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no walls

YESSSSS. OMG YES. Ani’s memoir.

Sorry, all the other memoirs on my bedside table. I bookmarked all of you when I bought Ani’s book on its release day, because I have been FEELING lately, and returning to her music (and Tori’s, and Bikini Kill’s, and Sleater-Kinney’s, and 7 Year Bitch’s, and and and and) because it’s an angry-female world I live in and I need a soundtrack.

…Some guy designed this room I’m standing in,
and others built it with their own tools.
Who says I like right angles?
These are not my laws, these are not my rules!

The first Ani song I ever heard was “Dilate,” which a friend put on for me after a particularly bad breakup:

And when I say you sucked my brain out,
the English translation
is ‘I am in love with you,
and it is no fun.’


But this post isn’t about music per se. Well, maybe that’s untrue. It’s about a memoir by a consummate musician. Without music, there would be no memoir. There would be no Ani. There might be no Stacia.

Ani DiFranco is a self-made star. A precocious, artsy teenager who crashed in bus stations and on friends’ couches before trekking from Buffalo to New York, shaving her head, and hitting the road with her guitar, her name has become synonymous with authenticity. She played her guts out, toured practically nonstop in her late teens and 20s, and turned down several big-name record deals to launch her own label in 1990, Righteous Babe. (The English translation is: Ani is the million that no man ever made.)

What I love about her memoir is how HER it is. It’s her voice, meandering in tangents as when in dialogue with her band or sharing an anecdote with her audience, pontificating one moment and making animal noises the next. You can feel her excitement when she drops the names of her heroes as she meets them for the first time (Pete Seger, Maceo Parker, Woody Guthrie), and the love and respect she has for her crew and revolving cast of stage-mates. Children of the 90s like myself will delight in passages about sharing a bill with Tori Amos, but this isn’t a scene memoir because Ani was her own scene. Wherever she was, there was a scene, the scene, if you were into punk-queer-rock-hippie-social-justice-misfit-ism. If you were into revering music and art.

I liked learning about Ani’s family criminally negligent but somehow loving?), her slew of romantic partners and subsequent heartaches, and her adventures on the road, but my favorite passages were those where she falls into musing the same way she falls out of speaking to the audience and into a chord onstage. Both ways of communicating are compelling, but give me the meditation, the emotion, the poetry.

A standout passage, especially in light of the renewed fervor around abortion rights, is “Once More, with Feeling” (which also happens to be the title of an amazing episode of the amazing Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This overlap of faves cannot go unacknowledged.). Ani says, “Life does not begin at conception. It begins before.” Stay with her, now, because this isn’t the wild drumbeat of the anti-choice war-against-women machine. What follows is a beautiful, earthy meditation on how women carry the true seeds of life in their ovaries and are “a part of the Great Mother Spirit,” a collective consciousness that experiences the “death” of an ovum every month during menstruation. She suggests that PMS is actually grief at the loss of a potential human being: “How could she not rage at the world when all of nature is using her eyes to cry?” Then, she contextualizes abortion, her own two and all of ours, by saying it is “part of the eternal process of natural selection, one that women have been engaging in since long before medical science came along…”

The seed of a tree falls from the safety of its branch onto concrete. Another finds ground but there is no rain. Another is chewed up and eaten by an animal. Another is so lucky as to sprout but then is thwarted under a falling log. None of these things is a tree…For every tree in a forest, there are thousands of tree dreams deferred.

So, the dream of human life is deferred every time a woman sheds her uterine lining, whether organically or non. A fetus is indistinguishable from a woman until it can live outside of a woman. “To pull out the hearse and have a funeral for every aborted fetus,” she adds, “is indicative of man’s will towards exceptionality. His quest for superiority and mastery over all other beings, including women.”

Were this treatise on creation a definition of womanhood, Ani would be accused, as she has been before, of trans-exclusivity. Her feminism strives toward intersectionality, but even she admits that she misses the mark sometimes. What we love, what I love, about Ani DiFranco isn’t that she nails it every time. She isn’t a guru or, ahem, heroine.

I just write about what I should’ve done
and sing what I wish I could say,
and I hope somewhere, some woman hears my music,
and it helps her through her day.

Her politics, her life, her evolution, are messy, imperfect, and real. She isn’t afraid to screw up royally and publicly–

I use my dress to wipe up my drink,
you know, I care less and less what people think.

–because she is capable of critical thinking and integrating new knowledge into her consciousness, and of recognizing others’ experiences as equally valid.

Granted, another woman might have a totally different relationship with her basket of seeds than I do…Trust women and fear not. All of consciousness is manifesting, no matter who gives birth to what.

She is prolific, prophetic (how much of what Ani was furiously penning songs about 30 years ago are we still furiously debating and defending today?), provocative, and pure artist.

And her memoir couldn’t be more authentic. Reading it is like hanging out with an idol-friend. I could go on and on, but this fangirl is gonna throw on Not a Pretty Girl, or maybe Living in Clip, and let Ani help me through the maddening dystopian day.


100 memoirs project