Ani DiFranco on Trump, Her New Memoir, Defying Music Moguls & Working with Pete Seeger and Prince

Web ExclusiveJuly 16, 2019
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Legendary Grammy Award-winning songwriter, guitarist and activist Ani DiFranco has published a new memoir, “No Walls and the Recurring Dream,” and joins us for an extended conversation about refusing to bow to the power of record companies, and founding her own music label at age 19 in 1990 called Righteous Babe. She has gone on to release 20 studio albums and sell over 5 million records. 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. One of the many musicians she worked with, Pete Seeger, once described DiFranco as “the torch bearer for the next generation.” She also discusses Trump, abortion rights and reads a poem she wrote after 9/11.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined now by the legendary Grammy Award-winning songwriter, guitarist, activist Ani DiFranco. Refusing to bow to the power of record companies, she founded her own music label at the age of 19 in 1990. It’s called Righteous Babe. She’s gone on to release 20 studio albums, sell over 5 million records. Over the years, her music has woven together styles ranging from folk to funk, soul to jazz and 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. Pete Seeger once described Ani DiFranco as “the torch bearer for the next generation.” Ani DiFranco is out this week with her memoir. It’s titled No Walls and the Recurring Dream.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you back, Ani.

ANI DIFRANCO: Good to see you, Amy. Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the title of your book, No Walls and the Recurring Dream.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. Well, I grew up in a house with no walls, so that’s literally where that comes from. The house I grew up in was just sort of one room on the first floor and one room on the second floor, so it was architecturally a very intimate place to grow up. But my family, ironically, was not intimate. You know, there was sort of invisible walls everywhere. And for me, you know, for my little poet brain, that metaphorically just, I think, resonates through my whole life, you know, and hence pops up on places like the cover of my first book, you know, just sort of dealing with the tension of intimacy and exposure and vulnerability and privacy and—I don’t know—negotiating—

AMY GOODMAN: Who was your nuclear family then, growing up?

ANI DIFRANCO: My mother and father were both immigrants, older, for—you know, my dad was 50 when I was born, and my mom 40, so that—

AMY GOODMAN: From?

ANI DIFRANCO: My mother from Canada, my dad from Italy. And then my brother and I, just two kids. And my parents were also unusually progressive for their era, you know? So I was very lucky in that sense to be given some good information early on. But yeah, we also just had a lot of issues as a family. My parents weren’t happy together, and that, you know, influenced the atmosphere in this very vulnerable space.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you wish they had separated then? Would that have been healthier for you?

ANI DIFRANCO: Well, they did separate when I was about 9, and that was better. Yeah, it was better. You know, it was a kind of relief that a lot of divorces bring. Well, oddly, my parents never got officially divorced. They separated for—you know, spent many decades living apart, but always officially married. I think there was something in my father that was unable to get divorced, you know, so…

AMY GOODMAN: So, you say they separated at 9. That’s when you started singing publicly.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, yeah. Do the math. Yeah, you know, as like any kid dealing with strife and trouble in their world, you know, artistic expression—you know, I used to also dance and paint, and I was just—needed a way to let that tension out of my body. And music was one, from the beginning, from when I was a kid. And I sort of—my artistic expression got reduced to music or consolidated to music, because it just is such a powerful medium, one that everybody takes to heart. And, you know, it’s just—

AMY GOODMAN: How did you discover it?

ANI DIFRANCO: I don’t know. When I was 9, I decided I wanted to play guitar. I can’t remember where the idea came from, but my parents humored me, got me a little guitar.

And at the guitar shop where the guitar came from, I met a man, who’s featured in my little story, Michael Meldrum, who was a local in Buffalo, New York. He was a songwriter, barfly, man about town, you know, sort of unofficial mayor of Buffalo—everybody knows him—a somewhat controversial but well-loved figure, and a songwriter. You know, so he sort of introduced me to my gig and took me under his wing. And I was playing his shows with him when I was well underage and not legally supposed to be in all these places, but…

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about something you did that maybe some kids dream about but don’t actually do. You became an emancipated minor. Why? How did you emancipate yourself?

ANI DIFRANCO: Well, not officially, unfortunately, because being legally emancipated gives you all kinds of rights, which I did not have as an unofficially emancipated minor just trying to sort of pass in the adult world.

