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Radical Musician Ani DiFranco Talks and Sings About Politics, Feminism, Sexuality, Marriage and Racism, Following the Release of Her 14th Independently Produced Album, Revelling/Reckoning

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Ani DiFranco is a songwriter, guitarist and vocalist. At 30, she has released 14 solo albums and produced many others. Refusing to bow to the power of record companies from the very beginning, she founded her own label at age 19.

Over the years her music has woven together styles ranging from folk to funk, soul to jazz to R&B. She sings of the personal and political, of love, sexuality and loneliness, of sexual abuse and police brutality, and about the perversion of democracy in America. She’s furious, she’s funny, she’s funky, and she’s passionate (even if it doesn’t begin with F); she’s Ani DiFranco, and that’s Mr. DiFranco to you. And she has become, perhaps against her will, a role model for hundreds of thousands of young women in America and around the world.

Ani DiFranco was born in the blue-collar city of Buffalo, New York. She was exposed to music at a very early age by traveling folksingers who spent evenings at her family’s home when performing in town. She picked up a guitar at age 9 and a few years later began writing her own songs and playing in local coffeehouses.

DiFranco moved to New York when she was 19. Within a year, she had recorded a few hundred tapes, titled simply, “Ani DiFranco.” When the tapes quickly sold out, she founded Righteous Babe Records.

By 1993, major labels were approaching her regularly, and DiFranco regularly rejected their offers. President and CEO of Mercury Records Danny Goldberg, who is credited with helping to transform Nirvana from a local Seattle band to the leading edge of a new wave of music, said of DiFranco: “She’s one of the most brilliant and compelling artists out now… a genius.” DiFranco never returned his call.

In April, DiFranco released a double CD called “Revelling/Reckoning.”

Today, as we continue with our series on art and revolution, Ani DiFranco joins us in the studio for the hour.

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

AMY GOODMAN: And you are listening to Democracy Now!

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

And 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

Yes, 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

You want to track each trickle
Back to its source
And then scream up the faucet
'til your face is hoarse
’cause you're surrounded by a world’s worth
Of things you just can’t excuse

But you’ve got the hard cough of a chain smoker
And you’re at the arctic circle playing strip poker
And it’s getting colder and colder
Everytime you lose

So go ahead
Make your next bold move
Tell us
What’s the next thing you’re gonna need to prove
To yourself

Oh, thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Ani DiFranco, singing “Your Next Bold Move,” here on Democracy Now!, Resistance Radio. She’s a songwriter, guitarist and vocalist. At 30, she’s released 14 solo albums and produced many others. Refusing to bow to the power of record companies from the very beginning, she founded her own record label at age 19. Over the years, her music has woven together styles ranging from folk to funk, soul to jazz to R&B. She sings of the personal and political, of love, sexuality and loneliness, of sexual abuse and police brutality, and about the perversion of democracy in America. She’s furious, she’s funny, she’s funky, and she’s passionate — even if that doesn’t begin with an F. She’s Ani DiFranco. And that’s Mr. DiFranco to you. And she’s become, perhaps against her will, a role model for hundreds of thousands of young women in America and around the world.

Ani DiFranco was born in the blue-collar city of Buffalo, New York. She was exposed to music at an early age by traveling folk singers who spent evenings at her family’s home when performing in town. She picked up a guitar at age 9 and a few years later began writing her own songs and playing in local coffeehouses. She moved to New York when she was 19. Within a year, she recorded a cassette titled, simply, Ani DiFranco and put it out on her own label. By 1993, major labels were approaching her regularly, and Ani regularly rejected their offers. The president and CEO of Mercury Records, Danny Goldberg, who’s credited with helping to transform Nirvana from a local Seattle band to the leading edge of a new wave of music, said of DiFranco, “She’s one of the most brilliant and compelling artists out now. A genius.” Righteous Babe Records never returned his call. In April, Ani DiFranco released a double CD called Revelling/Reckoning. And that’s what that first song was from.

And today we continue with our series on art and revolution with Ani DiFranco in our studio for the hour. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ANI DIFRANCO: Thank you. What an intro! I don’t know what to say now.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you tell us about that song?

