If you’re like me, you’re probably able to chart large chunks of your life through Ani DiFranco’s discography. For me, it’s listening to Not A Pretty Girl on my discman in the break room of the Waldenbooks I worked at. It’s Living in Clip on super repeat in my friend’s car all of our senior year. It’s Revelling/Reckoning my first week of college, the music that bridged from my bedroom to my dorm room. And it’s Knuckle Down, filling up my headphones while I took the subway to work every morning, the year of my first teaching job.
With more than 20 albums, decades of touring, and her infamous record label Righteous Babe Records going strong, it’s hard to look back at the musical landscape — especially the queer musical landscape — of the last 20 years and not make a connection to Ani D.
Mother Jones recently published a pair of interviews, creating a Then and Now portrait of DiFranco. She only recently took a break from her constant touring and music making schedule to slow down, mostly due to the addition of her daughter Petah, now three, to her life. The author of the interview had interviewed DiFranco 15 years ago for the zine Monkey Magnet, and side by side, they make for a interesting catalogue of the folksinger’s life.
Answering the question of what music she liked in 1995, she says:
In the same breath she answers that if she could tour with any musical idol, it’d be Tom Waits (true), and Salt N Pepa (joking). But now, DiFranco demures from any attempt to get her to talk about pop music, saying that her top three albums to listen to would be Hank Williams, Pete Seeger and Jon Hassel. She does note that her favorite artist on the RBR roster right now is Animal Prufrock, and expresses love for female songwriters like Regina Spektor, Anais Mitchell and Joanna Newsom.
Another genre in the mix is what her daughter likes to listen to:
The younger DiFranco of the zine interview shows the same strength and focus as Difranco now, although she appears more generous and humorous in her 1995 interview (I’d imagine that after years of doing interviews, though, you learn to economize). When asked about how she’s handling fame (by then DiFranco had racked up press in the New York Times, Ms., Interview and more), she gave a candid answer about valuing her own anonymity:
And when the conversation got to the topic of selling out (remember when that was the musical dividing line in the ‘90s between indie and not?), DiFranco gives thoughtful response to whether or not she ever considered signing a record deal and giving in:
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but I’d bet DiFranco doesn’t regret the path she chose. If respect, autonomy, activism, collaboration, and the ability to still be doing what you love all these years later is part of the “other things” DiFranco alludes to wanting here, then I’d say she’s doing just fine.