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[June, 1995] Radiohead. Ah, Radiohead.

Actual t-shirt I got at the concert. 18+ years later, it's still one of my favorites.

Actual t-shirt I got at the concert. 18+ years later, it’s still one of my favorites.

6/2/95

Radiohead. Ah Radiohead.

Wearing the t-shirt as I write this. We got to Tramps fairly early (20-30 minutes). There were already people lined up against the partition (that metal thing between the stage and us with a gap to catch crowd surfers and such) so I was at least going to be in the second row. Then a guy in front of me left and there I was, holding on to the metal bar with an unblocked view of the stage.

David Gray (the opener) wasn’t too bad; played a little too long, though.

They made announcements of upcoming shows at Tramps and when they said Afghan Whigs I positively freaked out.

Radiohead came out later, started out w/”The Bends.” I was between [facing] Thom and gorgeous guitarist Jonny Greenwood. They were great. I didn’t even notice the absence of “Stop Whispering” until Anita mentioned it on the way home. “Anyone Can Play Guitar” was wonderful.   

Radiohead Tramps 1995 Set List

I’ve still kept the set list, too.

I asked a roadie walking around onstage if they gave out drumsticks and he said only if they’re broken. Then he went looking for one w/a flashlight around the drum kit. He came back, trying to hold the drumstick by his side so as to hide it and said, “sh…” as he handed it over to me. This guy next to me (not the set list guy) asked if he could touch it and I let him.

Then Anita and I just walked around Tramps a little until I spotted an Afghan Whigs poster. I ran over and started spazzing about how much I had to go. This really stoned blond guy who was standing there jumped up and took the poster down, handing it to me. I thanked him profusely for it and then he started saying how he wanted it. No matter, it’s mine, I’m going to hang it up along with my set list which was autographed but I’m getting to that.

As we kept walking (still inside) I spotted a roadie who had hit his head earlier while setting up for Radiohead. I started talking to him and he was really nice (had a very cool accent), pretty cute too. He let it slip that the band would be coming back here in about 8 weeks. Then Anita saw Jonny on stage and I rushed over calling his name.

He came down to the gap between the gate and the stage and shook our hands. He’s quite beautiful, amazing bone structure. He signed my set list. Then I spotted the bassist, his brother Colin, all the way on the other side. He signed my set list too.

It was a glorious night, a most amazing concert experience. Hope I have this much luck at the Whigs show (please oh please let Greg be very social and hang out afterwards).

I’m going to put the drumstick (not broken at all but sort of gnawed-at looking) near Trent’s guitar pick. The set list will be hung up near the autographed Sponge flat. I’ll be able to open up my own museum w/all this stuff soon!

What can I possibly add to this thorough account?

I have to admit, I still hold it as a point of pride that I got to see Radiohead so early on in their career, at such a small venue. Total capacity for Tramps was around 1,000 people but it felt even smaller that that, like you were watching a show in somebody’s basement. But then to be in the first row of people, too, was just incredible. I don’t think I ever saw a band perform at a better venue in the ’90s, at least in terms of intimacy.

And it was definitely memorable show in terms of getting not only a great piece of memorabilia but having two members of the band sign it, too. And it’s awesome to be able to have an account of the songs they performed that night. The letters at the bottom stood for the four songs they performed as the encore: “You”, “Bulletproof..I Wish I Was”*, and “Street Spirit.”

I don’t think I ever could have predicted Radiohead would have become as big as they were. I would have guessed they’d go the way of Belly or Catherine Wheel, moderately successful for a time, a decent amount of MTV and radio play for a couple of years and then a fade into obscurity. I certainly wouldn’t have expected their music to take such an odd and esoteric turn after that concert and yet still continue to grow their fan base.    

In any event, if I could have created a blueprint for the perfect concert when I was 17-years-old, seeing Radiohead at Tramps would be the closest thing to matching it.  

