Friday, December 13, 2002 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES
2002-12-13

"We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident: 1, George W. Bush Is Not Our President; 2, America Is Not a True Democracy; 3, the Media Is Not Fooling You, It’s Not Fooling Me"–Ani DiFranco

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Today we bring our listeners and viewers an hour with singer, songwriter, guitarist and now bandleader, Ani DiFranco. [includes rush transcript]

There is a lot to talk about. We last spoke with Ani in May of 2001. Since then, the country and the world have changed.

Some 3,000 people died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Over 3,000 people died in the bombing of Afghanistan.

Unknown hundreds of immigrants have been detained and deported.

Around a hundred people have been executed by state governments in this country.

The stock market has crashed. Over one-and-a-half million jobs have been lost, including tens of thousands at Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing and Arthur Andersen.

Over 1.3 million people have joined the ranks of people in the US who are living under the poverty line, and the nation’s poverty rate is increasing for the first time in eight years.

A man who was not popularly elected president has declared war on the world. And Dan Rather, who is arguably the most famous journalist in the country, said of George Bush, "Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where."

Who better to talk all this over with than Ani DiFranco?

For our listeners who are still unfamiliar with this musical phenomenon, a little background:

Ani DiFranco was born in the blue-collar city of Buffalo, New York. She picked up a guitar at age nine and a few years later began writing her own songs and playing in local coffeehouses.

Ani moved to New York when she was nineteen years old. Within a year, she had recorded a few hundred tapes. The tapes sold out, and she founded her own record label, Righteous Babe Records.

By 1993, major labels were approaching her regularly,­ and she regularly rejected their advances. President and CEO of Mercury Records Danny Goldberg called Ani DiFranco "one of the most brilliant and compelling artists" around, "a genius." She didn’t take the bait.

Over the years, Ani’s music has woven together styles ranging from folk to funk, rock to R n’ B, jazz to soul. She sings of the political and the personal; of love, sexuality and loneliness; of sexual abuse and police brutality; about the perversion of democracy in America to the perversion of media in this so-called democracy. She has a new poem about 9/11.

She went from a woman with a guitar to a guitarist-plus-drummer to a trio to a six-piece band. Now, she has just completed her first solo tour in seven years. Ani tours the US all the time and plays regularly in Europe, Australia and Japan. Ani has released twenty albums, and Righteous Babe Records has sold 3.5 million of them.

Guest:

  • Ani DiFranco, singer, songwriter, poet, and founder of Righteous Babe Records.

Related link:

Live Performance:

  • "Self Evident," a poem about September 11 (So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter, 2002).
  • "Serpentine," a new song not yet on any album.
  • "Anticipate" (Not So Soft, 1991).
  • "Subdivision" (Reveling/Reckoning, 2001)
  • "Your Next Bold Move" (Reveling/Reckoning, 2001).

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

    ANI DiFRANCO and JULIE WOLF: Coming of age during the plague of Reagan and Bush,
    watching capitalism gun down democracy,
    it had this funny effect on me, I guess.
    I am cancer, I am HIV,
    and I’m down at the Blue Jesus Blue Cross hospital,
    just looking up from my pillow feeling blessed.
    And the mighty multinationals have monopolized the oxygen
    so it’s as easy as breathing for us all to participate.
    Yes, they’re buying and selling off shares of air
    and you know it’s all around you,
    it’s hard to point and say there,
    so you just sit on your hands and quietly contemplate…

AMY GOODMAN: Ani DiFranco. We’re going to spend the hour with her today, and we welcome you to Democracy Now!

ANI DiFRANCO: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, the singer, the songwriter, the guitarist, and the bandleader, Ani DiFranco.

There’s a lot to talk about. We last spoke with Ani in May of 2001. Since then, the country and the world have certainly changed. Some 3,000 people have died at the World Trade Center, just down the block from us. Over 3,000 people have died in the bombing of Afghanistan. Unknown hundreds of immigrants have been detained and deported. Around a hundred people have been executed by state governments in this country. The stock market has crashed. Over a million-and-a-half jobs have been lost, including tens of thousands at Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing and Arthur Andersen. Over 1.3 million people have joined the ranks of people in the US who are living under the poverty level, and the nation’s poverty rate is increasing for the first time in eight years. A man who was not popularly elected president has declared war on the world, and Dan Rather, one of the most famous journalists in this country, said of George Bush, “Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.”

