Its easy to forget Liz Phair sometimes. She was one of the 90’s “It-Girls” who broke female songwriting stereotypes, especially with her Chicago made debut album Exile in Guyville (20 years old last Summer), where she sang frankly about sex and desire, and of coming-of-age as a woman in the 90’s. She was lauded and revered, wrote about in every indie magazine, and beloved by most of the girls I knew at the time. She was in her twenties just like my girls and I were, and she sang like we talked, and she could write one hell of a good song.
Liz kept her cool with Whip Smart, and to a lesser degree with the album that may just be my favorite, but not a fan-favorite, Whitechocolatespaceegg. Still, even with the less than loved 1998 album, Liz was still an indie darling in that stereotypical, and honestly rather insulting, “girls want to be her and boys want to be with her” kind of way. Though, hell, I knew quite a few girls who wanted to be her, and be with her.
Then the 90’s ended and so did so many people’s love of Liz. Funny how fans so often do not want their idols to change and grow, isn’t it? Though it isn’t just our idols that we resent changing, we feel that way about each other a lot of the times, too. Liz Phair’s self-titled came out and she got that awful “sell-out” label affixed to her. Some of the songs were chart hits, and for awhile seemed to be in a ton of romantic comedy soundtracks, but the core fan base that I had been a part of seemed to sneer and run the other way.
I still love her though, I loved her through all that, too, and though her albums from the 2000’s are not my most favorites, I still have them and have favorite songs from them. Her songs still speak to me and I still find them reflective and resonating to my life. When I started to think about what artist or band I wanted to do my next Top 10 feature about she came to mind, and the more I thought about her music the more I knew she was my next best choice. The hard part was trying to narrow down 10 songs, but I did my best.
Following are my Top 10 favorite songs from Liz Phair:
“I want all that stupid old shit,
like letters and sodas,
letters and sodas.”
Fuck and Run (live)
My first was nothing close to being his first, and I looked at him, wide eyed and full of naive wonder, thinking we were something special. I wanted a boyfriend, love letters and dates and all that crap that every teen movie had filled my head with, and I wanted something real, something mine, something that wasn’t tainted with the things I’d survived. He became special in different ways than I wanted, but he was never a boyfriend, and fuck how much I wanted him to be mine.
“And Henry said,
‘You’re lucky to even know me.
You’re lucky to be alive.
You’re lucky to be drinking here for free,
cause I’m a
Sucker for your lucky, pretty eyes.'”
We sat in a bar that your best friend worked at, back in the corner, set away from the crowds and the chaos, and I looked at you with distant eyes. I wondered what the hell I was doing there, sitting with you, drinking for free while I was nothing near free at all. I had thought being a bride would make me happy, make me feel like someones, but I knew, deep down, that we didn’t really love each other, not in that big way; though maybe at 25 you can’t really love anyone that way, at all.
“You put in my hands a loaded gun,
and then told me not to fire it.
When you did the things you said were up to me,
and then accused me of trying to fuck it up.”
The night before you slept at the far side of the bed, back turned, never saying single word to me, the way it had been for months now. The next day you made yourself scarce, and so did I, finding things to do and places to be, and when I returned all I saw was a note and a demand to leave the ring when I left. Later you would look at me with shock and sadness, holding the divorce papers in your hand, saying to me “I thought you would never leave“, but honey, you never asked me to stay.
from the album,
“I am just your ordinary,
average every day sane psycho,
The confidence-meets-insecure sentiment here always resonated with me, that clash of self-esteem, the bravado that is sometimes pushed to the surface to disguise the fear and worry that if you look too closely the crazy will show. This song has always spoke to the conflicting layers of who I am that exist, though it also reminds me how most of my life I felt like I had to jump through hoops to keep someone liking me. The younger version of me was always so surprised when someone liked me.
“I’m sending you this photograph,
I swear this one is going to last,
and all those other bastards were only practice.”
What Makes You Happy
The truth of it is that I have loved a lot of people, I have thought I found the one more times than I care to count, and that those who love me may have rolled my eyes through the years. That said, with only one exception, I have never looked back and wondered what would have happened if I tried. I have always believed in love, and have always tried to find something that makes me happy.
“Love is nothing, nothing, nothing like they say,
you gotta pick up the little pieces everyday.”
Love is Nothing
When I was young I thought that when love got hard it must be failing, it must be heading to over, it must not be love at all. This way of thinking was not unique to me, my friends and lovers then, we all seemed to believe that way. But love takes work and compromise, it takes talking and not talking, and letting people change even if change scares you, and it isn’t a promise of forever, it isn’t usually forever at all (but it still can be wonderful, and worth it sometimes).
“You walk in clouds of glitter,
and the sun reflects your eyes,
and every time the wind blows,
I can smell you in the sky.
Your kisses are as wicked as an F-16,
and you fuck like a volcano,
and you’re everything to me.”
The memory of you still burns and feels too hot to touch, to nuclear to recall too often, too dangerous to dig up and dissect. I do remember though, and yes, you were the one that still surprises me when I allow myself the memories. For a short span of time you were everything to me, and even though I still struggle with the why’s, I was everything to you.
“Standing on the corner,
watching the ladies pass by,
imagining me behind your eyes.
And then what did I see?
I saw hips,
I saw thighs
I saw secret positions that we never try.
I saw jealousy.”
That nuclear boy, I never could understand why he was by my side, or in my bed, and I never quite got over the feeling that all the others out in the world would be better than me. I told all my friends I was not the jealous type, but what a lie. I broke the ties before my jealousy could be realized, what a bad idea.
This was the first Liz Phair song I ever heard, standing in a Tower Records with a baby on my hip and a friend at my side. I was not yet 25 and there was something in Liz’s voice that sounded like not yet 25 felt like. I connected to something then and there, in that aisle of music, and left the store with Exile in Guysville in my hands.
“And I’m gonna lock my son up in a tower,
’til I write my whole life story,
on the back of his big brown eyes.”
This song makes me tear up and gives me this tight ache in deep in my chest. I think of my son’s big blue eyes and I think that there is a part of me that would like to lock him, and my two amazing daughters, away in a far off tower to protect them from the pitfalls and pains of living, until I can tell them every lesson I can remember to say. But, then I remember that we all have to dance and dream and dare to live and fall down sometimes, that we have to write our own life stories on the back of our own eyes.