* I only just noticed that the song title is missing an extra period in the ellipsis and I’m trying not to let that drive me crazy.
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[May, 1995] Awards and the Road to Gothdom

December 8, 2013 2 comments
...

5/5/95

Wow. I won a Gold Award in that contest. I’m going to Washington D.C. to read an excerpt from my story at the library of congress. June 17 (Saturday) there will also be an awards ceremony. The awards will be mailed to the winners by the early summer. I think that means moolah. A scholarship maybe. I still can’t believe it. This is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, winning a National award in a writing contest. Maybe this means I’ll have a good shot at Emerson’s writing scholarship. It’s so great how my parents are leaving this entire college thing to me. I have yet to find a more perfect school for me than Emerson. I think it would be a cool place for Tim too.

The writing award was a pretty big deal and just the affirmation I needed as an aspiring writer. I don’t remember whether I got any scholarship money, though since I was light on extracurricular activities, it was a nice thing to add to my college applications. But I cared less about that as much as this was an indicator that writing was something I was decent at and should stick with. I’ve gone back and forth on that matter in the years since, but at seventeen it was an unexpected and flattering accolade.

It’s funny how I glaze over the parental college issue, because while my mother supported my liberal arts trajectory, my father wanted me to apply to Ivy League schools and refused support unless I was either pre-law or pre-med. As a struggling immigrant, he wanted me to pursue a lucrative career, whereas my mother wanted me to pursue what made me happy.

By the '90s, Robert Smith should have probably started looking into a different look...

By the ’90s, Robert Smith should have probably started looking into a different look…

I told Anita that when the Cure tour again (and since there will be a new album in September that may be soon) we will dress up as major goths and go (It will be so great I can’t even wait!). It will be even more fun than doing the stuff for the NIN-turned-Killing Joke show. I’m getting a lot more into the Cure (talk about them more, want more albums), I’m beginning to also get that feeling again, the same one I had with U2 and NIN. I think that Tim has (at least partially) converted me. Well I have to wait a while to see the effect it has on me.

“I’m bent out of shape desperate to whine screaming so loud that I don’t make a sound
strung out on speed maxed out on lies I know you’re to blame but I can’t say why.” – Moist

I love that quote and wrote it down even though its sentiment doesn’t express my current mood. I feel kind of hyper.

(What I really love is  how I totally missed the reference to methamphetamine in the song lyric, while saying it didn’t match my own hyper mood.)

The musical evolution was well under way, as was the continued flirtation with gothdom.

I was fascinated by the punk and goth subcultures much more than the grunge scene that was emblematic of the 1990s, but I had long since realized I didn’t belong with the punks. And while I loved the goth aesthetic, I was naturally an upbeat optimistic person, and I loved colors, so I didn’t think I’d be suited to the black-black-always-black gloomy world of the gothic people. I also wasn’t familiar with the music beyond the popular bands that fell into the genre’s fold like the Cure, Nine Inch Nails (more industrial, but related) and Cocteau Twins. I also didn’t want to come across as a poseur like I thought Claudia did to me with the punk scene, so I was cautious making any firmly committed affiliations.

One of the most underrated albums of the '90s.

One of the most underrated albums of the ’90s.

I also had it in my head that being goth meant listening to nothing but gothic music, and I still had numerous other bands I listened to (apart from U2) like Belly, Radiohead, Afghan Whigs, and more obscure gems I was happy to discover, like the Canadian band I quoted above, Moist. Terrible name, but their album Silver was an immense discovery to me, full of sharp guitars, vocals on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and lyrics worth scrawling on classroom desks. Being a fan of such an unknown band was both a blessing and a curse, because on one hand they felt like my special secret, but on the other hand, I wanted them to find wider appreciation so that they could tour and release more albums.

And there was also that ambivalent desire for a band to be popular, but not too popular. Belly struck the right balance: they toured small enough venues but had a decent following. But Radiohead… well, I don’t need to tell you about them.