Who better to talk all this over with than Ani DiFranco.

ANI DiFRANCO: Oh, goodness!

AMY GOODMAN: For our listeners who are still unfamiliar with this musical phenomenon, a little background. Ani DiFranco was born in the blue-collar city of Buffalo, New York. She picked up a guitar at age nine and a few years later began writing her own songs and playing in local coffee houses. Ani moved to New York when she was nineteen. Within a year, she had recorded a few hundred tapes. The tapes sold out, so she founded her own record label, Righteous Babe Records. By 1993, major labels were approaching her regularly, and she regularly rejected their advances. President and CEO of Mercury Records, Danny Goldberg called Ani DiFranco “one of the most brilliant and compelling artists around. A genius.” Well, she didn’t take the bait.

Over the years, Ani’s music has woven together styles ranging from folk to funk, rock to R&B, jazz to soul. She sings of the political and the personal, of love, of sexuality and loneliness, of sexual abuse and police brutality, and about the perversion of democracy in America to the perversion of media in this so-called democracy. She has a new poem now about 9/11. She went from a woman with a guitar to a guitarist plus drummer to a trio to a six-piece band. Now’s she’s just completed her first solo tour in seven years. Ani tours the US all the time, plays regularly in Europe and Australia and Japan. Ani has released twenty albums, and Righteous Babe Records has sold three-and-a-half million of them.

Welcome to the firehouse studios of Democracy Now!

ANI DiFRANCO: Oh, thanks, I like your new digs.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah.

ANI DiFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: It is very nice to be here with you. Actually, we are just blocks from Ground Zero. September 11th, the people who survived came tumbling down the street here covered in ash. And when I saw you in concert at the Beacon Theater here in New York, the night before, you ended with a remarkable poem called 9/11 that is on your latest — well, not exactly 911, but about 9/11.

ANI DiFRANCO: “Self Evident,” yeah, it’s called.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s on your latest album, So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter.

ANI DiFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And people are still talking about it.

ANI DiFRANCO: Oh, yeah. Well, it’s been really cathartic to travel around and perform that poem and, you know, feel all the support for those kind of sentiments that, as you say, are just not found in the mainstream media. But you want to hear it? Is that the idea? OK, shut up and do the poem. Let’s see, how’s it go?

    yeah,
    us people are just poems
    we’re 90% metaphor
    with a leanness of meaning
    approaching hyper-distillation
    and once upon a time
    we were moonshine
    rushing down the throat of a giraffe
    rushing down the long hall
    despite what the p.a. announcement says
    rushing down the long hall
    down the long stairs
    in a building so tall
    that it will always be there
    with the whiskey of eternity
    it’s part of a pair
    there on the bow of noah’s ark
    the most prestigious couple
    just kickin back parked
    against a perfectly blue sky
    on a morning beatific
    in its Indian summer breeze
    on the day that America
    fell to its knees
    after strutting around for a century
    without saying thank you
    or please

    and the shock was subsonic
    and the smoke was deafening
    between the setup and the punch line
    cuz we were all on time for work that day
    and we all boarded that plane for it to fly
    and then while the fires were raging
    we all climbed up on the windowsill
    and then we all held hands
    and jumped into the sky

    and every borough looked up when it heard the first blast
    and then every dumb action movie was summarily surpassed
    and the exodus uptown by foot and motorcar
    looked more like war than anything I’ve seen so far
    so fierce and ingenious
    a poetic specter so far gone
    that every jackass newscaster was struck dumb and stumbling
    over 'oh my god' and 'this is unbelievable' and on and on
    and I’ll tell you what, while we’re at it
    you can keep the pentagon
    you can keep the propaganda
    you can keep each and every tv
    that’s been trying to convince me
    to participate
    in some prep school punk’s plan to perpetuate retribution
    perpetuate retribution
    even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
    is still hanging in the air
    and there’s ash on our shoes
    and there’s ash in our hair
    and there’s a fine silt on every mantle
    from hell’s kitchen to brooklyn
    and the streets are full of stories
    sudden twists and near misses
    and soon every open bar is crammed to the rafters
    with tales of narrowly averted disasters
    and the whiskey is flowin
    like never before
    as all over the country
    folks just shake their heads
    and pour