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. I guess — I guess I’ve been doing a little bit more looking back than I have in the past in my songwriting. And yeah, I was just sort of pondering my formative years in the '80s. And, you know, I've never really known politics or politicians that weren’t just lying, greedy, capitalist scumbags. I mean, I think Carter might have been president when I was born, but I don’t really — I don’t remember him so much, the last nice guy around. And so, I think, you know, I’ve sort of structured my whole life in a kind of anti-corporate way, and I think it had a lot to do with the world that I grew up in, the culture that I was exposed to from the beginning of my political consciousness.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the beginning of your political consciousness?

ANI DIFRANCO: Well, you know, I don’t know that there was a moment of, you know, a shaft of light that pierced the darkness, or a moment of revelation. I think it was a bunch of years of learning, and certainly moving to New York. And I went to the New School for Social Research for a couple years and just sort of wafted about those buildings, taking classes on Malcolm X and, you know, introductory feminism, and I had a lot of really enlightening conversations.

AMY GOODMAN: Even before that, I mean, you started so early. You got a guitar at the age of 9. And you were very independent in your family. Can you talk about your parents?

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, my parents were — lucky for me, they were liberal people, open-minded people, somewhat older, though. My father is 80 now, and I’m 30, so there was a big generation gap going on there. But they certainly taught me to appreciate and embrace everyone, you know, and not be selective that way. But my family sort of dissolved pretty early on, and I was — I think probably the biggest factor in my independence and my, I don’t know, my personality was the fact that I was on my own, you know, when I was 15. And so, my parents armed me with, you know, enough self-respect and common sense to get by, and so I did.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how did you end up linking up with the whole folk scene in Buffalo?

ANI DIFRANCO: Well, that started back when my parents were still together. I was a 9-year-old kid, and I befriended a local folk singer, barfly, sort of philosophy-reading alcoholic, real personality in Buffalo. His name is Michael Meldrum, and he’s a wonderful, wonderful human being. And he sort of was my first mentor. He took me around to his gigs in bars and, you know, taught me folk songs, and we just sat around singing a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: And meeting a lot of folk singers coming through.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, yeah. He was also promoting shows in Buffalo. He would bring people in from New York. He had what he called the Greenwich Village Song Project, and he would bring songwriters in. And so, you know, my early experience of music were all, you know, as a social act, you know, not as a commodity. It was not something I bought or coveted on the TV. It was something I did and something everybody around me was doing. So, I think that had a big impression.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you came to New York.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: You gave out some cassettes on demand of your music.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And, like, it seems like within minutes, you had your own record company. How did that happen?

ANI DIFRANCO: Well, you know, there wasn’t — the record company was just three words that I wrote on my tapes at the time. There wasn’t — you know, it would be misleading to think that Righteous Babe Records sprung, you know, full grown from my brow at age 19. It was really just — it was almost like my little joke with myself. You know, “I don’t need a record company. I’ll just write Righteous Babe Records on my little cassette and sell it at my gigs.” But in the beginning, it was just an idea, I mean, for many years. You know, now we got an office and a coffee machine and some people who — I don’t know what they do over there, but…

AMY GOODMAN: How did you come up with the title Righteous Babe?

ANI DIFRANCO: Um, you know, I don’t remember specifically. It just — I mean, I think it was that just kind of inherent to the time. I remember me and my friend Susie used to call each other babe all the time, you know, just as a joke, because that’s what men would call us on the street, and we always thought it was funny. You know, we’d “Hey, babe” each other. So, I think it kind of came from that.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about “Not a Pretty Girl”?

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. That goes back a few years. It was a song I wrote about just the idea of a feminine beauty, and it seems to me so connected with passivity and, you know, I mean, the image of the damsel. The gorgeous, you know, damsel in distress with her hands tied behind her back, you know, seemed to be the height of feminine allure. And I noticed that in my own little life, with my shaved head and my big black boots, I wasn’t getting hey-babed as much as I did when I had hair and, you know, dressed more femininely. And so I just thought a lot about the fact that I was not pretty anymore in the eyes of the culture around me, and I started to think about pretty and how it is defined by the culture.