My mother—when I was 11, I was living in an apartment with my mother, and she decided to move out of state and reinvent her life. And I went and checked out rural Connecticut with her, where she was going to land, and I just couldn’t get my head around it, so I stayed behind in Buffalo. And that was—when I was 15, she moved. So, I was on my own from then on.

And it was—it was tricky, you know, because people don’t want to rent you an apartment. They don’t want to give you a job, given that it’s all illegal. So I had to—you know, it was all—my whole life was under the table. And I just found adults that either believed the age I wrote on the job application form or, you know, were cool with my fake ID, that I used to start playing music in bars and stuff, or just were willing to bend the rules for me.

AMY GOODMAN: You celebrated your 16th birthday in the Buffalo Greyhound station?

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, yeah. That was a memorable birthday. I was sort of in transition from one living situation to the other. So, I just think it’s funny that my sweet 16 was, you know, a little gnarly.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think music saved you?

ANI DIFRANCO: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I hope, for any kid that is struggling with—as the world around them struggles, with the world around them, in whatever way, that some adult has the wherewithal to hand them an instrument or some kind of tool of self-expression, because it—my relationship with my guitar, you know, my guitar was my best friend, from the minute somebody put it in my hands. And I just don’t know that I would have been able to navigate the way that I did without it. It’s just invaluable to me to have this best friend that was always there for me, you know. So, yes, I think giving instruments to kids, giving them ways in which to express themselves, is just incredibly vital. I am always so disturbed when there’s an economic downturn, for instance, and they immediately, you know, start cutting arts funding in schools, and that’s the first thing to go. And I think that should be the last thing to go. In times of trouble, kids need art first.

AMY GOODMAN: You released your first record when you were 18 years old. Talk about releasing it, and then your attitude toward the music industry and what you ended up doing, creating your own label.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, I mean, I—like a lot of local musicians, you know, operating locally or regionally, I made a cassette. I made a recording. You know, this is 1989, actually, when I first made my first recording. And that’s a thing that’s accessible to many people, you know, make humble little recordings on their own. You don’t need a record company to do such a thing. So I did such a thing, and I was selling them at my gigs in Buffalo.

And I immediately just questioned the—I was—my spirit was one to question everything, you know? And so I questioned just the idea of a record company, and even, you know, pursuing and partnering with a profit-motivated corporation to make a career in art and music. You know, I just felt—it felt incongruous to me. So I just kept going. You know, at first, I just wrote “Righteous Babe Records” on my, you know, next recording that I made and the next one. And slowly, that idea became a reality.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you choose the name Righteous Babe?

ANI DIFRANCO: Well, you know, initially, it was Righteous Records, when I was, yeah, 20 or 19. And so I wrote “Righteous Records,” and then discovered that there is a record company in Oklahoma that releases gospel music called Righteous Records. So, we called them up, and they were not hip to sharing their name with me. So I threw the Babe in there as a—just sort of just my sense of humor, you know, “babe” being the kind of go-to term for how, you know, you are—you know, when you’re a young woman, it’s like, you know, “Hey, baby. Hey, babe. What’s your name, babe? Want to ride with me, babe?” You know? And my friend Suzi and I, who—my sort of best friend in high school, we used to call each other that as—you know, just to be ironic and take maybe some of that power back, you know, of that word. And so, inserting that in there, making it—going from Righteous Records to Righteous Babe Records, you know, I think it just is about not only my idealism and political energy, but also my sense of humor.

AMY GOODMAN: You also put a phone number on your CDs: 1-800-ON-HER-OWN?

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So they could contact you directly, since you weren’t, you know, like at Sony Records?

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. Yeah, 1-800-ON-HER-OWN. The N is actually gratuitous. So, in the office, we like to call it 1-800-ON-HER-OX, which also works. But yeah, yeah, you know, that was sort of direct—my direct line. You know, much of my building of Righteous Babe and this sort of model for being independent without the music industry was done pre-internet, which I think is notable and hopeful for—you know, you don’t even need the internet to cut out the middlemen, really, you know. And so, yeah, the 800 line was was an immediate kind of, you know, activist hotline, you know, queer youth counseling. You know, people would call up for a lot of reasons other than to buy a tape, you know? And so, it was—it’s always been a kind of a powerful link, that 800 line, between myself and my listeners.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your political evolution, everything from feminist power to body image, menstruation, queer pride. How did you make your way and develop your sensibility and your politics?