    so here’s a toast to all the folks that live in palestine
    afghanistan
    iraq

    el salvador

    here’s a toast to all the folks living on the pine ridge reservation
    under the stone cold gaze of mt. rushmore

    here’s a toast to all those nurses and doctors
    who daily provide women with a choice
    who stand down a threat the size of Oklahoma City
    just to listen to a young woman’s voice

    and here’s a toast to all those folks on death row right now
    awaiting the executioner’s guillotine
    who are shackled there with dread and can only escape into their heads
    to find peace in the form of a dream

    cuz take away our playstations
    and we are a third world nation
    under the thumb of some blue blood royal son
    who stole the oval office and that phony election
    i mean
    it don’t take a weatherman
    to look around and see the weather
    jeb said he’d deliver florida,
    and boy did he ever

    and we hold these truths to be self evident:
    #1 george w. bush is not president
    #2 america is not a true democracy
    and #3 the media is not fooling you
    it’s not fooling me
    cuz we’re poems heeding hyper-distillation
    and we’ve got no room for a lie so verbose
    i’m looking out over my whole human family
    and raising my glass in a toast

    here’s to our last drink of fossil fuels
    may we vow to get off of this sauce
    shoo away the swarms of commuter planes
    and find that train ticket we lost
    cuz once upon a time the line followed the river
    and peeked into all the backyards
    and the laundry was waving
    and the graffiti was teasing us
    from brick walls and bridges
    we were rolling over ridges
    through valleys
    under stars
    i dream of touring like duke ellington
    in my own railroad car
    I dream of waiting on the tall blonde wooden benches
    in a grand station aglow with grace
    and then standing out on the platform
    and feeling the air on my face

    give back the night its distant whistle
    give the darkness back its soul
    give the big oil companies the finger finally
    and relearn how to rock-n-roll
    the lessons are all around us and a change is waiting there
    so it’s time to pick through the rubble, clean the streets
    and clear the air
    get our government to pull out
    of somebody else’s desert
    quit the adversarial stance
    quit the hypocritical chants of
    freedom forever

    cuz when one lone phone rang
    in two thousand and one
    at ten after nine
    on nine one one
    which is the number we all called
    when that lone phone rang right off the wall
    right off our desk and down the long hall
    down the long stairs
    in a building so tall
    that the whole world turned
    just to watch it fall

    and while we’re at it
    remember the first time around?
    the bomb?
    the ryder truck?
    the parking garage?
    the princess that didn’t even feel the pea?
    remember joking around in our apartment on avenue d?

    like, can you imagine how many paper coffee cups would have to change their design
    following a fantastical reversal of the new york skyline?!

    it seemed like a joke
    at the time
    and that was just a few years ago
    so let the record show
    that the fbi was all over that case
    that the plot was obvious and in everybody’s face
    and scoping that scene
    religiously
    the cia
    or is it kgb?
    committing countless crimes against humanity
    with this kind of eventuality
    as its excuse
    for abuse after expensive abuse
    and they didn’t have a clue
    look, another window to see through
    another key
    another door
    way up here
    on the 104th floor
    10% literal
    90% metaphor
    3000 some poems disguised as people
    on an almost too perfect day
    should be more than pawns
    in king george’s passion play
    so now it’s your job
    and it’s my job
    to make it that way
    to make sure they didn’t die in vain
    sshhhhhh....
    listen
    hear the train?

AMY GOODMAN: Ani DiFranco, “Self Evident,” here on Democracy Now! Can you talk about writing that poem?

ANI DiFRANCO: Took a long time. I worked and worked on it for months. Meanwhile, I was on tour. I went — well, I was in Manhattan, as well, that day. I just was Midtown, so, you know, I just sort of experienced it all vicariously, just the people covered in ash, as you say, just flooding uptown. And there was just so much for all of us to react to, so I started writing.