I am not a pretty girl
That’s not what I do
I ain’t no damsel in distress
And I don’t need to be rescued
So put me down, punk
Wouldn’t you prefer a maiden fair?
Isn’t there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere?

I am not an angry girl
But it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled
Every time I say something they find hard to hear
They chalk it up to my anger
Never to their own fear
Imagine you’re a girl
Just trying to finally come clean
Knowing full well they’d prefer you were dirty
And smiling

And I am sorry
But I am not a maiden fair
And I am not a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere

And generally, my generation
Wouldn’t be caught dead working for the man
And generally I agree with them
Trouble is you gotta have yourself
An alternate plan
And I have earned my disillusionment
I have been working all my life
And I am a patriot
I have been fighting the good fight
And what if there are no damsels in distress
What if I knew that and I called your bluff?
Don’t you think every kitten figures out how to get down,
Whether or not you ever show up?

I am not a pretty girl
No, I want to be more than a pretty girl.
I want to be so much more than a pretty girl.

AMY GOODMAN: Ani DiFranco, here on Democracy Now! Back with her in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman. And our guest for this hour, in our continuing series on art and revolution, is Ani DiFranco. And it’s a great privilege to have you here, by the way.

ANI DIFRANCO: Oh, I’m thrilled to be here. You know, I’ve heard about your show for so long, but I’ve never heard it. So now I get to hear it in person, which is extra exciting.

AMY GOODMAN: I think most important is that people get to hear you all over the country. And, of course, they are. They’re listening to you. Probably a lot of people right now heard your first cassette and have heard your CDs. And now again, the latest one is a double CD set, and it just came out last month. It’s called Reckoning/Revelling.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you deal with your audience and with the — I know it’s an issue you sing about. It’s an issue that you —

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — talk about and you have to deal with every minute of your life.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. Well, you know, my relationship with my audience, it’s very much like family. You know, you can’t stand them. You love them. You need them. You know, there is very much a family vibe. I mean, you know, I’m not really — I don’t have myself any radio hits or, you know, so the audience that I do have didn’t really come along because of any big, you know, hubbub or any hype. They’ve sort of grown with me for so many years. So, there’s a real love and a real mutual respect there. But sometimes, you know, at my shows, you know, the first few 10 rows can be kind of fervent, kind of excitable. And so, you know, I’m always walking that line between really appreciating them and the depth that they listen, and also just struggling with that kind of — you know, I don’t really — I don’t think it’s conducive to art or communication to have that kind of rock star worship, you know, fervor going down. So I’m always trying to counteract that on stage and just try and reinforce my humanity. And I think it’s — I think that relationship between performer and audience, myself and my listeners, is a much more dynamic one if we all realize that we’re very much the same, that we are connected, that we are not separate just because I’m on a platform and I got a microphone. You know, I hate for that to — for me to become a symbol, you know, instead of a person.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, your message is very much, especially to young women, to be yourself. So it’s interesting —

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — that you get sort of trapped in what their image is of you.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: You sing about that in “My Plastic Castle.”

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, “Little Plastic Castle.”

AMY GOODMAN: Would you mind singing a little?

ANI DIFRANCO: Well, you know, that’s — 

AMY GOODMAN: Could you?

ANI DIFRANCO: — on a different kind of guitar. It’s on a — I wrote it on a tenor guitar.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll play it on your CD.

ANI DIFRANCO: OK. Sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: “Little Plastic Castle” by Ani DiFranco.

ANI DIFRANCO: In a coffee shop in a city
Which is every coffee shop in every city
On a day which is every day
I picked up a magazine
Which is every magazine
Read a story, and then I forgot it right away

They say goldfish have no memory
I guess their lives are much like mine
And the little plastic castle
Is a surprise every time
And it’s hard to say if they’re happy
But they don’t seem much to mind

From the shape of your shaved head
I recognized your silhouette
As you walked out of the sun and sat down
And the sight of your sleepy smile
Eclipsed all the other people
As they paused to sneer at the two girls
From out of town

I said, look at you this morning
You are, by far, the cutest
But be careful getting coffee
I think these people want to shoot us
Or maybe there’s some kind of local competition here
To see who can be the rudest

People talk
About my image
Like I come in two dimensions
Like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind
Like what I happen to be wearing
The day that someone takes a picture
Is my new statement for all of womankind

And I wish they could see us now
In leather bras and rubber shorts
Like some ridiculous new team uniform
For some ridiculous new sport
Quick someone call the girl police
And file a report

AMY GOODMAN: “Little Plastic Castle.” On the issue of Righteous Babe Records, we were talking to Michael Franti earlier in the week. Also he puts out his CDs independently now. How you are able to maintain your art, do your music and run a business? I mean, you’ve been pretty defiant about this independent label.

