Outside the Lines: Elizabeth Ziff


At her birthday party in Manhattan a few months back, Elizabeth Ziff
rolled onto the stage ready to rock. One loud, sweaty, joyful hour later, Ziff,
her sister Amy and childhood best friend Alyson Palmer — better known as BETTY —
capped off the rollicking lesbo-centric evening with a straight-from-the heart
performance of the L Word theme song.

Even if you’re one of those people who love to hate on that
song, you might think differently hearing it live. As Ziff throws back her
head, her hair a curtain of flaming red and blond waves, that song is on fire.
And so is Ziff. Onstage, she rocks — old school Janis Joplin redux. As she
punctuates each of the infamous words of the chorus with a bigger and bigger
grin, it’s clear that Elizabeth Ziff is having a blast.

Photo credit: Constance

She doesn’t give a damn what anybody thinks of the song — BETTY’s
song — because she loves it and loves performing it. After 25 years as an
independent musician, songwriter, out lesbian activist and, for the last few
years, a composer and producer on The L
, she deserves that. Ziff is a pioneer who’s reinvented herself to stay
relevant in a new lesbian nation. She’s a survivor.

And not just in the business. What she later reveals to the
smitten crowd that evening is that she’s also a breast cancer survivor. Last year
just after The L Word‘s fourth season
ended, Ziff was diagnosed with interductal carcinoma, a form of breast cancer,
after a mammogram.

After several surgeries, Ziff is cancer-free and ready to
soar. Now in Los Angeles, where she’s getting ready for the final season of the
show that changed her life, Ziff recently talked to AfterEllen.com for the
first time about what’s up and what’s next.

Photo credit: Desdemona Burgin

AfterEllen.com: How
did you end up on The L Word?

Elizabeth Ziff: Sometime during the
first season, my uncle introduced me to Ilene [Chaiken] and her ex, Miggi
[Hood]. They knew about BETTY, but had never heard us perform. So we invited
Ilene to host a benefit for lesbian breast cancer research benefits at a BETTY
RULES show in Chicago. When Ilene heard us
perform she was blown away and said, “I’d love to have your band on the

AE: And that led to
the theme song?

EZ: After Season 1, Showtime wanted
a real theme song, something that was character-driven and that you could sing
to. So they put it out to like four or five bands, including us. We were really
honored and worked on the lyrics and recorded the music live on my Pro-tools in
my computer. We went back and forth on the lyrics with Ilene who made a few
changes, but basically she loved it. And when she played it for the networks,
they loved it too. We had no idea that it would be so controversial.

AE: The Showtime
suits loved the “f—ing” line?
Overall, they thought the song was very catchy. Anyway, it’s just a
word. And it’s used in context. I mean, the show is about f—ing. It’s also
about love, but it’s a lot about f—ing, so why not put it in there?

AE: How do you feel
when people say they hate the song?
Listen, I love that it’s been controversial. As an artist, I think it’s
important to push the boundaries. So when something strikes a chord in people,
then you’re doing something worthy. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a good
chord or bad chord. As long as it’s not a hateful chord.

Like what happened with my sister.

Also, I have to say,
so many people also love the song. When we play it in concert, every single
person sings along to it. It’s crazy, and it’s fun.

AE: Some of what has
been written about you has been
hateful, and not just about the song. I mean, sorry to ask, but about you and
Ilene? Were you … are you … ?

EZ: I won’t talk about it.

AE: OK … um.
EZ: I mean, what was the question?

AE: Don’t make me ask
again. I’m not good at this.

EZ: Linda, I don’t talk about Ilene
like that. I don’t talk about her personal life. I’ll talk about sex, I’ll talk
about anything that will empower women. But I don’t think it does anybody any
good for me to talk about Ilene. And it’s not my place. And I don’t want to.

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