no one cares about a liz phair origin story and this wasn’t even part of mine. i was late bloomer blushing and defensively unimpressed by flower, years from understanding the appeal of garbage boys with hair too long and in their eyes, i was not ready to hear polyester bride but kept coming back to it anyway, i was - and this is always important to me - sucked in, finally, by stratford-on-guy. not a sad song. not an angry song. a plane ride and a promise i wouldn’t understand for years - once i really listened the noise just went away. it would be so long before i understood how hard it is to really listen, how much it is a process. how much you have to work at it and how rarely you grasp the reward. how much it is another strain of the fire you like in me is the mark of someone adamantly free. it would be so long before i realized the key word there is adamantly, how much of liz phair is about the necessity of stubbornness. even after i put a reminder on my skin i kept forgetting. i keep forgetting. i get tired of fighting. recently the person who brought her into my life said to me, “i’m tired. do you know what i mean?” and i said, of course. of course. the kind of tired liz writes about. do you wanna lay your head and die. it would be so long before i understood that the whole world is guyville, and it was men who taught me.
i think, now, that i am so lucky to have found liz before i needed her. sometimes it feels like every time i shifted spaces, every time i stumbled on a new lesson, i found her there. even a few weeks ago, when i fell into an anger like an acid i swallowed my whole life ago, even when i was burning with it like it would never stop, i remembered, i remembered i had her waiting.
this feels like the least original thing to say except that i know how often the opposite gets said: liz phair is so many people. liz phair sees from so many places. (i love my bionic eyes.) liz phair writes about so many men, so many kinds of men, and these are not quite the same thing, except that they are. men leave her shattered, shattering, with nothing. men play her like a pitbull in a basement. men consume her and sometimes she enjoys it. men force her to forge her own freedom not for strength, not for feminism, not because it will ever be complete, but because the only other option is intolerable. men are a menace, a fantasy, a weapon, a toy. a supernova, beautiful and blinding. everything you want them to be, everything you fear.
people go back and forth - usually back - about how much exile really responds to the rolling stones, but it matters, i think, that she said it, over and over. it mattered as a statement to be a young woman staking a claim to these dudely heroes, a claim to share in their legacy and a claim to fight it off. it’s the same thrill i get from zadie smith being so staunchly and unapologetically ambitious in ways recognizable to anyone familiar with the english white male canon as operating in that tradition while moving all the while to deftly, stubbornly — not quite subvert, not quite defy — deflate it. to share its pleasures and skewer its many lies, which means inevitably skewering the heroes who have told them never knowing what they did. proclaim the emperor’s nakedness not from innocence but from knowledge. not like a revelation. like it’s unnecesary. with half a smirk. the most it deserves.
he’s just a hero in a long line of heroes. it’s incredible, isn’t it, how many of them don’t know they’re xeroxes of paper dolls? like that wall of buzz lightyears, all convinced they are saving the galaxy. but you know, that world is guyville too. cowboys and dinosaurs and a nagging wife. it’s tempting. a toy store(y). we’re swimming in it, so learn to swim. steal it, claim it, but don’t forget to listen. check out america / you’re looking at it, babe. don’t forget who made it and who it’s for and all the ways it’s hollowed out and rotting. don’t forget they don’t have to matter. be adamant. fight yourself free.