[April, 1995] A Place for Freaks and Misfits

afghan whigs congregation

Congregation, Afghan Whigs (I no longer own the jewel case, but I do still have the CD and inserts)

4/30/95

Right now I’m listening to Afghan Whigs’ Congregation, which I finally got (on CD). So far, better than Up In It but not as good as Gentlemen (which is expected. Gentlemen is great).

I’ve been looking at colleges for a while now and have decided that Emerson is the best school for me. If I can’t (well refuse to) go to school in New York, the next best thing is Boston. BU is okay, but Emerson seems just fabulous. It’s a school for communications and not at all a stick-up-the-butt school. Though it’s pretty small (just under 2,000 people) it seems like the place for me. Emerson offers writing scholarships and is full of misfits and freaks (in other words, people I would most likely want to hang out with).

Here’s a cool Whigs quote:
“hey, baby there’s a vampire moon
scaling the sky shine in your room
your eyes are open you got nothing to do
come outside and play with me tonight “
— Afghan Whigs “Tonight

I saw that [giant arrow drawn in journal pointing up] on an address label once. There’s a hidden track on Congregation it’s coming up now. Actually, it’s really good, better than most of the songs on this. Anita told me that a hidden track is the entire CD played backwards. I love hidden tracks and linear notes (well, the lyrics). This one has both.

Hidden tracks and album packaging have been a sad loss as music has undergone a digital revolution. I’m sure somewhere (I’m looking at you, Buzzfeed) there’s list about “Things You Miss If You Came of Age in the ’90s” or “Stuff People Who Bought Cassettes & CDs Are Really Bummed About” that mentions these things. For those who can’t relate, it’s a shame you will never experience the triumphant rush of joy of purchasing physical music and finding the printed lyrics to the songs included in the liner notes, to say nothing of the obsessiveness required to decipher lyrics of when they weren’t included (the most insane one I ever tried to transcribe, from the cassette version, was R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”).

Then there was the special thrill of discovering a hidden track. In some cases (like Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP) I didn’t even know of the hidden tracks for months and stumbled upon them rather than look for them. This was much more satisfying than being told about the hidden track (music spoiler alert!). Nowadays, it’s rare for me to buy a full album or listen to one all the way through. I download most of my music and I barely glance at the packaging of the handful of CDs I do still acquire annually. It makes me sad; music used to occupy such a predominant role in my life and now it’s little more than a background soundtrack when I’m writing or working out.

...

As for college, if I wasn’t local, NYU would have probably been my dream school. It had a robust liberal arts program and was in the greatest city in the world. But I was determined to leave New York and have college be my reward for enduring six academically rigorous years at Hunter. While my classmates were fond of asking, “What Ivy’s did you apply to?” I wasn’t much interested in those “stick-up-the-butt” schools. Brown was vaguely enticing but Providence, Rhode Island was not, and neither was attending yet another school full of competitive braniacs. I wanted a big city with a good writing program.

It was actually Anita who mentioned Boston as the perfect place to attend college. It was far away from home but not too far, a big enough city, but not too big, and was filled with plenty of matriculation options. So I got a Princeton Review guide and started browsing colleges. As soon as I read that Emerson was known as a school “for freaks and misfits”, where many students had crazy hair, piercings, tattoos, etc., I knew I found my future four-year academic home. Before I even visited the campus or did more in-depth research, I just knew it had to be Emerson. And so it would be, but it would be a bumpy road getting there… 

[January, 1995] Sponge

September 4, 2012 3 comments

I still think of this album cover when I see candy corn.

1/21/95

Anita and I went to Tower Records in Paramus. The Q104 people were there and I got a hat, after identifying 3 DJ’s (including my favorite one, Trent Tyler). First they quizzed the crowd on what bands they play.

“Do we play Metallica?” they shouted.

“Yeah!”

When they asked, “Do we play U2?” I shouted “You should.” And some people replied “Yeah!”

So the guy asked “Should we play U2?” and at least half the people yelled “Yes!”