ANI DIFRANCO: A whole lot of help. I mean, you know, honestly, I don’t — I don’t run the business. There’s a guy sitting behind you, Scott, that does. And he and the other people at Righteous Babe Records are really — you know, they’re making it up as they go along. And, you know, I’m usually out touring and, you know, writing songs. And my involvement with Righteous Babe Records is very much on the theoretical level and the decision-making level, but — [no audio] to be able to do, you know, what a little company like Righteous Babe Records has.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever think of just giving it all up and going to a major label? I mean, they’ve certainly all approached you.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. Well, you know, it used to be really tempting. You know, for a lot of years, I was struggling and, you know, grazing in the bulk food section of the supermarket. And I would see a lot of young performers who would be opening for me one week, and then, six months later, they’d be all over the MTV, and they’d have a hit single, and they’d be on the covers of all the magazines, and I’d still be in that same little club. And this would go on year after year. And it was hard not to be jealous. It was hard not to — it was hard to be happy where I was sometimes, you know, to really — but, you know, I’ve always been fulfilled by writing music, by giving music to people, even in small bars and coffeehouses. And that helped — that helped me be patient. And after about 10 years, it’s not even tempting anymore, you know, because I sort of — I put in that time and have grown an audience organically. And now I’m very comfortable, you know, financially, and I don’t worry if anybody’s going to show up to a club when I get to town. You know, it’s really worked out quite well.

AMY GOODMAN: You have to worry if there’s going to be a riot.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, right. Yeah. So, you know, the tough years are behind me. Now it’s not tempting at all.

AMY GOODMAN: And how has fame changed your writing and your music and your view of the world? I mean, for one thing, you’ve lost your anonymity — 

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, right.

AMY GOODMAN: — to sit in a little place and just observe people?

ANI DIFRANCO: Well, you know, I think it’s just — being a public person, it kind of ups the ante a little bit in terms of really, really trying to have grace in your everyday life and trying to appreciate people and listen to people, even though you’re exhausted and even though you, you know, might want them to go away. I do know some very famous people who bring a lot of love and a lot of grace to their interactions with the public, and I find that inspirational. You know, I have friends like Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and you should see them on the street. You know, they’re very gracious. And so, I mean, there’s a lot worse problems to have in life than having people, you know, coming up and appreciating you randomly and vehemently when you’re — you know, when you want to be anonymous, so I feel grateful.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about “Blood in the Boardroom”?

ANI DIFRANCO: Oh my goodness! Now we’re really going back. Well, how? Well, I could try. As much as I remember it. I haven’t played that song in a while.

AMY GOODMAN: Or start off by telling us what you think feminism means.

ANI DIFRANCO: I think feminism means us, too. You know, civil rights, human rights, equal rights, you know, that includes babes, right? That’s all it means to me. It means that women are human beings, and they should have the right of self-determination just as any human being. And I am in such despair that so many young women do not identify themselves as feminists. I think it’s tragic. You know, we have one word in the English language that means that women are people, too, and we’ve bought the conservative propaganda, the sort of media marginalization of that word. They’ve made it taboo. They’ve made it dirty. They’ve made it unsexy. They’ve made it boring and archaic. And young women bought it, it seems, in very large numbers. And I really — I think that at this point in our cultural history, we should all be using that word. You know, men, women, we’re all feminists, right? Unless we’re blatant misogynists. And I fear that the death of a word is very much connected with the death of a concept. You know, the way that our human brains work, you know, our ideas come to us in the form of words, and language is the vehicle that we think with. So I really hope that that word will have a renaissance and that young women will realize the importance of honoring their foremothers, who changed the world for them so that they could be free.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you write “Blood in the Boardroom”?

