Tag Archives: feminism

Lemonade

Beyonce is a Woman, and Women Like Her Can Not Be Contained

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“The Dragon Breathing Fire” Beyonce is my fave Beyonce so far.

I said to someone recently “I’m willing to take my chances”.  I know that’s all I have, and my chances (choices) sometimes boomerang hard and fast.  Who knew Beyonce has fucking problems too.

Like many of you (I assume based on the cross section of people I deal with in my life), I’m obsessed with Lemonade.  I can’t claim to be Beyonce’s biggest fan or anything – other than her hits I really began to notice her last year when a friend put “7/11” on a playlist for our lake trip.  I’m not usually into edgy sounding (are you getting I don’t know what is edgy in this genre?) dance music but that one really grew on me (how FUCKING cool is that video?) and I got into the rest of Beyonce when the need arose very quickly after that trip.  I needed upbeat empowerment.  Yeah, I had Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora (“Black Widow” and “Work”), Demi Lovato (“Confident”), Zara Larsson (“Lush Life”) and even a little Hailee Steinfeld (“Love Myself”) in my playlist – that’s how badly I had to brainwash myself into thinking I’d someday not be the pathetic mess that had replaced the confident sexy vixen I’d been.  This is the fallout of romantic rejection on a powerful woman.  Tell yourself in the mirror honey, “I love you, and I’ll always be there for you.”  It’s sad but it works – and you have to make it true.  Oh yeah, Ryan Adams singing the entire Taylor Swift “1989” album… that really suited me.

More than a companion to these other female pop stars – Beyonce was my queen.  Not just with Beyonce, but with Nicki Minaj on “Feeling Myself” and with Destiny’s Child.  I always fantasized about doing an “Independent Woman” parody featuring myself washing my car at a self serve, carrying groceries, and sexily mowing a lawn.

Then, Lemonade.  A friend gushed to me about it the day after the film was released on HBO.  I was tired from my two jobs and we were hiking and talking, a little bit, about dudes and the need to get laid.  “They’re just so dumb,” I said.  “I really sometimes think all I need them for is sex, but they can’t even handle that.”  I love men.  Really.  But I have everything I need, other than sex (intimacy!), because I don’t think one of them is ever going to take care of me.  So I finally buy Lemonade the next day and I begin listening, but I don’t manage to watch the entire film until a few days later.  I find myself in tears at the end of “All Night Long”, because I can’t believe Beyonce is still with Jay-Z.

Obviously Lemonade is about so much more than a marriage and infidelity, real or imagined, and I can’t stop reading articles about everything it means.  It takes the synchronized (by Bey herself) contributions of so many artists to make such a piece of work.  It’s also about more than womanhood – though I take this message from it so intensely seriously – it’s about being a marginalized American black woman of course.  I think – even Beyonce deals with this shit, this relationship shit, this gender-specific shit.  We are women – she is sexy, she is a parent (mother), she is smart like a fucking whip, she is a badass, she “gives you life”, she is still grinding with no pants on at thirty four after giving birth, she has piles and piles of paper.  I love her.  In other words, she is everything that is traditionally a man.

In the end of Lemonade, Beyonce claims that true love has saved the day.  I am left wondering, do we ever really fall in love?  Or do we just fall in lust that sometimes lasts for years?  Then that link is broken, or tired, and is it just whatever we brainwash ourselves into to keep a relationship together?  I wonder this about myself.  Never one to stray, but also not one to stay, my relationships always ended when I got bored and frustrated.  I finally told myself, as an adult in my thirties, that people stay together because they want to and decide to.  If this is unconditional love, I tried to practice it, albeit on someone I had such a burning lust for I could validate my own devotion easily.  I still ached for his body even when I hated every word that came out of his mouth, and for months after he gracelessly and abruptly ended things.  Seeing him with another woman (flagrantly) was the cruelest backwash of our ending, because what did we have if not the strongest of physical bonds – which I thought was an ephemeral issue of our love?  It seemed clear then, nothing.

