This year marks the 15th anniversary of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. It is being reissued, along with an accompanying documentary.
I have been enamored with this album since the first time I heard it as a frustrated, sexually-confused teenager. At that point, my sexual experience was pretty limited (this changed a lot faster than I would have ever guessed), but I still could relate to the overriding theme of the album: the entire hipster/indie rock scene was dominated by this repressive/unfair set of rules created by its primarily male members. As for girls who liked records, going to shows, and starting bands? Well, they had better walk a straight line and walk two steps behind every boy (both literally and figuratively). In an interview yesterday on NPR, Phair described it this way:
“They felt to me like a mafia of music lovers, who were supposedly representing ‘alternative,’ but at the same time I found them to be sort of oppressive. You couldn’t like certain bands if they were too pop. And if you didn’t know which band had split up to re-form the band that you were discussing, then you didn’t have an opinion. You couldn’t even throw out an opinion, because you just didn’t have the background.”
This description applied to even the sparse Central PA indie rock scene of my early teenage years…even though alcohol was nearly impossible to get and all of the shows were held in rented out fire halls. The few girls in bands were pigeonholed as “cute” and possibly “slutty.” The boy bands had all of the adoring fans and valuable cred. My hopes that college in the big NYC would be any different were quickly dashed. The only way for female music fans/musicians to receive any respect was to proclaim lesbianism. Apparently girls who dared to cavort with boys were too busy putting on makeup to know anything about music. This outlook applies to the Chicago indie scene (not just from Liz Phair’s era, but also the time I was living there in the late 90s) and Portland (almost entirely one big non-stop music scene).
I dated this fuckface (I can assure you that in an overall sense, “fuckface” is the best word to describe his behavior, attitude, and treatment of women) back in Portland who gave me grief for still listening to Liz Phair. “That’s from high school,” he would exclaim. And later, when he could do nothing but spew slander and ugliness about me via the internet and idle conversation with mutual friends, he would throw in my supposedly lame music taste (specifying my appreciation of early Liz Phair) in to the mix, along with insults regarding his alleged knowledge of my genitals. The thing is, my dear Mr. Fuckface, Exile in Guyville represents more than just high school and college for me, it is single-handedly the document that best describes my life, experiences, and relationships from my teenage years to the present. It still rings true…it still sounds fresh…and it remains one of the most honest, progressive albums I have heard in my entire life. Maybe the actual craftsmanship wasn’t groundbreaking (verse-chorus-verse, guitar, bass, drums…nothing to shocking there), but the ideas were. Phair describes it this way:
“As a female, I don’t think you’re supposed to say the kind of things I wanted to say. Or at least I had gotten myself in a position where I didn’t feel comfortable saying to people’s faces a lot of the stuff I said on that record.”
Anyway, in homage to that album and all of the ideas it has inspired within me in the last 15 years, I’m going to spend the next few days writing about some of my favorite songs from the album, the ways in which I have interpreted them, and the actions/ideas they have inspired.
P.S. Check out the NPR interview here.