ANI DIFRANCO: Gosh, I don’t know. I was probably 19 or so. Yeah, I mean, I don’t remember the words specifically, but I — you know, the basic imagery is about being in a boardroom, in a business, some sort of corporate context. You know, I used to have lunches with — I used to get as many free lunches as I could out of record company people. And, of course, the woman in the song leaves a little blood stain on her, you know, cream-colored chair. And it’s just that kind of — you know, that metaphor of the power of even a young woman, you know, up against a huge corporation, you know, has the power to, say, create life, which, compared to amassing money, I think there’s no contest there.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play just a little bit of it.

ANI DIFRANCO: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: From your CD, so I’m not going to make you retune that beautiful guitar. You’re not going to cringe, are you?

ANI DIFRANCO: Oh, maybe a little.

ANI DIFRANCO: Sitting in the boardroom
The I’m-so-bored room
Listening to the suits
Talk about their world
They can make straight lines
Out of almost anything
Except for the line
Of my upper lip when it curls
Dressed in my best greasy skin
And squinty eyes
I’m the only part of summer here
That made it inside
In the air-conditioned building
Decorated with corporate flair
I wonder
Can these boys smell me bleeding
Though my underwear

There’s men wearing the blood
Of the women they love
There’s white wearing the blood of the brown
But every woman learns to bleed from the womb
And we bleed to renew life
Every time it’s cut down
I got my vertebrae all stacked up
High as they can go
But I still feel myself sliding
From the earth that I know
So I just excuse myself and leave the room
Say you know my period came early
But it’s not a minute too soon

I go and find the only other woman on the floor
Is the secretary sitting at the desk by the door
I ask her if she’s got a tampon I can use
She says
Oh honey, what a hassle for you
Sure I do
You know I do
I say
It ain’t no hassle, no, it ain’t no mess
Right now it’s the only power
That I possess
These businessmen got the money
They got the instruments of death
But I can make life
I can make breath

Sitting in the boardroom
The I’m-so-bored room
Listening to the suits talk about their world
I didn’t really have much to say
The whole time I was there
So I just left a big brown bloodstain
On their white chair

Sitting in the boardroom
The I’m-so-bored room
Listening to the suits talk about their world
They can make straight lines
Out of almost anything
They can make straight lines
They can make
They
They can make
Sitting in the boardroom
The I’m-so-bored room
Sitting in the boardroom
The I’m-so-bored room
Sitting in the boardroom
The I’m-so-bored room
Sitting in the
Sitting
Sitting
Sitting in the
Sitting
Sitting

AMY GOODMAN: Ani DiFranco singing “Blood in the Boardroom” from her CD Puddle Dive. We’ll continue with her in our last segment here on Democracy Now!

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now!, Free Speech Radio. I’m Amy Goodman. Today we are continuing our art and revolution series with radical activist, singer and songwriter Ani DiFranco. Can you talk about your mother?

ANI DIFRANCO: My mom? Well, she’s — you know, people, whenever I — I lived with her for a few years between when I was 11 and 15. And people used to think — confuse us on the phone. You know, we’re very, very much alike. I take after her in my sort of chipper, cheerful — you know, she’s a very energetic person, a really creative person. She was an architect. Back in the day, she was the first woman in her class at MIT. And, you know, she’s always the first woman in any firm she worked in, and very independent person, so I think I got my chops from her.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about, sing about sexuality, about sexual abuse, like in “Hide and Seek,” singing songs, overall, about abuses. Why choose that as a theme in your songs? Are you speaking from your own experience?

ANI DIFRANCO: Well, yeah. And, you know, I don’t — I wonder. I need to go find myself a consciousness-raising group or something and talk to other women about their childhoods. I mean, my experience being a young girl in the, you know, inner city of Buffalo, New York, the big bad city of Buffalo, I mean, there was just so much — you know, we’d be playing out in the street, and cars would pull up, and men would, you know, try to lure you into the car. They’d have their pants down, or they’d — you know, there was just always, always a kind of — you know, I remember there used to be prank phone calls. I’d pick up the phone, and some man would start talking dirty. Or there was just so many of those experiences in my formative years. And, you know, I somehow guessed that I’m not an exception, that my little girlhood was not unique in that way. So, I think that, you know, there are these things that affect the consciousness of women long before they’re women, and an anger that can build up, that I think is very misunderstood, and, you know, by people in general.

