OUT OF RANGE: Artists like Ani DiFranco can be somewhat uncomfortable reminders.
Ani, Lauryn and all those faded henna tattoos
By Rachel Dovey
Nineteen ninety-eight was the year of the righteous babe. Ani DiFfranco and Lauryn Hill—those icons of social critique and weird hair—each released Billboard-charting, Grammy-nominated albums, Little Plastic Castle and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. A West County teenager with a lesbian mother, I was overexposed to both and fell blonde cornrows over Dr. Martens for each woman's danceable ire.
On the surface, the anti-divas had little in common—Hill was black, DiFranco white; Hill was straight, DiFranco bisexual; Hill was religious, DiFranco an atheist—but both preached third-wave feminism with zeal and zero apology. Between the two, they covered it all—pregnancy and abortion and periods and self-image and black self-image and sexual ambiguity.
Fast-forward to now. My henna tattoos have faded to nothing, and I harbor a formless resentment toward the combat-boot aesthetic I once loved. DiFranco will play the Wells Fargo Center on April 7 and Hill will play the Warfield on April 12, and I won't be attending either.
This didn't bother me until recently. We all roll our eyes at the '90s. Such earnestness. Such idealism. Such armpit hair. We know better now—that shit was itchy and uncomfortable as hell. There's even a show about how silly we were, IFC's Portlandia.
Lately, however, I've started to miss that old attitude of righteous indignation, mostly because it couldn't be further from my current mental state. I'm not outraged (and from the wage gap to victim-blaming, there's still plenty to be outraged about). I barely feel motivated to act or even vote. What I am, post-Iraq,–post $14 trillion defisit,–post 9.5 percent unemployment rate,–post losing my own job, is just plain tired.
Of course, the aughts have birthed a new group of Girls with Something to Say. As a whole, they're less didactic than their '90s counterparts. Gaga and Beyonce team up for heists in the Pussy Wagon. Nicki Minaj explores domestic abuse . . . and reindeer, ninjas and Dungeons and Dragons. Feminist blog Jezebel.com is, in the words of Tina Fey, a place "where women talk about how far we've come and which celebrities have the worst beach bodies."
Perhaps this ability to laugh at ourselves is a sign of social progress. But with Lara Logan, with the Julian Assange assault mess, with the New York Times' portrayal of that tragic, unnamed 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, I doubt it. I think, like myself, our sad old ex-empire of a nation is exhausted and needs a laugh.
So forgive me, Ani and Lauryn. I'm going to go and watch a pop star crawl out of an egg.
Ani Difranco plays Thursday, April 7, at the Wells Fargo Center. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. 8pm. $45. 707.546.3600.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.