ANI DIFRANCO: You know, just from my life, my experiences. You know, I just talk about my reality in my songs, and just my life and experience not being the baseline experience that is portrayed in folk song traditionally. You know, it’s “I’ve been working on the railroad, and Jimmy’s going off to war,” and, you know, lots of male experiences have, of course, dominated all of our genres of music and media and culture. And so, I think just even having a female experience guiding the storytelling was—and unabashedly female, you know? I didn’t try to fit myself into, you know, the genre as it was shown to me. I just—I was inserting myself, you know, into this culture of folk and roots music that I entered pretty early on. And a lot of people, a lot of the old-school people, like Pete Seeger, though I was—looked different and sounded different and was singing about different stuff, recognized, you know, the kinship and brought me into the fray.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Pete. I mean, we just passed the hundredth anniversary of his birth.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your evolving relationship with Pete Seeger and how you discovered him and what he meant to you.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, yeah. Well, he was one that was immediately—you know, he was not—he did not recoil from my shaved head and my jackboots and my little nose piercing, or “earring in the nose,” as they used to call it in those days. You know, he saw through the difference of uniform immediately and said, “Comrade, come here,” you know? “Let’s do some stuff.” And he used to tap me, you know, for partnership in all kinds of activities and benefits. And, you know, I played his festival, the Clearwater Hudson River Revival, many, many years, a festival that he and his wife Toshi founded.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re playing again in June, right?

ANI DIFRANCO: And I’m playing again this year, yeah, you know, I mean—which was set up to clean up the Hudson River, such a important lifeline for this part of the world and so horribly polluted by GE and others over the decades. So, yeah, Pete was just a shining and tireless example of, you know, not just a powerful activist, but a powerful spirit. You know, he always communicated so clearly the why behind what he and we are doing, you know? He just—he tended—he embodied, in every moment, the meaning behind it all, you know, the love and the kinship that he just sort of brought out in everyone. You know, this mutual respect and support that he emanated was contagious.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of Ani DiFranco and Pete Seeger.

ANI DIFRANCO & PETE SEEGER: [singing] They want to test their weaponry
But bring ’em home, bring ’em home
Here is their big fallacy
Bring ’em home, bring ’em home

A foe is hunder and ignorance
Bring ’em home, bring ’em home
You can’t beat that with bombs and guns
Bring ’em home, bring ’em home

I may be right, I may be wrong
Bring ’em home, bring ’em home
But I got a right to sing this song
Bring ’em home, bring ’em home

Isn’t that the wonderful thing about America?
You got a right to be wrong

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ani DiFranco and Pete Seeger. This is Democracy Now! Ani is our guest, and her book is just out. It’s called No Walls and the Recurring Dream. Well, as you talk about realities that we’re dreaming up together, let’s talk about reality and the reality of what’s happening right here now in the United States. As we speak, you’re just about to do a big event tonight with Cecile Richards, the former head of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She has just formed a new organization called Supermajority. How important is reproductive rights to you and your singing and your life and why you feel it’s so critical to speak out on this issue?

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. I mean, I am 48 years old now. I have a couple of kids. I’m married to a fellow who got a vasectomy, so it’s not essential to me any longer in my individual life. But I think it is more than essential for not just women, individual women, women collectively, but our society. I think reproductive freedom is at the basis of women’s emancipation, of women’s empowerment and of moving away from the patriarchal systems and structure that have defined our society and culture and politics and world for so long. So, I sort of see patriarchy as the root of all evil, so to speak.

You know, this—basically, what I know about existence, the little that I’ve gotten from being around for these 48 years, is that balance is the stuff of peace, you know, that perfection is not natural, but balance is what it takes, you know, in an ecosystem, in a body, in a political arena. And when you start with the fundamental imbalance of patriarchy, you just can’t get to world peace. That’s just against natural law, you know? The genders, first of all, the sensibilities, the talents and essences that both masculine and feminine bring to the table have to be in a resonant balance in order for us to be able to go further down the road towards healing all of these social diseases. You know, racism and the destruction of the environment and heterosexism and all of this, I think, is born of the fundamental imbalance of patriarchy. You know, so I think we have to go back to the source of the river and address that fundamental imbalance, before we can address or heal the rest. So, reproductive freedom is just at the core of, I think, world peace.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s a song you’d like us to play right now around reproductive rights, around women’s equal—equal justice? Maybe “Lost Woman”?