And then I went on tour, later that month, just as everybody was canceling tours and going and hiding in their house. We went out, and the audiences were a little smaller at first, you know, that atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that was paralyzing us all. So I found myself onstage, suddenly, you know, a couple weeks later, trying to speak to it but not being able to form the words. And eventually I just started doing that poem in its unfinished form. I just called it, you know, “Work in Progress,” until the next April, when I was back in New York performing for the first time.

And I performed it finally for a New York audience, for people that I — you know, I launched into it, and then I had this crisis of “What am I doing? How dare I?” you know, just looking out into the darkness, thinking, “Well, who lost what that day? Who lost who that day in this audience? And what am I dumping on their laps in this moment?” But when I did come back to New York and perform that poem, that’s when I decided it was done, and I titled it “Self Evident.” And I’ve moved on to working on other things.

AMY GOODMAN: You said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: George W. Bush is not President; America is not a true democracy; the media is not fooling me.”

ANI DiFRANCO: Yeah, it’s amazing, the audience response, that, say, for instance, what you just spoke, what that brings forth from people. You know, we know that feeling so well of just searching for affirmation for what we think, how we perceive the world, and not finding it on the TV or, you know, in the newspapers in any of the — you know, so just to stand there and say that, it really helps me to be able to breathe during the day, you know, to celebrate the truth like that. I hear the audience every night onstage, you know, when I speak it, and it’s a very powerful feeling, because you begin to doubt whether you’re alone, I think. You know? And you’re just saturated by these corporate messages that have nothing to do with us or reality, so it’s an invigorating feeling to stand onstage and just speak to it.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel the environment has been since September 11th? Do you feel there are more people resisting now?

ANI DiFRANCO: Well, I sure hope so. I feel — I bet there are in their hearts. You know, I mean, it’s terrifying how voiceless we are, how unconnected we are. You know, I mean, I think that if we could connect ourselves, our power would just be infinite. But meanwhile, like I say, I travel around, and I play shows night after night, and I feel the disillusionment, the anger. You know, I feel all of these people aware, so much more aware than the 80 percent approval rating of George Bush polls would have the world believe, you know. So, yes, I think that people, all kinds of people out there in America, are really wondering why we’re calling this man president, that snuck his way into the Oval Office and such. We’re just somewhat voiceless, I guess.

AMY GOODMAN: Ani DiFranco is our guest for the hour, singer and songwriter. Her latest CD is So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter. And this next song, “Serpentine,” is so new it’s not even on the CD.

ANI DiFRANCO: Well, let’s see.

    pavlov hits me with more bad news every time i answer the phone
    so i play and i sing and i just let it ring
    all day when i’m at home
    a de facto choice of macro
    or microcosmic melancholy
    but, baby, any way you slice it
    i’m thinkin i could just as soon use the time alone

    yeah, the goons have gone global
    and the CEOs are shredding files
    and the democrans and the republicrats
    are flashing their toothy smiles
    and uncle tom is posing for a photo-op
    with the oval office klan
    and uncle sam is rigging cockfights
    in the promised land
    and that knife you stuck in my back is still there
    it pinches a little when i sigh and moan
    and these days i’m thinkin i could just as soon use
    the time alone

    ’cause all the wrong people have the power
    of suggestion
    and the freedom of the press is meaningless
    if nobody asks a question
    i mean
    causation by definition
    is such a complex compilation
    of factors
    that to even try to say why
    is to oversimplify
    that’s a far cry
    isn’t it dear?
    from acting like you’re the only one there
    unrepentantly self centered and unfair
    enter all suckers scrambling for the scoop
    exit mr. eye-contact
    who took his flirt and flew the coop
    but whatever
    no matter
    no fishin trips
    no fishin
    ’cause mamma’s officially out of commission
    and did i mention
    in there
    somewhere
    did i mention
    somewhere
    in there
    that i traded babe ruth?
    yes, i traded the only player that was bigger than the game
    and i can’t even tell you why
    ’cause you’d think i’m insane
    and that’s the truth

    and the music industry mafia is pimping girl power
    sniping off sharp shooter singles from their styrofoam towers
    and hip hop is tied up in the back room
    with a logo stuffed in its mouth
    ’cause the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house
    but then

    i’m getting away from myself

    as i get closer and closer to home
    and the difference between you and me baby
    is i get — i get messed up
    when i’m alone

