Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Liz Phair

I have a weakness for 'rock chicks'. Who doesn't?

But Liz is more than just an eye-catching figure up on the stage or a ballsy interviewee, she's a truly incandescent talent. Her debut album Exile in Guyville emerged while I was on my great back-packing expedition in the early '90s. A friend I was visiting in China introduced me to it in the spring of 1994 and made a cassette copy of it for me to take with me on my further travels - and so it became hardwired into my brain as the 'soundtrack' to that year of adventures, and associated particularly strongly with my first experience of China. Hence, I dare say, she surfaces in my thoughts at this particular juncture because I am reflecting back a lot on my time here as I stand on the brink of departure (uncertain quite when or whether I shall return, and definitely moving towards a final withdrawal within the the next 12 months).

I was initially bowled over by the music, fascinated by the personality forcing itself into my brain through the earphones of my battered old Walkman. I had never seen a picture of her. And while one of course likes to fantasise that people one admires will also be quite physically attractive, and those fantasies are not usually too far disappointed with music stars who tend somehow to scrub up well, I was unprepared for the discovery later in the year that she was breathtakingly pretty as well - not the elaborately airbrushed beauty of the supermodel or the alienating perfection of the super-actress, but a believable, accessible, girl-next-door sort of prettiness, and all the more devastating for that.

The knee-trembling revelation came for me with her appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone. I can't remember now quite when that came out. I think it must have been towards the end of 1994, when I'd reached New York and was just about to head back home to the UK again. Of course, I bought a copy. Two, actually. I wanted to have one to show to friends and one to keep under wraps as a souvenir of this bewitching indie diva who had kept me company through so many strange experiences during the last 9 months on the road.

I confess there was a more straightforwardly erotic dimension to her appeal as well. Many of her lyrics are exaggeratedly forthright about sex, and suggest a persona that is uninhibited almost to the point of nymphomania. As I have observed on here more than once before, the art is not necessarily the life; but the image she presents of herself in several of the songs on that fabulous first album - and in many more subsequently - does set the imagination racing rather.

She doesn't have a label any more, but put out her last album, Funstyle, independently. She's always been  too edgy and free-spirited to get on very well with record companies, but she's been producing music - consistently inconsistent, but regularly interesting - for 20 years now, defiantly ploughing her own furrow. As she said to fans on her website: "This is my journey. I'll keep sending you postcards."  Apparently, there may be another album - and a book! - in the works. I'm particularly looking forward to the book: she has an astonishing facility with words, is one of the most impressive lyricists of our era; I have a hunch her extended prose will be just as good.

Smart, sassy, talented (a more than decent guitar player, to boot), heart-meltingly pretty, and a bit of a handful in the bedroom - Liz P would seem to be the complete package.

Here's Never Said, one of the best songs from that great first album (the original video; I'd never seen it before). Rolling Stone ranked Exile in Guyville at No. 328 in their '500 Best Albums of All Time'; I would have placed it at least 250 spots higher. You could also check out this much mellower live acoustic version.

And here's another, Divorce Song (from which I quoted a passage in my Lyrics Quiz a while back), set to a montage of more photos of the lovely lady.


JES said...

Oh, my. Somehow I've overlooked Ms Phair. (I think I must have mixed her up in my head with Lilith Fair, that concert series of some years back.)

Froog said...

I think there was Liz Phair before there was Lilith Fair. She has played at the event, of course.

I hope you'll check out her stuff< JES. I'm not sure how you'll get on with the raunch, but I think you'll like the lyrical craft and the sheer bloody hookiness of many of her songs.