ANI DIFRANCO: Oh, no. I would say “Play God,” which is on my last record.

AMY GOODMAN: This is “Play God.”

ANI DIFRANCO: [singing] I was done at 16
Showing up for class
I was out there in the ring
Learning how to kick some ass
I was done at 16
Using my momma’s key
It was all on me
It was all on me

Weren’t no free rides
Weren’t no IOUs
I pulled my weight, yeah
I paid my dues
And I showed up to enlist
On the first day of recruits
How ’bout you?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ani DiFranco singing “Play God.” Talk about writing this song.

ANI DIFRANCO: Oh, yeah. Well, that song was on my last record. And I remember I was in a hotel room working on it, and when I got to the refrain of the chorus, I had—I sort of paused, I remember, and thought, “Oh boy, can I say this?” You know? Like here we go again. But, for me, it felt like a—it felt good to be in that place again of, you know, taking a deep breath and putting an inconvenient truth into the world in song, because I have felt that way many times in the past, and it just sort of connects me with myself and my mission, my work.

And so, that song, you know, just saying the words, “You don’t get to play god, man. I do,” you know, is about really finally shedding all of the kind of patriarchal, religious constriction and framework around a woman’s participation in creation, you know? I think that women inherently understand all sorts of things about the reality of creation and being creator that men can only guess about. So, I think that men absolutely have to defer to women in this arena, you know.

So, yeah, I talk a lot about reproductive freedom in my book, about the abortion that I had when I was 18 and the one that I had when I was 20, and those were hard decisions to make and painful times, but essential to my becoming myself and actually growing into my own skin and having my own life and purpose unfold in the world, and also essential for not bringing one more unwanted and unsupported child into this world. You know, just absolutely right and merciful for all involved.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts about the President Trump and his attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Trump-Pence administration?

ANI DIFRANCO: My thoughts. Well, I think—I mean, my basic thought is that all of this political regression from the top down is the shadow side of what’s really happening, which is an awakening from the ground up. You know? We can see and feel, all of us, I think, a feminist awakening happening, not just within women and amongst women, but men, too, you know, a degree of inclusion and respect that is in many ways brand new. You know, I think the 21st century is—now is the time to really move beyond patriarchy. And I think that we are beginning, that we are on the path, and what you see and feel is a lot of pushback.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about working with Prince. How did you meet him?

ANI DIFRANCO: Geez. Well, you know, when I was sort of constructing my, you know, independent label, he was in this era of desperately trying to get off of his major label, you know, writing “slave” on his cheek and changing his name and just making all of these very poetic statements about being owned by a corporation, you know, this corporation that had benefited so greatly from its association with Prince. You know, to not be in artistic control of his work was wrong. So he started talking in the media about wanting to come over to Righteous Babe, and our dialogue sort of started publicly.

And then, you know, at some point I went through Minneapolis, and he turned up. And he had a habit of turning up for a few years, you know, which was incredibly—an incredible honor and thrill for me. I’ve been a fan since—of his, since I was just a little pup, you know, and in every way, not just, of course, his incredible music and musicality and the songs and everything he’s contributed on that level, but his feminism, his gender-bending queerness even, you know, his heterosexual queerness, you know, his—the way he just opens—his transcendence above, you know, racial separation and division and hierarchies. And he just embodied these really transcendent possibilities for everyone around him. And we all, you know, were liberated by him.

AMY GOODMAN: You recorded two songs with Prince, right? In 1999—

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —”Providence,” on your To the Teeth album, and “Eye Love U”—that’s E-Y-E—”But Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore.”

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. Yeah, that was—so, I play a show in Minneapolis. He shows up for the first time and blows my mind. And then he invites me—I had the day off the next day, and he invites me to play on—come by Paisley Park and play on his new record. OK, sure. That should be fine, you know.

So I show up with my cheap little guitar, and, you know, I sit down in the waiting room. And they say, “Just wait a few minutes. He’s busy.” And he was busy recording this piano ballad, just solo, that song, “Eye Love U, But Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore,” solo piano and vocal. Beautiful, exquisite, quintessentially him.