Then Sponge came out (the drummer wasn’t there though). Vinny (lead singer) played percussion for the first two songs (“Rotting Piñata” and “Molly” or “Drownin’.” I’m not sure about the order. “Plowed” was last, though). For the other two, he got a boy from the crowd to do drums (the first was good, the second a little off, but he wore a Pretty Hate Machine t-shirt).

I was afraid they wouldn’t sign stuff after they performed but they did, and we were near the front of the line. They signed our cardboard flats of the album and Vinnie signed my Converse (the toe of it). I asked them what bands they liked and the blond guy answered “Live.” They were so nice, Anita and I hope they tour soon (and I know their music’s good because I got Rotting Piñata today—I heard it before at Anita’s though).

I got Afghan Whigs’ Up In It today. Very screamy, I can get used to it. Can’t wait to get Congregation

Over the years, I’ve seen a fair number of musicians do record store appearances. Since many were cataloged in my diaries, I’ll leave out the full list, but I did get to meet Cyndi Lauper at a Tower Records about ten years ago, which was a special moment for my not-so-inner ’80s fangirl, and a future journal entry (spoiler alert!) almost certainly describes having a famous ’90s singer/songwriter sign my yearbook. There’s something a little odd about the experience, even though it makes sense for a band or soloist to meet (and often perform for) their fans in the establishments where their music is purchased. But on the other hand, squeezing people in among racks of CDs is awkward at best, crowd control can get tricky, and sightlines can be a nightmare depending on where you end up. Nevertheless, there was something terribly exciting about meeting musical talent that you’d seen on MTV in the flesh, even if it was a band that wouldn’t go on to super-stardom and few would remember years later. Even if it was a band like Sponge.

[Edited to add: Anita saw this post and reminded me of another detail about this outing. “Remember that my mom drove us to the mall, where we thought the Tower was, but it wasn’t there? We’d sat in traffic for an hour and she was in such a bad mood that she wouldn’t get back in the car. So we had to walk a mile, along the shoulder of the highway, to get there?” I do remember walking along the highway now (which we had to do there and back). But I’m sure I just saw that as another part of the adventure.]

For those who don’t remember (and/or are under 30), Sponge was an alternative rock band who had moderate hits with “Plowed” and “Molly.” I still feel a twinge of guilt for asking lead singer Vinnie to autograph one of my stinky Converses. He signed his name “Vin-e” so it looked more like the word “vine,” adding curlicues to the first letter. I wore those sneakers for years after.

And gee, I wonder if my favorite Q104 DJ had anything to do with the fact that he was named Trent, much like the object of my obsession, Mr. Reznor.  No matter how many other bands I listened to, Nine Inch Nails and U2 were still my top fixations and any reference to them (even something as small as seeing a boy in a Pretty Hate Machine t-shirt, which could outshine a flaw like poor rhythm) brightened my day.

There are many reasons to lament the closing of bricks and mortars record shops, and these in-store appearances are one of them. I know nowadays social media makes it even easier for bands to connect with their fans, and some large acts still do occasional gigs in smaller venues or secret shows, but there was something special and endearingly dorky about all of us being crammed into a record store like that. There were no fog machines, no fancy lights or costumes, and an adequate-at-best sound system. It was just the performers and us, and music everywhere.

[January, 1995] Band Members

January 19, 2012 2 comments
movie theater, new york, diary

Nobody actually calls it “Angelika Film Center.” It’s the Angelika.

1/1/95

“Nothing changes on New Years Day” – U2

“Clerks” was hysterical, though we didn’t go to the Angelika. The Village was heavenly as always. The red record place once again had an amazing deal (Achtung Baby on vinyl. U2’s 5th member!). Second Coming provided halo one and halo six. Only missing halo ten now (haven’t seen it anywhere). Got an Afghan Whigs poster (I love these guys, esp. Greg Dulli). Claudia and Anita finally believe me that the sculpture moves. Karaoke was a blast, I could barely do the straight line thing. Handled Tori’s songs quite nicely. On the way home Anita and I saw this raver boy. She said he was better for Jenny’s (her sister’s) band but I don’t necessarily agree. Spent New Years at a “gathering” at Anita’s friend’s Marcy’s house (fun).