AMY GOODMAN: You want to choose a selection to sort of illustrate your point?

ANI DIFRANCO: Gosh. OK, yes. This is a tune called “Letter to a John.”

Don’t ask me why I’m crying
I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong
I’m just gonna sit on your lap
For five dollars a song
I want you to pay me for my beauty
I think it’s only right
’cause I have been paying for it
All of my life

I want take the money I make
Yeah, I just want to take the money I make
Yeah, I just want to take the money I make
And I want to go away

We barely have time to react in this world
Let alone rehearse
And I don’t think that I’m better than you
But I don’t think that I’m worse
Women learn to be women
And men learn to be men
And I don’t blame it all on you, baby
But I don’t want to be your friend

I just want take the money I make
Yeah, I just want to take the money I make
I just want to take the money I make
And I want to go away

I was eleven years old
He was as old as my dad
And he took something from me
I didn’t even know that I had
So don’t tell me about decency
Don’t tell me about pride
Just give me something for my trouble
'cause this time, it's not a free ride

And I just want take the money I make
I just want to take the money I make
I just want to take the money I make
And I want to go away

Don’t even ask me why I’m crying
I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong
I’m just gonna sit on your lap, baby
For about ten dollars a song
And I want you to pay me for my beauty
I think it’s only right
’cause I have been paying for it
All of my life

And now I just want to take
I just want to take
I just want to take
And I want to go away

AMY GOODMAN: “Letter to a John,” Ani DiFranco. That is what people know you for and expect a lot. Every song you sing leads people to pray you have another CD out. Now you’ve got a double CD. It’s Reckoning/Revelling. How did you come up with the titles and the — just the mixture of songs on both?

ANI DIFRANCO: Well, you know, originally, I thought I was just making one record, and I was going to call it Reckoning. That was one of the early songs, and it seemed to be a recurring theme in my life, a lot of reckoning I’ve been doing the last year or so, you know, just trying to come to terms with my responsibility, my commitments, my place in this world. And then there was just a lot of really disparate material that I was working on, and I suddenly couldn’t imagine it fitting into, squeezing into one little plastic box. So I sort of thought maybe I was making two records. And then the idea of revelling within that struggle, you know, of finding, finding time
to enjoy, you know, and to embrace, even during times of emotional turmoil. So that’s where the sort of the flip side, the other record, came from.

AMY GOODMAN: You have resisted any kind of classification when it comes to all sorts of issues, but sexuality, as well. In Imperfectly, the CD, “In or Out,” “Their eyes are all asking / Are you in, or are you out / And I think, oh man, / What is this about? / Tonight you can’t put me / Up on any shelf / 'cause I came here alone / I'm gonna leave by myself.” You might have surprised a lot of people, especially woman-identified women who just flock to your music, when you got married.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And it seems that your latest CD is a lot about your relationship.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. Yes, indeedy. Oh, the marriage is certainly sort of a focus in my new CDs. I’ve been hitched for about three years now, and it’s kicking my booty. It’s really — it’s so much more than I expected. It’s so much more beautiful and so much more difficult than I ever would have guessed.

And it’s funny. Last night, I was just doing a benefit for the Estrella Foundation. And, you know, here are all these brilliant, beautiful, powerful women, you know, who — you know, many of whom were in middle age and who paved the way for so — you know, who have dedicated their lives to queer rights, to women’s rights. And I was telling them from stage that I never had the experience — I never had to have the experience of coming out. I was never in. I was born into a world that they changed for me, and I have so much gratitude over that.