    and i must admit
    today today my inner pessimist
    seems seems to have got the best of me
    we start out sugared up on kool aid and manifest destiny
    and then we memorize all the presidents’ names
    like little trained monkeys
    and we’re spit into the world
    so many spinny-eyed tv junkies
    incapable of unraveling the military industrial mystery
    preemptively pacified with history book history
    and i’ve been around the world now
    and i can see this about america
    the mind control is steep here
    the myopia is deep here

    and behold
    those that try to expose the reality
    who really who really who really try to realize democracy
    are shot with rubber bullets and gassed off the streets
    while the global power brokers are kept clean and discreet
    behind a wall
    behind a moat
    and that is all
    that’s all
    that’s all
    that’s all she wrote

    and my heart beats an s-s-s o-o-o s-s-s
    ’cause folks just really couldn’t care-care-care less-less-less
    as long as every day is superbowl sunday
    and larger than life women in lingerie
    are pouting at us from every bus stop
    shelovesme shelovesmenot
    shelovesme shelovesmenot
    shelovesme shelovesmenot

    and big government should not stand between a man and his money
    i mean "what’s good for business is good for the country"

    our children still take that lie like communion
    the same old line
    the confederacy used on the union

    conjugate liberty
    into libertarian
    and medicate it
    associate it
    with deregulation
    privatization
    we won’t even know we’re slaves
    on a corporate plantation
    somebody say hallelujah!
    somebody say damnation!
    ’cause the profit system follows the path of least resistance
    and the path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked
    makes it serpentine
    capitalism is the devil’s wet dream
    so just give me my judy garland drugs
    and let me get back to work
    ’cause the empire state building
    is the tallest building in new york
    and i always got the feeling
    you just liked to hear it fall

    off your tongue

    but i remember my name

    in your mouth
    and i don’t think i was done
    hearing it close to my ear
    on a whisper’s way to a moan
    but pavlov hits me with more bad news every time i answer the phone
    so i play and i sing and i just let it ring all day when i’m at home

    a de facto choice of macro
    or microcosmic melancholy
    but baby, any way you slice it
    i’m thinkin i could just as soon use
    the time alone

AMY GOODMAN: “Serpentine,” Ani DiFranco, here on Democracy Now!

There’s so much to talk about in all that you’re conveying in your music and also how you’re doing it, the fact that you’ve been able to remain independent. Do you think that determines a lot of what you can say in “Serpentine” and “Self-Evident”?

ANI DiFRANCO: Well, no. I think it’s just my belief that I can say whatever I want to say is what determines that. And that is a power that all of us have. My friend Utah Phillips said — I heard him say once that freedom of speech is — you’re born with it, you know, like your eyes, your ears. You’re born with it, then you wait for somebody to come and try to take it away. And the degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free. But I — it’s almost the other way around. I mean, I’m not on a major label because of who I am, of what I do, because the freedom to speak is just more essential to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about establishing Righteous Babe Records?

ANI DiFRANCO: Well, it was very unceremonious. You know, there wasn’t much of an establishment for years. There was just “Righteous Babe Records” scribbled on my little CDs, you know, which I made independently, which so many musicians do. I was just out at a club last night in New York, purchasing a CD from a beautiful musician. And so, I was doing that, you know, like you do in the great vast world of music beyond the corporate music industry. And then, when I did start, my audience was building, and I started getting interest from labels. I just realized that that great vast world was much more affirming to me and my work than any record companies should ever, could ever be. So I just — you know, eventually, my friends started helping me out, Scott, and now there’s fifteen people that work there. I don’t know what they do, but they’re selling independent records, and it’s kind of a long organic growth, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: You played a song at the Beacon Theater called “Anticipate,” which you said is kind of about the music industry.

ANI DiFRANCO: Sure, yes, that’s doable. And not only that, but I got the right guitar for the job.