And then I get brought in. And he says, you know, “It’s in G.” And I’m supposed to play guitar over this solo. I was just like, “Oh, OK. Kill me now.” First of all, I don’t know what G is. I’m not that kind of guitar player. I’m a just scratch-and-sniff guitar player, you know? So, mortal panic. Somehow I managed to just make it up and hang on to the song enough that he left it in. So it’s just me accompanying him on this beautiful ballad. But, you know, such an honor. And I remember—and then, I was—you know, I was so cheeky when I was young. So, the evening before, when he said, “Will you come by the studio and play on my new record?” I said, “Sure, if you’ll play on my new record.” So, he did me the kindness of, you know, singing on my song, too.

AMY GOODMAN: And that song was?

ANI DIFRANCO: “Providence,” that song. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: On yours. Now let’s go to Utah Phillips—

ANI DIFRANCO: Oh, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —and your relationship with him.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. Utah, you know, was another great, you know, sort of in the classic model of the folk singer, oral historian, storyteller, you know, traveler, you know, gatherer of American history that—all of that stuff that never makes it into the history books, the people’s history. You know, he was a great purveyor of that. And I met him early on in the folk circuit. And once again, it was just immediate, you know, kindredness.

And I was really enamored of his storytelling in particular. You know, I felt like his performances were all about the stories, and the songs were kind of the foil, which is, you know, a reverse of the usual script. But only his songs had ever made it on record, you know, so—and I thought a big part of his art is missing in documentation. So I embarked on—I released a few records on Righteous Babe of his stories. And I sort of, you know—the first one, I just took live recordings of him doing his thing, and I sort of put a musical backdrop to it, just to make it more listenable on record. And then we did a second record like that, that we did live, where me and my band performed with him as he told another series of stories. And, you know, I was just trying to get Utah’s work and wisdom to a younger generation, my audience. And it seemed to work.

UTAH PHILLIPS: And I got to the microphone, and I looked out over that multitude of faces, and I said something to the effect of “You’re about to be told one more time that you’re America’s most valuable natural resource.” Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources? Have you seen a strip mine? Have you seen a clear cut in the forest? Have you seen a polluted river? Don’t ever let them call you a valuable natural resource. They’re going to strip-mine your soul. They’re going to clear-cut your best thoughts for the sake of profit, unless you learn to resist, because the profit system follows the path of least resistance. And following the path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked.

AMY GOODMAN: I remember when he died. You know, he loved baseball, right?

ANI DIFRANCO: Oh, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And they had the memorial service on the diamond there—

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —in Nevada City, where he loved to watch the kids play.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And he would go up to the hot dog stand, and they had already been told by his partner, “Do not give him hot dogs.” He died of congestive heart failure.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they would say, “Mr. Phillips, we don’t have anymore,” as they would give to everyone else.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: But what was it about Utah?

ANI DIFRANCO: I mean, not only did we have similar jobs that we constructed for ourselves, but we had similar spirits. You know, I mean, you would never guess it, looking at us, because he looks like, you know, Santa Claus, you know, in a hobo outfit, and I look like whatever I look like, depending on the week. But, you know, we are both kind of angry, kind of in love with America, kind of—you know, use a lot of humor to get through, you know, use humor—a lot of humor in our performances to talk about the hard stuff, you know, a little spoonful of sugar, you know, irreverence like big time. He’s the king of it, you know. And so, just related to each other, I think, in a very, very basic way.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you read one of the poems in your book, No Walls and the Recurring Dream? This is “Self Evident.” And set the stage for us. Do you need it?

ANI DIFRANCO: Yes. Yes, I probably do. Gee whiz, I might also need my glasses. We’ll see. We’ll see. It’s nice and well lit in here. Yeah, so, 9/11 has just occurred. I’m on the road. Two weeks later, I hit the road in a nation in a state of panic. Everybody—you know, there was not a lot of people coming out of their houses to go to those shows or anything else. It was a—but I was just determined to be out there and, you know, engage. I couldn’t stay behind closed shutters during that time. I felt stronger than ever about doing my work. And so I wrote this poem during that whole first tour. It mutated every night. A different version came out on stage. And so, this is just kind of—this is where it ended up. But it was—it was a revolving, alive, interactive work at that time. And now, as it is printed, it sounds like this. “Self Evident.”