Despite never being cheated on (to my knowledge), the betrayal aspect of Lemonade strikes me the hardest.  It’s so difficult to believe a man you get on your knees in limos for would actually need something sexually from another woman – especially if one aspect of your connection is that transcendent kind of “we’re in love” sex that accompanies deeply intimate relationships. No matter how much she kept it sexy and fun, and had her own money, and no matter how easy it is for her man compared to when a man had to really support a woman and her children (giving him more of a license to stray) – it doesn’t matter.  Even Beyonce gets cheated on.

Here’s the thing though – what I get from Lemonade is that Beyonce fixed everything that Jay-Z fucked up by forgiving his betrayal – by loving more deeply.  Her power seems to be claiming that only true love is real and her husband’s transgressions are the object of a problem greater than them.  But of course she has to be the one powerful enough to know this, if it is true. She saves the fucking day in her marriage, her love overcomes the pride of her much older husband, she is stronger than everyone.  Which is to say, she loves more than anyone, and harder, more painfully.

I want to think it’s noble: forgiveness, and repairing something, and unconditionally loving a flawed man who has cheated on you with another woman (and by Dan Savage’s rules if people asked permission before they cheated, maybe we could make all this stuff ok) but – why are women the ones that have to be strong?  Why do we have to do everything?  Every angry moment of  the first part of Lemonade resonates with me – the doubt, the denial, the beast awakening into absolute rage on my favorite track “Don’t Hurt Yourself”.  As the redemption process begins there’s a birth, things change, Beyonce comes out in the end a different woman, and as is pointed out in this article, the sex is still there but it’s different now – it means something again now, after it’s been used both to maintain a man and betray a woman.  It’s sacred, like most people agree it is when you love the person you’re with.

The times I’ve climbed out of despair, of that burning rage that comes with the most betrayal-laded heartbreak, in my mind I’m a phoenix rising, with new stuff in my closet and jewelry around my neck and probably some of my comfortable “boyfriend” weight melted from my hips.  I emerged alone.  Never did I transform and come back to that same man, whether he wanted me to or not.  Part of me just wishes Beyonce would “bounce to the next dick”.  Because what else can we really count on?

To quote poetry from Lemonade read by Beyonce… “why are you afraid of love?”  I think, we all know why.

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Liz Phair Was My Best Friend and She Never Knew

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Liz Phair in the 90’s.

I discovered Liz Phair on WFNX Boston at age sixteen. I realized she was the extremely cool girl in the shimmery silver dress on the cover of Rolling Stone. Somehow, I saw snippets of the “Supernova” video (we didn’t have MTV at home), and Liz was just… cool. A song had never expressed the crushing desires I felt for boys, nor what I thought love and sex would be like once I was having it like a somewhat grown up instead of a highschooler, until I heard her songs.

Whip Smart led me quickly to Exile in Guyville, which I had read about in the music magazines I devoured avidly (of course I had heard of the “blowjob queen” thing) but hadn’t really listened to yet. There wasn’t much of a way to try music out in 1994. If it wasn’t on the radio, and you didn’t have access to college radio (I highly doubt I did in Chelmsford, Massachusetts), you could go someplace like Newbury Comics (twenty minutes north in Nashua, New Hampshire) and see if it was on the listening station. I mean, IF you were at least sixteen and a half and had your driver’s license, or had a friend with one. I relied on WFNX and music magazines for the most part.

