Absolutely Inspired By Ani DiFranco’s Canon

When I went to the Ani DiFranco concert on her Handful of Dates Tour in Iowa City last month, I was completely BLOWN AWAY! I know, I know – as a female folkie I’m supposed to have Ani’s entire collection already or something, but I think I just wasn’t ready till now to really dig in. And it actually seems like a good time to get to know Ani – she just released Canon, which is a career retrospective, so it’s got a little something from every album she’s done, and it was all handpicked by her, so in a way it’s an interesting, layered self-portrait.

I had a pretty good seat, about 10 rows back on the left side, and close to the center aisle. Similar to to the phenomenon I noticed at my first Dar Williams concert, the thing that struck me as soon as Ani stepped on stage was how she is physically tiny but energetically POWERFUL. I think maybe that power is why I shied away from her music for so long. I knew she was powerful, I’d heard mostly about her angry reputation and anger has historically scared me half to death, even when it’s not directed at me. I’ve heard from friends who have been long-time Ani fans that having a baby has really softened her.

Seeing her on-stage I quickly found that Ani is not scary angry – the angry stuff was more of a righteous anger that sees what is wrong and gets things done about it. (Yeah, I get the whole Righteous Babe thing now!) And a lot of the songs were incredibly vulnerable, or just plain beautiful. I was really impressed with her high energy, her stage presence, the confidence and joy she exuded while performing. While her lyrics show that she definitely experiences moments or areas of insecurity, she’s brave enough to throw it all out there, which I think is often the fastest (though not necessarily the most pleasant) way to process through something.

For example, one of my favorite songs of the night was a new one called Present/Infant, aka “that one about mirrors”. In it, Ani talks about a moment of self criticism, and how the innocence of her baby jolted her into remembering her true beauty. She just performed it for AOL, and it’s so new I think this and the podcast might be the only way to hear it outside of a concert at the moment:

Email and RSS readers may need to come to the blog to see the video

During the concert, I was so inspired that I started ticking off as many parallels or similarities between me and Ani as possible, hoping that it might mean something. I was excited that we were both wearing cargo pants (although I’ve since noticed they seem to be a staple for her), and one particular line that stuck out for me was: “you’ve gotta crawl through the desert between when you hear it and when you can play it with your hands” from the song Lag Time because that’s something that totally applies to me – I’m always getting frustrated by the things I can conceptualize but not yet express/do – in music and all of life really.

The creative energy in the theater was so electric, at one point some new song lyrics of my own started coming to me! I had to grab my journal out of my purse and scribble some notes by the spill-off of the stage lights. So far it’s definitely more driving and intense than stuff I’ve written before, we’ll see how it turns out. It’s also one that so far I can hear a lot better than I can play with my hands. 😉 It’s kind of exciting though, like maybe I’ve just opened up a whole new area of song themes for the future.

In the Spinner interview podcast (where she performed the Present/Infant song) Ani talked about learning to play the guitar out of a book of Beatles songs and I grinned myself silly because that’s totally how I taught myself to play. (I don’t know which book she used, but this is the one that helped me .) She said something else about “that great thing music does so well” in connecting people and making them feel like they are not alone. It resonated big time for me, because that is what draws me to music so strongly – the way that some person I don’t know can say the unformed words in my heart, and make me breathe easier for it. That’s powerful. That’s amazing. That’s what I would love to give back to the world, to even one person. Because I know how sometimes one song can get you through a day at work, or get you out of bed every morning for a month, or bring a smile to your face each and every time you hear it.

I’m not quite sure what it is about certain artists that radiates from them so strongly, but Ani has been inspiring me hardcore for over a month now and I think it’s just the beginning. It’s kind of like discovering an awesome TV serious on DVD after it’s been going for a couple seasons. You get to gobble down hours and hours of a great story without having to wait a week for the next episode, at least until you catch up.

Obviously the best place to get Canon is on Ani’s website. Her website and live shows are the only place to get her official bootlegs. But here’s a quick link to it on iTunes if that’s your preferred method.

You can also preview some songs on her MySpace page. The page is not run by Ani herself, but by her trusty intern Amanda, who does a great job with info and contests, etc.

Ok, one last thing. Because it’s so good, and because it’s something I really need to remember, here are the lyrics to Present/Infant (at least how they sound to me based on the podcast):

Present/Infant ~ Ani DiFranco

lately I’ve been glaring into mirrors, picking myself apart
you’d think at my age I’d have thought of something better to do
than make insecurity into a full time job
make insecurity into an art
yes and I fear my life will be over
and I will have never lived it unfettered
always glaring into mirrors, mad I don’t look better

but now here is this tiny baby
and they say she looks just like me
and she is smiling at me
with that present infant glee
and I would defend to the ends of the earth
her perfect right to be

so I’m beginning to see some problems
with the ongoing work of my mind
and I’ve got myself a new mantra
it says “don’t forget to have a good time”
don’t let the sellers of stuff
power enough to rob you of your grace

love is all over the place
there’s nothing wrong with your face

love is all over the place
there’s nothing wrong with your face

lately I’ve been glaring into mirrors, picking myself apart

Amazing right? There’s something really healing about hearing someone tell you there’s nothing wrong with your face over and over…

I think I’m going to listen to it again. :-) As Ani says – Don’t forget to have a good time!


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7 Responses to “Absolutely Inspired By Ani DiFranco’s Canon”

  1. Jana says:

    GREAT post! So glad you found a new artist. I love the discovery period. :) I guess I need to learn more about Ani now. I have always felt the same way you did — she has an intimidating catalog! But she’s great.

    And I’ve totally been scrawling lyrics in the dark at shows — it’s a great atmosphere! Can’t wait to hear the fruits.

  2. Heather says:

    Thanks Jana, glad you enjoyed it!

    I’ve heard from a few other musicians now that the the same thing happens to them – writing lyrics during shows. I guess creativity breeds creativity!

  3. Karuna says:

    you know ani’s song “joyful girl” has always reminded me of you…

  4. Heather says:

    Aww thanks Karuna! (you just decided my next download. *grin*)

  5. Karuna says:

    lemme know if you want a live version :)

  6. Missy says:

    This Ani show was one of her best, I think. I’ve seen her live about 10 times, but this was my first Ani show with my husband. It’s fun listening to her songs evolve over the years; she and I became moms in the same year, so I love her newer songs about motherhood.

  7. Heather says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog Missy! Glad to hear that I “cut my teeth” on such a good show!

    I bet her next album is going to have a lot of happy stuff on it. :-)

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