    You are subtle as a window pane
    Standing in my view
    But I will wait for it to rain
    So that I can see you
    You call me up at night
    When there’s no light passing through
    And you think that I don’t understand
    But I do

    We don’t say everything that we could
    So that we can say later
    Oh, you misunderstood
    And I hold my cards up
    Close to my chest
    I say what I have to
    And I hold back the rest

    ’Cause someone you don’t know
    Is someone you don’t know
    Get a firm grip
    Before you let go
    For every hand extended
    Another lies in wait
    Keep your eye on that one
    Anticipate

    And dress down and get out there
    Pick a fight with the police
    We will get it all on film
    For the new release
    It seems like everyone’s an actor
    Or they’re an actor’s best friend
    I wonder what was wrong to begin with
    That they should all have to pretend
    We lose sight of everything
    When we have to keep checking our backs
    I think we should all just smile
    Come clean
    And relax

    Well, he says someone you don’t know
    Is someone you don’t know
    Get a firm grip
    Before you let go
    For every hand extended
    Another lies in wait
    Keep your eye on that one
    Anticipate

    And if there’s anything I’ve learned
    All these years on my own
    It’s how to find my own way there
    How to find my own way, my own way back home
    You are subtle as a window pane
    Standing in my view
    But I will wait for it to rain
    So that I can see you
    You call me up at night
    When there’s no light passing through
    And you think that I don’t understand
    But I do

    Well, someone you don’t know
    Is someone you don’t know
    Get a firm grip
    Before you let go
    For every hand extended
    Another lies in wait
    Keep your eye on that one
    Anticipate

AMY GOODMAN: “Anticipate,” Ani DiFranco, here on Democracy Now!

You were going to perform on David Letterman.

ANI DiFRANCO: Yes, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened?

ANI DiFRANCO: Oh, they didn’t want me to play my little folk song that I chose. I don’t know. It’s amazing how a big corporate network can be threatened by a little folk song. Well, that’s not what they would say. They said it was too, I don’t know, too slow or too soft or too big or fast or something.

AMY GOODMAN: Wanted something more upbeat?

ANI DiFRANCO: Yeah, that was the line.

AMY GOODMAN: You know what that reminds me of, the Wall Street Journal had a piece during the Persian Gulf War that quoted CBS executives —-Letterman’s CBS -— saying that they didn’t want the coverage of the war to — they wanted it to be more upbeat moving into commercials, because it would be harder to sell toothpaste if, you know, they’re talking about blood and gore.

ANI DiFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: But that’s what it sort of reminds me of.

ANI DiFRANCO: Yeah. Well, that was one — the song that I wanted to sing was — actually sort of spoke to that, too, that, you know, kind of turning us from citizens into consumers. And yeah, I guess that’s not good cutting to commercial, so they declined.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the song you wanted to sing?

ANI DiFRANCO: A song called “Subdivision.” I would need a minute to tune.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s fine.

ANI DiFRANCO: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: Take the minute.

ANI DiFRANCO: Woo, it’s a whole other key.

Democracy Now!, airing what Letterman can’t!

    White people are so scared of black people.
    They bulldoze out to the country, and put up houses on little loop-d-loop streets.
    And America gets its heart cut right out of its chest
    And the Berlin Wall still runs down Main Street separating east side from west.
    And nothing is stirring, not even a mouse, in the boarded up stores and the broken down houses
    So they hang colorful banners off all the street lamps
    Just to prove they got no manners, no mercy and no sense.
    And I’m wondering what it will take for my city to rise.
    First we admit our mistakes and then we open our eyes.
    The ghost of old buildings are haunting parking lots in the city of good neighbors that history forgot.
    I remember the first time I saw someone lying on the cold street
    I thought, "I can’t just walk past here, this can’t just be true."
    But I learned by example to just keep moving my feet.
    It’s amazing the things that we all learn to do.
    And so we’re led by denial like lambs to the slaughter
    Serving empires of style and carbonated sugar water and the old farm road’s a four-lane
    That leads to the mall and our dreams are all guillotines waiting to fall
    And I’m wondering what it will take for my country to rise.
    First we admit our mistakes and then we open our eyes.
    The ghost of old buildings are haunting parking lots in the city of good neighbors that history forgot.
    I’m wondering what it will take for my country to rise.
    First we admit our mistakes and then we open our eyes.
    When nature succumbs to one last dumb decision
    And America the beautiful is just one big subdivision.

AMY GOODMAN: Letterman’s loss is our gain.

ANI DiFRANCO: Dave, we hardly knew ya, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, is he going to invite you on again?