I introduced girlfriends to Liz and found in them converts and fellow obsessives. So much of my teen and young adult experience is tied into her music, especially Exile in Guyville. I listened to it as I fell asleep for years – until I was twenty five or twenty six. My Sony Discman had a function that allowed me to select just the mellow tracks. My sleep playlist was:

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“Dance of the Seven Veils”

“Explain It to Me”

“Canary”

“Mesmerizing”

“Shatter”

“Gunshy”

“Stratford-on-Guy”

“Strange Loop”

I remember getting really stoned at Martha’s Vineyard with the guys that introduced me to the Wu Tang (chefs from New York who had Nubian artwork in their house in Oak Bluffs) and listening to “Strange Loop” in the beach house I’d rented with eleven other girlfriends. I heard all kinds of extra sounds and galloping horses in my head phones. It was magical. I even wrote about it in my diary.  (I’d like to never be seventeen again, ever, by the way, even if I’m reincarnated.)

Liz, I thought, was the kind of woman I was going to be. So, as much as I was puzzled by my sister’s decision to get married, I was puzzled by Whitechocolatespaceegg, which came out when I was twenty. I remember move out cleaning my first real apartment with my roommate and listening to the album with puzzlement. Liz had definitely changed; she’d gotten married and had a child, and the tone of the songs was different. But of course, I don’t know what made her write anything she did, it’s just that suddenly her music wasn’t me any more, most of it at least. My sister, who was engaged at the time, explained to me that Liz had just grown up. As if it was going to happen to me too.

Bootleg cassettes kept me alive in the four years between Whip Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg, and it was an even longer wait before Liz Phair came out in 2003. In that time period, I’d graduated from college, moved to Brooklyn and then to Los Angeles, had a life-destructing abusive relationship (around the same time, I found the video for the unreleased track “Down”), left Los Angeles, and moved to Detroit to fulfill my dream of being a gritty rock scene groupie à la the rock bios of the CBGB’s scene I’d been reading.  I was hopefully waiting for an album of “Exile” style music, like the “Down” song, to come out.

My closest friend from high school sent me a burned CD of Liz Phair in 2003. Again, I was confused, because to my mind the best songs on the album were the ones that were hidden tracks I had to download online like “Jeremy Engle”. I wouldn’t have admitted to anyone at the time that I was listening to this album – I was knee deep in the Detroit garage rock scene and trying to climb as far in as I could get. Some of the lyrics on Liz Phair were embarrassing, but, they were embarrassing in a familiar way. And I loved “Extraordinary” in spite of myself, as well as many of the lyrics in “Rock Me”, though I was too young to understand dating younger men. I saw Liz live twice on this tour, once in Boston with my high school friend, and once in Detroit by myself, wearing white Dr. Scholl’s, a vintage jean skirt and a heart printed tube top (sorry, that fashion nostalgia was for me). The moment I got to hear her play “Stratford on Guy” solo on stage was what I was there for, but I could tell it wasn’t really her anymore, and it sort of pained her to play it, and how badly people wanted to hear it. “You really want Stratford?” She asked, before she gave in.

Her story is this typical sad story of an artist changing and her fans just getting angry at her. And I was one of them – I felt abandoned by her music. I think what resonated with me the most about Liz’s lyrics and, I guess, her persona as I saw it, is I felt that tug between a good, educated, upper middle class suburban girl, and the hyper-intelligent, pro-sex, dark minded creative, kind of bad girl. It was a struggle I keenly felt myself. At times I thought I would eventually get married at a country club (or be like Madonna someday). I didn’t understand how dichotomous who I was supposed to be and the inside of me really were.  I think the super stage-frighted Liz of the 90’s was someone people could relate to – her recordings were so amazing and her lyrics so astute, but she seemed scared up there.  Maybe we could all see ourselves as secretly amazing, and just terrified to be so front of the world.

I completely ignored Liz’s next release and was only excited for Funstyle because of the one early track, “Oh Bangladesh” I’d heard which, again, sounded like her old stuff. I thought she had finally broken free from her major label purgatory and would be Liz again. Once Funstyle came out, the first song turned me off so much it was too painful to listen to the whole album. Why didn’t she just make an album of “Bangladeshes”?

