Ani and angst

The not-so joyful girl gets happy
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  January 23, 2008
SHARING WISDOM: DiFranco is proud to be
“part of that feminist continuum.”

“I look back on my body of work and there’s a lot of moaning and groaning,” says Ani DiFranco, on the phone from New Orleans, where her year-old baby, Petah, has just gone down for a nap. “It’s helpful, you know, for healing — but my new challenge for myself is to write happy songs too. It’s hard, man.”
Petah, DiFranco’s child with partner and producer Mike Napolitano, was the impetus for this transformation, one that’s allowing the previously un-joyful girl to experience — and share, on a forthcoming disc — newfound happiness.
Are her fans ready for a cheerful DiFranco? After all, the new album will come on the heels of Canon, the two-disc retrospective issued in September, which served as a relatively succinct (given that she’s released 19 albums) reminder of why DiFranco is beloved by so many: she’s managed to put misery to music, in an accessible way.
Canon compiled songs that span DiFranco’s 17-year career, including five new versions of select favorites. The album, on DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records, was released around the same time as Verses (Seven Stories), a book of her poems and songs — a personal pipe dream that she finally found time for while staying home with the baby.

Ani DiFranco | 7:30 pm January 31 | at the Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St, Portland | $41.50 | 207.842.0800
The album and the book are likely to inspire quite a bit of mental time-traveling within a certain sector of the Gen-X and Gen-Y female demographic, a sector that came of age along with, or right behind, DiFranco — and drew comfort and inspiration from her honest portrayals of romantic, professional, and political life. She’s often described as embodying a blend of punk and folk, but her music falls into a category of its own — the blast-in-your-room-with-the-door-closed-while-contemplating-how-misunderstood-you-are-and-experience-cathartic-release-through-song category, that is.
“When I say you sucked my brain out/the English translation/is I am in love with you/and it is no fun,” she snarls on “Dilate,” from the eponymous album that made the cut onto Canon. But she’s not all soft, she reminds as she continues: “But I don’t use words like love/’cause words like that don’t matter.”
Trouble is, she knows they do. And that’s why her songs have chronicled the love lost and gained between men and women, between individuals and the state, between friends and lovers of various permutations.
There’s no modern equivalent (nor do any spot-on antecedents spring to mind). No studio-puppeted pop star warrants comparison — even those who purport to be independent rock chicks seem plastic (Avril Lavigne, I’m looking at you) — and no female indie singer-songwriter, no matter how talented, masters the combination of anger, woe, and empowerment that DiFranco does. Some listeners can’t cut through the angst, but those who do (or alternatively, those who revel in it) have been rewarded with a truly unique voice.
The evidence is in her audiences which, even as she gets older, seem to stay the same age. In addition to the core following, with whom she’s established “an old-pal vibe,” DiFranco sees “new young women, who just keep turning up,” she says. “They make me feel older and older. They’re a crew of young women who are coming into their own, and who find my music to be an accompaniment.”
Much of what they’ve found DiFranco’s music to be a balm for is the disenfranchisement that comes with being young, or single, or female, or gay, or progressive, or all of the above — the disillusionment represented in “Your Next Bold Move,” one of Canon’s re-recorded songs: “You want to track each trickle/back to its source/and then scream up the faucet/’til your face is hoarse/’cuz you’re surrounded by a world’s worth/of things you just can’t excuse.” In other words, they might be surprised to hear their pint-sized heroine waxing poetic about motherhood.
Of course, no fan would begrudge DiFranco her happiness, and if anyone can accurately capture the nuances of bliss, it’s her. That’s always been Ani’s deal — telling the truth about her life, and in the process, telling other women they’re not alone, in either their joys or their troubles.
“There’s not a lot of examples out there that women can turn to for . . . exchanging wisdom,” she says. “I’m happy just to be part of that feminist continuum.” 

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