yes,
us people are just poems
we’re ninety percent metaphor
with a leanness of meaning
approaching hyper-distillation
and once upon a time
we were moonshine
rushing down the throat of a giraffe
yes, rushing down the long hallway
despite what the p.a. announcement says
yes, rushing down the long hall
down the long stairs
in a building so tall
that it will always be there
yes, 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
we all boarded that plane for to fly
and then while the fires were raging
we all climbed up on the window sill
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 far…

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
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 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
here’s a toast to all the 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
peace
in the form
of a dream

cuz take away our playstations
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, folks
and boy did he ever!
and we hold these truths to be self evident:

number one, george w. bush is not president
number two, america is not a true democracy
and number three
the media is not fooling me

cuz i am a poem heeding hyper-distillation
and i’ve got no room for a lie so verbose
i’m looking out over my whole human family
and i’m 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 blond 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!
yes, the lessons are all around us
and a truth is waiting there
so it’s time to pick through the rubble
clean the streets
clear the air
get our government to pull its big [bleep] out of the sand
of someone else’s desert
put it back in its pants
and 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?
“can you imagine how many paper coffee cups would have to change their design
following a fantastical reversal of the new york skyline?!”
it was 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 it didn’t have a clue
look, another window to see through
way up here
on the hundred and fourth floor
look
another key
another door
ten percent literal
ninety percent metaphor
three thousand some poems disguised as people
on an almost too
perfect
day
must be more than pawns
in some [bleep] 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
shhh....
baby listen
hear the train?

AMY GOODMAN: “Self Evident,” Ani DiFranco, reading from her new book, No Walls and the Recurring Dream. I know you have to leave, but I wanted to just ask you about that moment in 2003. It was just as President Bush was bombing Iraq, and you had this concert in New Jersey.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And you invited me to come there and to talk about the bombing. And what happened in that concert hall? This is about—

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —politics and pressure and culture and music and resistance.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah, yeah. Well, that first tour, I was encountering incredible, yeah, pushback, everywhere I went, to using my voice. You know, I believe that night our plan was to have you come and table in the lobby of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, or wherever we were. We were somewhere in New Jersey.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

ANI DIFRANCO: And so, this was one of many instances during that time period where the owners of the venue said, “No, we will not allow this political tabling.” And I said, “Is that legal? I mean, this is my show.” And they said, you know, basically, “We rent you the stage for the evening for your freedom of expression. The lobby is ours.” So I said, “OK. Amy, you have to speak from stage.”

AMY GOODMAN: And we were talking about the importance of independent media. If you’re going to—if this war is going to take place in Iraq, you’ve got to find a place where you can hear about it honestly, from the ground in Iraq—

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —to here in the United States.

ANI DIFRANCO: Yeah. And so many media sources falling into lockstep with these White House press releases, and there’s just the silencing of criticism. It was “unpatriotic” to criticize in that moment. And that vibe was further spread than you would think, you know, if you weren’t there.

So, then, I invited you to speak from stage. And they said, “We’ll shut the show down.” That’s—they threatened to shut down the show. And it was a standoff. It was a—it was really intense. There were big goonie guys standing at the front-of-house board behind my sound guy. And they said, “We’re going to pull the plug on the show. You can’t. You can’t.”

And we insisted. I insisted. You came out. You spoke to the audience. They couldn’t pull the plug. There was 3,000 people in their seats. You did your thing. I did my thing. You know, democracy won that night. But it was a perilous time for democracy, for sure. Fear is an incredible tool of repression.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there’s more or less fear right now, from Bush to Trump?

ANI DIFRANCO: I think the fear is being whipped up as much and as widely as they can manage it. But I do believe—you know, I travel every day through the world, and I experience the reality of people in this country, which is one of mutual respect and openness towards each other. You know, I get in car share rides every day. I get in somebody’s car, and I meet them, and I talk to them, you know, every day out here, and all kinds of people. And we find things to talk about, and we find common ground. And it’s nothing like the America that they are trying to foist upon us.

AMY GOODMAN: Ani DiFranco, thanks so much for spending this time with us. I know you have to move on to your next gig. Yes, Ani DiFranco, the Grammy-winning musician, feminist icon, one of the first artists to create her own label—it was 1990—has sold over 5-and-a-half million albums on her own Righteous Babe Records. Well, Ani DiFranco has just published her memoir. It’s called No Walls and the Recurring Dream. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining.

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