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.

Jerry's picture

Robert...You call this junk a "female manifesto that lays out why guys are pigs", and yet, I'm a "dumb" if I find it insulting?? Well, I gotta tell you Bob, I have more than a serviceable IQ, (probably 140 north of your's) and I don't find much to get moist over regarding this whiney drivel. Yes, I'm NOT a woman, so I guess I just don't get it, (apparently YOU DO though, wow, kudos to your estrogeno-perceptive skills.) but I don't really CARE. After insulting every guy that picked on you in high school, I hope this catharsis will: 1. FINALLY get you laid, and 2. allow you to move on.Cheers.

Jerry's picture

Let me say this as well: Liz Phair objectifies herself and shows off her tits and ass every possible chance she has. She does nothing to raise herself, or women in general, above the vile fray of sexualization and victimization. So her whining and name calling (and yours too, Bob) is meaningless. She is also fairly attractive, and as such has had a relatively easy time of it amongst the primitive, knuckle dragging, male species. She has no idea what it is like to UN-attractive, ignored and marginalized, because attractive women have their every whim catered to. She uses and abuses her looks to further her album sales, and nothing more. Hardly a truly evolved person in my opinion, and definitely not someone that should speak for women and their struggles.

Mark Fleischmann's picture

Robert's commentary reminded me I had this CD sitting on the shelf, but Jerry's responses made me play it. It's still a masterpiece. Knowing exactly where you stand with someone can be very sexy.

Jerry's picture

Mark, glad I could help stoke that fire--even if that sounds a bit narcissistic.I just can't escape the fact that for me, combining sexual politics and music is far too combustible a thing and completely unappealing. Its simply the wrong arena, even though it was part of the oeuvre of 90's feminist music. I agree however-- knowing where you stand with someone can be elating, however realizing that its all been a cruel hoax is just silly payback.

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Trey's picture

Loved the record then, love it now. Grrl power, whatever, it rocks! OK, she is a bit of a potty mouth, but the guitar parts are fun and never cliched. Thanks Liz!Trey