ANI DiFRANCO: I doubt it. There was quite a little scene that ensued from that, from our little declining to be declined.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened?

ANI DiFRANCO: Well, they were not impressed. I think it had never happened to them before.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it work? Do you audition something before?

ANI DiFRANCO: No, you give them — you tell them — well, you know, I think you’re supposed to play the hit single and sell the record. I think that’s the way it works. But with me, it was like “Well, can she just tell us maybe one of three — you know, give us three songs she’s going to choose from?” ’Cause, you know, I like to just be in the moment and play. So I gave them three songs. “Subdivision” was one, and they OKed the list of three, but then when it came down to the one I chose, they were not OK with it. And I think generally people just do what they say, you know, because it’s more important to get the exposure than to, you know — so it seemed like they were shocked.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it work? Do you perform it live on the show when it’s actually being taped, or you do a separate —

ANI DiFRANCO: Oh, no, you perform it like six times in the morning, and the seventh time is somewhere mid-afternoon, and that’s when the show is actually taped.

AMY GOODMAN: So were you on that day when they were doing it? Were you actually there yet?

ANI DiFRANCO: No, we weren’t there yet. You know, so that’s what it amounted to.

AMY GOODMAN: They had nixed it before.

ANI DiFRANCO: We bought a bunch of plane tickets that we didn’t use, and that’s really all that it meant. I mean, that was just a — that was a simple thing to say no to, you know, playing a song, after all the years of practice that I’ve had with “no.”

AMY GOODMAN: Like when else? When do you —

ANI DiFRANCO: Well, you know, just being independent, you know, saying no to record companies back when “yes” would have been a lot easier, you know, and life was — I hadn’t built my own audience to the level that I have now, you know, and life was a little more hand-to-mouth. A record company could have really helped me ten years ago, paying the rent and getting my music out there and whatnot. So those were very hard no’s, you know, to say, “No thanks, I’ll just do my own thing.”

AMY GOODMAN: So what kept you going through those no’s? Did you have any questions?

ANI DiFRANCO: Oh, yeah. Especially way back when I didn’t have a lot of help. Now I have lots of help, but back when I was living like most musicians live, you know, every day I had to remind myself what it is that — why am I — what am I doing and not doing? And why? You know, and the amount of jealousy that you feel when one weekend somebody is opening my show in a bar and six months later they’re on the cover of every magazine and the record deal, and the this and that, and you see it.

AMY GOODMAN: They’ve said yes to Letterman.

ANI DiFRANCO: They’ve said yes to Letterman, and that happens for a bunch of years, and you really have to keep learning the answer to why, keep exploring it. And beyond that, I think just really enjoying your work helps. You know, back when it was difficult, it was also wonderful, and I was doing what I love. And I was traveling around in my little car and meeting people and playing shows in front of a handful of people, but even that was exciting to me. You know, to me, whether it’s thirty or 3,000, the feeling is the same. So, if I can have that feeling all on my own, then why compromise, I guess, is what I figured. But really, being happy where I am has helped me in so many ways, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: How do you write your songs? What is the process you go through? I once interviewed Isabel Allende, and she talked about how every time she starts a new book, it has to be on the same day of the year.

ANI DiFRANCO: Wow!

AMY GOODMAN: And she knows it’s coming.

ANI DiFRANCO: Ritual.

AMY GOODMAN: She prepares.

ANI DiFRANCO: Beautiful.

AMY GOODMAN: And what’s your ritual? Or do you have one?

ANI DiFRANCO: Goodness. Well, I’m beginning — I’m beginning to form my own rituals. I was very — I was almost you know, anti — people would say, “Well, what do you do to prepare for a show?” Oh, I have a beer, chat with my friends, try not to be late, you know. But I find now that I do perform my own little private rituals around my work. I don’t know that I could verbalize them. It’s sort of — in terms of the writing process, it’s really different all the time, you know, words first, melody first, guitar, this, that, you know, on a train, at home, in a hotel, in a dressing room. And the process for me is a bit subterranean. You know, it’s not conscious. It’s often hours later, and I have a song or half a song. And the time in between is hard for me to describe.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you tend to scratch it out with a pen, or do you work on a computer?