The Angelika = pretentious movie theater in SoHo. I had a fixation with the Angelika ever since I saw the listing for Faraway, So Close! (which I never saw on the big screen) and heard about what a cool artsy movie theater it was. And while they do show a selection of fine foreign and independent films, they also have small screens, uncomfortable chairs, subways rumbling underfoot, and audiences that are often humorless (I’ve seen a few movies there in which I was the only one laughing. Unless I’m the only person who found parts of The Good Girl funny…).

“U2’s 5th member” = Adam Clayton’s penis. There’s a naked photo of the bassist in the mosaic cover art. It was censored in the cassette and CD album art, but not in the vinyl, so it was something of a coup to an obsessive like myself.

“Red record place” = Generation Records, one of the few record stores in the Village that is still standing the last time I checked (a year or two ago). It would go on to be my favorite NYC record store and I cobbled together much of my (decently extensive) music collection from the (mostly used) CD’s I purchased there. The walls were covered in posters and records, the cashiers were tattooed/pierced/intimidating, and there was usually punk or some other obscure aggressive music playing.

90's music, diary

The Afghan Whigs = an underrated band fronted by Greg Dulli, who had some brief fame in the alternative scene in the mid/late-90’s. Dulli sang about addiction and tormented love affairs while ironically wailing about being a gentleman and offering such lyrical gems as, “Since you’re aware of the consequences/I can pimp what’s left of this wreck on you/Bit into a rotten one now didn’t you/Now I can watch you chew.”

When I listened to Greg Dulli’s voice, full of arrogance and grit and fury and desperation, it was like being serenaded by the boyfriend from hell.  I could imagine an entire doomed love story playing out, replete with passion, addiction, betrayal… terribly unhealthy but terribly romantic. And I was ready to fall into dark, twisted love whenever I heard those first anguished notes. Dulli went on to front The Twilight Singers, who never had the same intense appeal for me.

“Straight line thing” = booze. My coy way of saying we got tipsy. I was still writing much of my journal in code, in case it somebody read it who shouldn’t again.

“The sculpture moves” = the Astor Place Cube, which can be rotated. For some reason, my friends never believed me when I said it does, until one late night I made them grab a side and push until they saw it does move.

Karaoke = a dorky passion I discovered at Claudia’s house. Her new stereo came with a microphone and song setting where lead vocals could be muted. After belting out a few Tori Amos songs, I was hooked and pretty much have been ever since.

Band = a term Anita and I used when we found a cute guy (meaning we wanted him in our band; that is how music-centric our lives were). The raver boy we saw was really young, which is why Anita referred to him as being more appropriate for her younger sister Jenny’s band. It wouldn’t be the last time I fixated on inappropriate choices for my band…

[December, 1994] Writing Exercise: A Musical Portrait

The red spiral notebook was a journal started out of a requirement for a creative writing class. I usually didn’t use it for the actual writing assignments, but the one below somehow got included.

The assignment was to pick someone in the room, and write a detailed description of them. Then some of the students read their descriptions out loud and the rest of us tried to guess the subject. We weren’t given any restrictions on what we could write apart from not using the person’s name. I looked around the room for potential subjects but then decided to write about myself. Go vain 16-year-old me! Now I kind of cringe at my teenage self-centeredness, but am also glad for the verbal time capsule. Then I actually read through it and cringe again.

[12/5/1994 – WRITING EXERCIZE]

[To this day, I intuitively misspell “exercise” because it seems wrong for the word not to have a “z” in it.]

She has long brown hair that ends 3 inches above her waist. She has been growing it for almost 3 ½ years. She has medium brown eyes (not too large or small) and rather thick eyelashes. Her lips are kind of small, she wishes they were fuller but she wears dark lipstick most of the time anyway. Her eyebrows are slightly arched and she plucks them.

[And let’s not forget that the haircut I was growing out was inspired from Chynna Phillips from Wilson Phillips, and necessitated by the need to get rid of the last dregs of a bad perm. Though let’s be honest, is there really such a thing as a good perm?]

She loves music and is always wearing a band shirt (usually U2 or Nine Inch Nails). Speaking of NIN, she’s unbelievable excited about the concert in 2 days. She’s going with her friend Claudia and then Friday with Claudia again and Salli too. This concert is something she has been looking forward to for over a month.

She’s really happy that her best friend Anita got Pretty Hate Machine a few days ago. They tried to listen to it in sync (over the phone) but it didn’t work. Amita is the one who got her started on U2 (which many people were ready to murder Anita for later on).

[I remember that Pretty Hate Machine listening party quite well. I had the cassette and I’m pretty sure Anita did, too. We were gradually incorporating CD’s into our music libraries during our village outings, but it would be a while before compact discs outnumbered our tapes. Anyway, we spent a ridiculous amount of time on the phone trying to press Play at exactly the same time, but the whirring electronic beats of “head like a hole” always started just a little bit sooner for one of us. No matter how many times we rewound and tried it again, we couldn’t get the music to sync up perfectly. I think we still listened to the whole album over the phone, most likely peppered with my enthused and worshipful commentary.]

One of the few U2 shirts I still own. Goes for $50-$80 on eBay!

Since that summer just two years ago she has accumulated quite a lot of U2 stuff. Sometimes, when she can’t sleep, she’ll go over her U2 collection in her head and has estimated it is worth $850 at face value (she underestimates these things though). 

[Some people count sheep, I counted 7″ and 9″ records, bootlegs, books, magazines, and other scraps of fandom. I still have a box of memorabilia at my mom’s place, though I don’t think it’s worth is going to surpass my 401K any time soon.]

U2 have greatly inspired this person, giving her the words she lives by “dream out loud.” She has learned to accept this part of herself, this “U2-ism” and has come to terms with it in a healthy way (this NIN thing on the other hand…). She now puts together a U2 ‘zine “Faraway, So Close!” that has been doing pretty well (she hopes to complete the second issue over winter break). She’s planning a big trip to Dublin after she graduates and doesn’t really expect to meet any members of the band (such as her favorite, drummer Larry Mullen Jnr) but if she does happen to run into them…so much the better. 

[For the record, I made it through all of my various music obsessions without a single restraining order.]

One more U2 thing, she has met lots of people through penpal listings and such and so now she is in the “U2 network” and has been for over 6 months.

She wants to see if there’s some NIN network (there is On-line, but she’s not with all that).

[Remember when the Internet was this thing you could simply choose not to be part of? No doubt many of you do not.]

She thinks Trent Reznor (who writes, arranges, and performs all NIN songs, hiring people to help during tours) is one of the (if not the) most talented, fascinating people she’s ever known of. His music is so dark and scares so many people (good!) but she finds great strength and expression in it.

This is what you find when you search for a photo of Tori Amos and Trent Reznor together.

She also loves Tori Amos and if you’d ask her who she would like to trade places with right now, she’d say Tori.

[Probably because she was creative and quirky and likely got it on with Trent Reznor.]

Then there are so many other artists and bands she listens to, like The Trash Can Sinatras for the beautiful, tuneful songs. Then there’s Afghan Whigs, Moist, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam for their melodic anger. Also Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead for the “guitar-driven angst.” And Belly and Liz Phair because she, well she just likes their songs.

[And somehow I never got that music journalist career off the ground…]

While this is in no way a complete portrait of her it is a near-complete musical portrait.

[And a somewhat dull and pretentious one at that, so if you made it all the way through, you deserve a cookie.]

[September, 1994] Liz Phair Brought Me Up And Let Me Down

January 12, 2011 5 comments

 

What Liz Phair was...

9/22/94

“Some things are melting now” – Tori Amos

I went to HMV today and got a great tape, Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville.  Her second release, Whip-Smart just came out and I’ll probably get that fairly soon.  Exile is just so good, there are 18 songs and not one of them suck.  Her voice isn’t amazing or anything but I like that, it’s earthy.  I’m also interested in getting some earlier Afghan Whigs.

Oh Liz Phair. There’s such a muddle of impressions that comes to mind when I think of her. So much surprise and admiration at first, so much disgust and disappointment later on, so much indifference in-between.

Let’s go back to the glorious beginning, when a girl in Chicago recorded an album in her bedroom or basement on an eight-track or four-track or however many tracks it is that gives you the most indie cred. This evolved into Exile in Guyville, and was hailed as an 18-song lo-fi masterpiece.

It wasn’t the sort of music I would normally go for. Phair’s range as a singer was (is) limited, so the vocals were flat/monotonous. The production values weren’t spectacular, and all the songs were rough around the edges. The album’s title was cheesy. And yet…

From the first song on the first side (yes, let’s not forget I got the cassette), I was hooked the moment she sang, “And I kept standing 6’1″, instead of 5’2″, and I loved my life, and I hated you.” Here was a woman we could all relate to. She got hung up on the wrong guys, she was ostracized, but deep down she knew she was worth something. She had moments of triumph, she had orgasms, she got pissed off, she talked back. If Tori Amos was the crazy aunt who baked pot brownies and pranced around the backyard in fairy wings, Liz Phair was cool older sister who teaches you about what guys want, remembers what it was like not to be cool, and reassures you that you’ll come out okay on the other side.

Exile in Guyville was a raw and sexy breath of fresh air for me (as were Afghan Whigs, in an irresistible-boyfriend-from-hell kind of way). I got Phair’s first album just as the second one, Whip-Smart, was making her an alterna-MTV darling. Whip-Smart was more hit-and-miss, but had enough remnants of the debut sound to make it acceptable and also got more commercial attention. So Exile remained more of a gem for the “true fans.”

Then I went off to college and got her third album, whitechocolatespaceegg, which was surprisingly slick and striving to be pop-like and utterly forgettable.

...and what she became.

And then in 2003 came a fourth, self-titled album. And yeah, she was straddling a guitar in a way that looked more contrived than empowered, and yes, she collaborated with a duo who wrote songs for Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne, but maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad.

And then I heard the single, “Why Can’t I?” and it was all that bad and a bag of crap chips. I didn’t get the album, but I did see her in concert, hoping that the earlier better material would redeem the show. It didn’t. To make things worse, she acquired a dull, generic fratty crowd that looked like they were there to see Dave Matthews Band. To make things worse, the songs they cheered on the most were the new ones I couldn’t stand.

In interviews, Liz Phair defended selling out, saying she had a son to support, and who doesn’t want success, and blah-blah-look-at-me-posing-in-a-trucker-hat-wearing-an-american-flag-in-the-shower-like-an-idiot-blah. Attaining commercial success is one thing; doing so while stripping all quality, charm, talent, and intelligence from your creative work is another.

I’m not happy to write this, but I wonder if Liz Phair was never a real artist, if she was just a fluke. She used to use her sex appeal in an unapologetic, playful way, to spread the word on her music, which was actually worth something. But ever since that commercially-successful/creatively abysmal fourth album (to this day, I could only hear it all the way through once) there’s been something increasingly used up and desperate about her, like she knows nothing she ever does again will have the same magic of Exile in Guyville, not even a little bit. And I can’t help but feel somewhat betrayed and swindled for ever loving her in the first place.

Who knows, maybe she still has a great album in her somewhere, maybe that gritty/clever/smirking woman will be ressurected and prove me wrong. Can’t say I’m counting on it, though.