Ani DiFranco's music played in my 1987 Honda hatchback on repeat until I knew every word, and then I keep singing along for another few months. This was late high school, early college. Music that I came to love in those early years (it was exactly Fleetwood Mac, Ani DiFranco & Leonard Cohen) became a part of me.
She was my first example of a cool lesbian, but she wasn't one.
somedays the line I walk
turns out to be straight
other days the line tends to
I've got no criteria for sex or race
I just want to hear your voice
I just want to see your face
their eyes are all asking
are you in, or are you out
and I think, oh man,what is this about?
tonight you can't put me
up on any shelf
'cause I came here alone
I'm gonna leave by myself —from "In or Out," released on Imperfectly, 1992That was her testimony on her third album, and she claimed the labels "bisexual," and "queer," over the years. She wrote songs about love and sex with men and women.
I didn't subscribe to music magazines. The Internet was still infantile. I listened to Ani's albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She affirmed my own advocacy (I had friends who were gay), but I wasn't seriously thinking about dating women at the time. I was straight. I just loved her music. She was a poet, like me.
Not So Soft. Puddle Dive. