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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