ANI DiFRANCO: Oh, no, I don’t even own a computer. I’m a folk singer through and through. Somehow I managed to miss that whole computer thing. So, yeah, I’m pencil and paper kind of gal. I’m lucky that way. You know, I’ve got a lot of friends who know how to use computers.

AMY GOODMAN: You, in addition to performing around the country and putting out CDs, have a DVD, a movie called Render, and in it, there’s a whole section where you talk about the death penalty.

ANI DiFRANCO: Yeah. Well, my friend and manager, Scott, who I’ve known for fifteen years, and he’s done a lot of criminal defense work. And so, I sort of learned about the criminal injustice system through him and meeting a lot of people who do death penalty defense work. You know, these are just miraculous, joyous, wonderful, tireless people, who lose more often than not, you know? When you live down in Texas or Alabama or Georgia and you’re trying to keep people from being killed by your government, most often you fail. And at midnight, the clock ticks, and your client, your friend, is gone. And they continue to fight for justice nonetheless and are such an inspiration to me, you know? So there’s an organization in Atlanta, Georgia, for instance, called the Southern Center for Human Rights, and those folks are friends of ours. And we still do a lot of work with them, you know, supporting them, and vice versa.

AMY GOODMAN: You are a woman who is not afraid to express anger. What made you that way? How do you feel firm in that, as you express it, whether you’re onstage telling people to be quiet or expressing anger in your songs at the way things are?

ANI DiFRANCO: Well, gosh, I guess I came to that through at least twenty years of silence, just not expressing anger at all. And I’d love to say that I’m not afraid now, but I still struggle, struggle with that. In fact, you know, when I started making records at nineteen or so, that was my only place for my anger, you know, because I’m my mother’s daughter, and I never quite — I am teaching myself through my work to be whole offstage, you know, and to be able to express myself even when it makes other people uncomfortable.

Yeah, mostly, it’s just — it’s an ongoing journey for me to try and find a place for my own anger at my society. I think there is plenty, plenty of room for it, though. You know, there’s so much justifiable rage that people are carrying around and really constructive anger that has such great uses: political change and societal change, you know? So, you know, I’ve been kind of exploring that through my work and then, through that, trying to actually bring it into my one-on-one. But that’s very hard, even for me. I look as though I’m a symbol for something, you know, confidence, but that’s not necessarily so. I struggle with it, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t we end the interview with a song that, when I heard it, completely, well, blew me away. And I know you must play it quite a lot, that people demand it all the time. For those who haven’t heard it yet, this is Ani DiFranco’s “Next Bold Move.” And for those of you who hear her all the time, I know you’ll be thankful.

ANI DiFRANCO:

    coming of age during the plague
    of reagan and bush
    watching capitalism gun down democracy
    it had this funny effect on me
    i guess

    i am cancer
    i am HIV
    and i’m down at the blue jesus
    blue cross hospital
    just lookin’ up from my pillow
    feeling blessed

    and the mighty multinationals
    have monopolized the oxygen
    so it’s as easy as breathing
    for us all to participate

    yes they’re buying and selling
    off shares of air
    and you know it’s all around you
    but it’s hard to point and say "there"
    so you just sit on your hands
    and quietly contemplate

    your next bold move
    the next thing you’re gonna need to prove
    to yourself
    what a waste of thumbs that are opposable
    to make machines that are disposable
    and sell them to seagulls flying in circles
    around one big right wing
    yeah, the left wing was broken long ago
    by the slingshot of cointelpro
    and now it’s so hard to have faith in
    anything
    especially your next bold move
    or the next thing you’re gonna need to prove
    to yourself
    so we just got to track each trickle
    back to its source
    and then scream up the faucet
    'til our faces are hoarse
    cuz we're surrounded by a world’s worth
    of things we just can’t excuse

    i got the hard cough of a chain smoker
    and i’m at the arctic circle playing strip poker
    and it’s getting colder and colder
    every time i lose

    so go ahead
    make your next bold move
    tell us
    what’s the next thing you’re gonna need to prove
    to yourself
    to yourself

AMY GOODMAN: Ani, thank you very much.

ANI DiFRANCO: Thanks for having me once again.

AMY GOODMAN: Ani DiFranco, here on Democracy Now!

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