But one thing that does make me sad is that people don’t ask me. They used to ask me all the time about coming out, or what was — or, you know, my experiences of being in love with other women or how — you know, what my culture was like. And they don’t ask that anymore. It’s as though, you know, the love that I dedicate myself to now negates the other loves that I’ve had in my life, or, you know, because I’m hitched to a XY chromosome creature now, that somehow that means that it was untrue up 'til now or something, which I — it's not real for me. You know, I mean, I find sexuality, my own and most of the people I know, to be on a continuum, you know? I think these social constructions of black and white, and gay and straight, those are — those are only useful as the first step to recognizing diversity. But once you can get beyond the fact that there’s not just one kind of person out there, then those lines that are drawn, you begin to recognize what an oversimplification that is, because there’s also no such thing as black or white or gay or straight. We’re all so fluid.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you want to sing about that?

ANI DIFRANCO: Sure. Oh, gosh. Got to think what song. How about a poem?

When I was four years old
They tried to test my IQ
They showed me this picture
Of three oranges and a pear
They asked me,
Which one is different
And does not belong?
They taught me different is wrong

But when I was 13 years old
I woke up one morning
Thighs covered in blood
Like a war
Like a warning
That I live in a breakable takeable body
An ever increasingly valuable body
That a woman had come in the night to replace me
Deface me

See,
My body is borrowed
I got it on loan
For the time in between my mom and some maggots
I don’t need anyone to hold me
I can hold my own
I got highways for stretchmarks
See where I’ve grown

And I sing sometimes
Like my life is at stake
'Cause you're only as loud
As the noises you make
I am learning to laugh as hard
As I can listen
'Cause silence
Is violence
In women and poor people
If more people were screaming then I could relax
But a good brain ain't diddley
If you don’t have the facts

We live in a breakable takeable world
An ever available possible world
And we can make music
Like we can make do
Genius is in a back beat
Backseat to nothing if you’re dancing
Especially something stupid
Like IQ
And for every lie I unlearn
I learn something new
And I sing sometimes for the war that I fight
’Cause every tool is a weapon —
If you hold it right.

AMY GOODMAN: Ani DiFranco, here on Democracy Now! Talking about divisions, you’re one of the few white singers who take on the issue of race. And in your latest double CD, in Reckoning, you have a song called “Subdivision.”

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, well, I think it’s — you know, everybody has a color, you know? We’re all — we’re all a color. And I think it’s very important for white people to talk about racism, just because it — well, I was going to say because it doesn’t affect us directly, but it affects all of us. And, in fact, that song, “Subdivision,” is about how things as insipid as racism affect everything right down to the architecture. For instance, in the city that I grew up in, in Buffalo, New York, there’s been so much white flight to the suburbs. You know, it’s kind of — Buffalo is sort of a mini Detroit, you know? And all of the money has moved out of the city, and they’ve just abandoned the city to utter dilapidation. And it affects the very fabric of the city, as there’s so many abandoned buildings that are just being torn down rampantly. And it’s just all racism, and it’s a problem that we all need to address.

AMY GOODMAN: Could you sing it?

ANI DIFRANCO: Sure. Tuning. The real musically inclined can cop the open tunings from little tuning episodes. All right, then.

White people are so scared of black people
They bulldoze out to the country
And put up houses on little loop-dee-loop streets
And America got 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 ghosts 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

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
Or nature succumbs to one last dumb decision
And America the beautiful
Is just one big subdivision

AMY GOODMAN: Ani DiFranco singing “Subdivision” from her new double CD, Revelling/Reckoning. And we’ll continue on Monday, as she will tell us about the open letter she wrote to Ralph Nader asking for Green Party leadership in the face of the massive disenfranchisement of African Americans in Florida.

And I’m going to be in Florida on Saturday night. I look forward to meeting WMNF listeners at St. Paul’s Church. Call WMNF for more details. We also look forward to playing Ani DiFranco singing Pete Seeger on Monday’s Democracy Now!, his song about a housewife who tried to stop a shipment of napalm to Vietnam. We hope Bob Kerrey will be listening. And also Monday, following up on our historic broadcast yesterday of a botched execution, we’ll speak with two reporters who witnessed the execution of Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens in 1984 and how their lives will never be the same.

That does it for the program. We hope you’ll email us at mail@democracynow.org. Democracy Now! produced by Kris Abrams and Brad Simpson; Anthony Sloan, our engineer. From the embattled studios of WBAI, from the studios of the banned and the fired, from the studios of our listeners, I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening to another edition of Democracy Now!

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