Life Aint Phair
Photo by Phil PoynterWe took it personally. Everyone who loved Liz Phair because she wielded the word fuck and the phrase shit brown like a man. Everyone who loved her 'cause she couldn't really sing. She was our indie empress; did she record in her bathroom, with that slightly inept guitar and her offbeat (and off-the-beat) phrasing? She could have been Rosemary Clooney once upon a time. Come onna my house: I'll be your blowjob queen.
Liz Phair's feral and ferocious songs about jealousy made Natalie Merchant's vapid "Jealousy" sound like a garden party. "I can't believe you had a life before me/I can't believe they let you run around free/Just putting your body wherever it seemed/Like a good idea. What a good idea."
Her songs about her son were so physically in love with him and paranoid for him, you thought she might devour him. "I'm gonna tell my son to grow up pretty as the grass is green/And whip-smart as the English Channel's wide/And I'm gonna tell my son to keep his money in his mattress/And his watch on any hand between his thighs/And I'm gonna lock my son up in a tower/Till I write my whole life story on the back of his big brown eyes."
And her monotone songs about oily, asshole men and their cheap, unpleasant desires—well, they're too numerous to recount here. But trust us: they're trenchant, and they're cathartic, and we have all known those men and wanted a shower after. Only Phair isn't too ashamed of her judgment lapses to admit to them.
So, yes, we loved Liz Phair. And we love her still. But we're ashamed of her lapse in judgment. Her most recent album—titled Liz Phair, as if it's a debut instead of her fourth, and produced by the guys behind Avril Lavigne—is shit. It's teeny-bop smegma, but more than that, it's a betrayal. We didn't have to be popular to love Liz Phair—we could be interesting and offbeat and move to Silver Lake (or the LBC) and find our own uncheerleadery beauty. So what does Phair do? Our alterna-prom queen decides that the level of cooldom she made us happy to achieve just isn't good enough. We're not good enough. She's up and joined a sorority.
Why would she do such a thing? Even The New York Times says "Ms. Phair" has acknowledged this is the big marketing push for the Phair brand, is "her bid for center stage—the moment when she will finally make the leap from indie-rock quasi-stardom to teen-pop levels of superstardom. Instead," the Times concludes, "she has committed an embarrassing form of career suicide."
Harsh? Yes. Deserved? I'm afraid so. I can't begin to tell you how horrifying it was to hear Phair on Star 98.7—a perfectly acceptable listening choice pre-Indy 103.1—and realize that it was she singing that new Britney Spears song . . . the one that lilted.
"Get a load of me/Get a load of you/Walkin' down the street/And I hardly know you."
Her level of fame—beloved by those in the know—wasn't enough. We, her fans, weren't enough. She wanted to be a pop idol.
She wanted all the cheerleaders to like her.
And now her songs are so trite—though they've still got that touch of fuck—that even her paeans to hot white come seem like just another pose. "I want to play Xbox on your floor/Say hi to your roommate who's next door/You don't have a dime, but I don't mind/Who gives a damn. . . . You think I'm a genius/Think I'm cool/I'm starting to think that young guys rule."
Well . . . okay.
We don't ditch our friends just because they've stumbled. We don't even ditch them if they turn uncool—or have "committed an embarrassing form of career suicide." So we'll still be there Friday as Phair unleashes her monotone on the Galaxy Concert Theatre. We'll just be hoping all her songs are from Exile in Guyville, Whip-Smart and whitechocolatespaceegg. We don't need the Avril crap. We'll forgive you your fling with the cheerleaders; just never make us hear their names again.
Liz Phair performs at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600. Fri., 8 p.m. $25. 18+.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.