I was late to the Liz Phair game. Exile in Guyville came out in 1993 and somehow didn’t hit my radar for about a decade. In 2002, when I became a newly divorced single mom, it flitted across my radar and I fell in love. I felt like everything she wrote was a part of me.
And I kept standing six-feet-one
Instead of five-feet-two
And I loved my life
And I hated you
I was navigating the work world as a former stay-at-home mom/wife and jumped into a lake of fire by choosing radio sales as my first step into a career. If you have ever worked in radio or known anyone who has, it’s a lot of things. It was fun, exciting, scary and stressful. Selling air, especially on platforms that changed as fast as the CEOS mood, was challenging. I had to learn a lot fast. I had to learn how to sell to a variety of business owners, from board game stores to strip clubs. As the new kid, I didn’t get an account list. I got a “sell something and sell it fast or you are out of a job”. Working with on-air talent had its own set of thrills and challenges. I immediately developed a hard-core crush on two of my coworkers. One of those coworkers would turn into one of my best friends and we’d develop a love for one another that to this day is one of my most valued relationships. I also had to learn a lot about the world that had changed while I was married. Dating had changed. Women no longer had pubic hair. Evidently it was ok to talk openly about anal sex at work. To say I was out of my depth was an understatement, but it was adapt, fit in, or you’d be weeded out. I used Sex and the City as my guidebook and I adapted. I got really good at taking sexual harassment and dishing it back out. It wasn’t a mean place, it was however, aggressively friendly . . .
In my car as I drove from business to business trying to hit my sales goals and missing my babies, Liz Phair was keeping me company.
The Divorce Song:
And the license said you had to stick around until I was dead
But if you’re tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am
Fuck and Run:
And whatever happened to a boyfriend
The kind of guy who tries to win you over?
And whatever happened to a boyfriend
The kind of guy who makes love ’cause he’s in it?
I’d go on to discover White Chocolate Space Egg with Polyester Bride and Johnny Sunshine. I’d date a sweet man after sitting in my car listening to Johnny Sunshine with him and confessing it made me think of him. He dated a very broken, very sad version of me, but he did his best to bring light to my world.
Johnny feel good, Johnny right on
Johnny miss you, Johnny light on
Johnny makes me feel strangely good about myself
2003 would bring her self-titled album and with it the poppy, light hearted songs like Why Can’t I, It’s Sweet, Rock me and H.W.C which would attach themselves to various lovers, usually much younger than me, who were a distraction from trying to be a single parent to three kids under 10, with an ex-husband who was off the rails, a monumentally stressful job and crushing financial distress.
Little Digger would be the one song I had to skip over every time.
Dig little digger, don’t be shy
You saw your mother with another guy
You think you’ll tell her that she’s one of a kind, you say
My Mother is mine
You put your trucks up on the bed next to him
So he can get a better look at them, you say
This ones my favorite one, this one you can’t have
I got it from my Dad, you say
I got it from my Dad
Now you’re thinking little thoughts about it
Taking every inch of him in
What does it mean when something changes how its always been
And in your head you keep repeating the line
My Mother is mine
I’ve done the damage, the damage is done
I pray to God that I’m the damaged one
In all these grown-up complications that you don’t understand
I hope you can, someday
I hope you can
I still can’t listen to it and it’s been 17 years since I made the choice.
2005 brought a breakup, a loneliness that I hadn’t pictured, frightening and soul crushing behavior by my ex and a toughening of my spirit. I had made this decision, and I had three little kids that needed me to be much more together than I felt. At night when the dishes were done, the lunches packed, their stories read and their small bodies tucked in I’d go to my kitchen, pour a drink and listen to music.
Table for one:
I’m walking down in the basement
I’m leaning on the washing machine
I’m reaching back through a hole in the wall’s insulation
I’m pulling out a bottle of vodka
Replacing that with a pint of Jim Bean
I’m lying down on the floor until I feel better
I was not ok. But I didn’t have time to either acknowledge that or pause long enough to address it. I was held together with band-aids and antiseptic. I was unraveled but I got up every day and did my best. Every day.
In 2006 I’d met a man who would take me on for the next 5 years. We’d co-parent our 5 kids, share each others homes. We’d create memories. As a family, and as a couple. We’d road trip all over the midwest in search of good music and good beers. We’d have long lazy weekends at his house at the lake, and busy weekends in my city. For a while I’d believe in the happily ever after, until it became clear we were no longer aligned. And no longer happy.
Count on my love. Somebody’s Miracle. Lazy Dreamer, the soundtrack to our courtship. Why I lie the track to my eventual emotional abandonment of the relationship.
Liz would stay on high rotation through 2012 when he and I parted ways. And I kind of set her aside. Occasionally I’ll put her back on, but it comes with it some tough memories.
This is the music my daughter was raised on. Liz, Pink, Avril, Ashanti, Paramore, Damone, Poe. Eventually Lissie would enter the picture, Skylar Grey, Flyleaf, Kate Nash.. the list goes on.
These are the artists she heard coming out of her mom’s bathroom, bedroom, car speakers, kitchen. She probably knew the times these songs were covering tears of sadness, anger, fear and hopelessness. They were the lyrics of power and loss. They were her mom’s whole life, and for better or worse, were the foundation of her understanding of being a woman in the world.
This weekend we are road tripping out to Des Moines Iowa to see Liz and Lissie and Ellle King and Metric and a bunch of other artists rip up the stage and we will laugh and cry our glitter smudged faces off. The soundtrack to her youth, my life, our relationship. The good, the bad, the heartbreaking and empowering blasting our ears and hearts and souls.