Over the years I have missed Liz like a best friend I’m no longer in touch with.  This is probably why I decided to listen to her last two releases again this week, Somebody’s Miracle and Funstyle. I’m not going to subject you to an album review, but, Somebody’s Miracle is a well-written, well-produced album. It just doesn’t sound like the Liz Phair that turned us all into her obsessed pretend BFFs back in the 90’s. And Funstyle actually has some really good tracks, and the rest of it (to me) sounds like someone goofing off who doesn’t really give a shit what people think. And maybe this is the big difference. The Liz we all loved so much was an unhappy young adult who did want to impress people.  As dark and personal as the lyrics on “Exile” seemed, without making assumptions about what they really meant, we do know the album was a calculated response to Exile on Mainstreet.  Who wouldn’t be scared to perform that?  I read recently that “Canary”, for a long time, would make Liz cry. And, I’ve read more than once that “Guyville” was written from pain. Liz is happy now. And people hate that.

To be honest, a couple of the songs on Funstyle I haven’t listened to in entirety because they do grate on me a little bit – but they initially sound like statements of somebody who has been abused by press, record companies, and former fans for years – almost like an art project statement about it. Like, the shit was funny. It just served to remind me how fucking smart Liz is. And personally, I write joke rap songs so I can’t really get down on her for Funstyle.

It is not lost on me that I am now the age Liz was when I really felt abandoned by her, and that I’m in a relationship with someone eight years younger than I am (people gave Liz a fair amount of flack for that). The difference is, I never did the marriage kids thing, I never went back to the suburbs, and I never got divorced. I’ve been here the whole time.

I was reminded of an article I read when Liz Phair came out where Liz said she wanted women to not be embarrassed of their thoughts. I haven’t found it online, but I’m fairly sure it was in response to criticism of the song “Favorite”, which, truly, makes me cringe because I like people to think that I’m cool for the most part. It’s brave to be okay with singing about your underwear and comparing a boyfriend to them. I mean, no one else was doing it, that’s for sure. At any rate, it always stuck with me. “One thing I want is for women to not be ashamed of their thoughts.” (I’m quoting from memory.)  That’s major. I was thirty five when I started my “personal” blog and was finally prepared to deal with what might happen if people knew what I really think. And I’ve been a bedroom guitar player/songwriter since I was fifteen.  I.e. the only people who heard my songs were my close friend from high school (hopefully she never blackmails me with cassette tapes) and another friend I tried to start a band with.

I feel the restrictions put on women as I advance in age and career – that we maybe can’t be quite as honest as men, people really don’t like it when we don’t act the way we’re supposed to, and, when we get older, we’re much less valuable. Though I, obviously, do the same thing to other women. I was unhappy with Liz – I was the indie girl wanting her to stay lo fi. And then I got mad at her again when she got all weird and it wasn’t the weird I liked. I realize she’s doing exactly what she wants – not being ashamed of her thoughts. And then I read her defense of Lana Del Rey, which reminded me of maybe the most important thing to me about Liz Phair – she taught me how to be a feminist.

And, though I still struggle with it – all phases of Liz showed me that I could, in her words, “give myself a part to play”.

Liz is in her forties, raising a teenage son, working a day job, going to the Grand Canyon with friends (yes she actually posts things like this from her Twitter account), making weird albums and occasionally touring, being blond and using social media like other famous people. I mean, why can’t she be all of these things and still be the person that made Exile in Guyville? I love this quote from Liz’s Lana Del Rey piece: “Well, as a recording artist, I’ve been hated, I’ve been ridiculed, and, conversely, hailed as the second coming. All that matters in the end is that I’ve been heard.”

It kills me that lizphair.com is nothing but a landing page right now, that apparently Exile in Guyville was out of print at some point!!! (Personally I’ve had two compact discs and the double album on vinyl.) And that I was one of the assholes that caused this retreat… if in fact Liz has retreated slightly. So I’ll keep following her on Twitter, and honestly, listening to her voice – I promise this voice is just as important to me as it was in 1994.  And for real, thank you Liz Phair.

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