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Friday, May 28, 2010

Punk for the Poetry Crowd

I have a confession:

I love Ani DiFranco. I have loved Ani DiFranco ever since my dad (blindly following a record store clerk's suggestion) gave me her live album, So Much Shouting So Much Laughter, for my fourteenth birthday.

Most of DiFranco's negative media attention has come from an unfair labelling of DiFranco as a “lesbian feminazi" -- in spite of her 1998 marriage to a man. One thing is for sure: you will have a strong reaction, in one way or another, to her provocative lyrics, powerfully percussive guitar-playing, and melange of old-school folk, punk, and rock. DiFranco's cult following has formed in spite of (or perhaps because of) her controversial left-wing political views and frankness about her (bi)sexuality. DiFranco has released more than twenty albums in her twenty-year career—which is impressive for its sheer volume, but even more impressive for the fact that she has done it all without the help of a major record company.

DiFranco's sound could be described as folk you can dance to, or maybe punk for the poetry crowd”

-Lori Leibovich (

Over the years, DiFranco's signature sound has evolved and thickened from experimentation with many different instruments. Her fast tempo, slap-tap-bend acoustic style of playing is frequently done with unusual tuning, which varies from song to song (Ouellette 34). As she says, The acoustic is more dynamic. . .The dynamics of an electric guitar is turning the volume knob from one to ten. . . [but] with the acoustic guitar, you can go from a whisper to a scream at the ends of your fingers” (Ouellette 35).

Although well-known for her distinct musical style, DiFranco's lyrics are infamous. Her songs are provocative in a wide range of controversial issues, including sexuality, commercialism, capitalism, abortion, sprawling suburbia, and social consciousness. Describing her agenda, she says,“I think political work comes in all sorts of forms, and one of the least impressive is that of the politician” (Havranek 98).

DiFranco is also well-known for the intimacy of her live performances. Her emotive singing style is every bit as present on the stage as on her albums, ranging from “biting the ends off all the words” to swaying through tender melodies (Stovall 133). In concert, DiFranco has a jocular stage persona, and her self-deprecating sense of humor conveys a humility that one wouldn't expect from such a highly-revered figure (Havranek 96).

It was not like she was an entertainer. She was a person who changed your life. And people really did feel empowered listening to her music”

rock critic Dale Anderson

Despite having seen very little mainstream success, DiFranco has long enjoyed a loyal following – listeners who follow the folksinger so religiously that she has acquired the nickname, the “Ani Lama” (Zimmerman 35). In spite of being reduced to a negative stereotype by the media, she has been innovative in regards to tuning, production, and the marriage of different musical genres. Her contribution, then, is a unique blend of folk, punk, and rock music, thoroughly laced with political discourse and a deeply-rooted philosophy of creativity over commercial exploitation. Love her or hate her, but don't make the mistake of discounting the prolific Ani DiFranco for being “girl music.”

Listen to: “Lag Time” - Ani DiFranco (Knuckle Down)

Ali, Lorraine. "Ani DiFranco." Rolling Stone. 753. (1995): 22. Print.

Havranek, Carrie. Women Icons of Popular Music: The Rebels, Rockers, and Renegades. Portsmouth, NH: Heinema Educational Books, 2008. Print.

Ouellette, Dan. "No Lag Time: Prolific Singer-Songwriter Ani DiFranco Deepens her Relationship with the Guitar." Acoustic Guitar. 15.11 (2005): 34-36, 40-43. Print.

Stovall, Natasha. "Private Babe." Village Voice. 43.8 (1998): 133. Print.

Zimmerman, Lee. "New Releases: Ani DiFranco - "Knuckle Down"." Goldmine. 31.15 (2005): 35. Print.

1 comment:

  1. I can't recall ever seeing MLA citations on a blog before. You're totally breaking new ground.