Fuck and Run
Calling anything “IMPORTANT,” particularly a record, often sucks the life out of it and dooms it to a kind of overly academic hell to be debated by talking heads and those that “were there.”
Some of that kind of competitive parsing goes on in Guyville Redux the DVD that accompanies the reissue of Liz Phair’s landmark debut, Exile in Guyville.
Not being female or someone who was in the “Chicago Scene” of the early 1990’s, I can’t speak directly to how she totally rocked my world. But I can say that it’s been out of print for several years, so it’s good to have back. If you don’t know the record, it’s a classic that both women and yes, men will respond to. Written as a song-by-song reply to The Stones, Exile on Main Street, which immediately puts it over the top for me, it’s variously been described in the DVD by folks like Brad Wood who produced it, Dave Matthews whose ATO label has reissued it and Steve Albini who bitched about it at the time (big surprise) as having every contradictory quality you can name: “mournful, yearning, so depressed,” “rough, tough and sexy as hell,” and “simple, easy and not complicated.” The best one may have come from Matthews who said the record’s juice comes from there being, “so much power in acknowledging she’s powerless…but she’s not.” Thanks John, ya freaky, man-tard wearin'...
Made up mostly of guitar and Phair’s voice, Guyville has a focus and a tone that grabs you right from the start. It’s a female manifesto that lays out why guys are pigs, and yet why smart chicks like Phair still need them around. Much anger and self-loathing colors the record. As Phair herself says in the DVD, which I have to say I found fascinating and a hell of a lot better that most of the lame-assed, “how we made the record” DVDs out there, she “knew exactly what she was doing.” One of best parts of this mini-film, which lists Phair as a producer, is when she and John Kusack discuss where they went in the Chicago area to buy drugs including what Kusack calls “rasta weed.”
In my own experience, the reaction to guys to this record back when it first came out, 15 years ago, was pretty instructive to watch. The dumb ones, of course, those still stuck in Sabbathland were threatened. They thought it was a big fuck you to the male race. Of course they also thought George Bush was a good presidential candidate. As one of the women interviewed near the end of the DVD mentions, some alpha dogs focused on the song “Flower” and its mention of being a “Blowjob Queen.” Other guys loved the whole “Fuck and Run” ethos that came with the song of the same title. If only I could find a chikc like that they mused, never really taking the time to listen to the lyrics.
Those precious few evolved specimens out there, actually got it and dug the music for what it was: a minimalist rock record, with its own style that had a lot to say and occasionally kicked up the tempos.
In the end, Guyvillealways made me feel like I do about the Posies. In that case there they were, clinging to their harmony vocals and chiming guitars, a killer power pop band adrift in a smarmy sea of grunge. To me they were a much more interesting flavor than all the drone and drang going on around them. Phair’s record is the same kind of anomaly, only from the Chicago scene. Listening again, Exile has aged better than most of the Chicago records from that same era by bigger bands like Urge Overkill, Material Issue or even the Smashing Pumpkins.
Oh yeah, and then there's the cover, with it's famous snippet of exposed nipple showing in the lower right hand cover of the cover shot and those lovely inside photos of Ms. Phair as a stripper. If you had any doubts from listening to the music, the photos set you straight: this girl wanted to be a rock star. Exile put her there.