hope it turned out better than a book of verse by a certain other folk-ish singer).

And because it seems more pertinent than ever going into this next election, here’s a longish clip from a concert and interview DiFranco gave during her 2004 tour to promote voting. She speaks on the faux personal/political divide in art, the political process, and her love for the American people.



So, any thoughts or memories of her music you have to share?

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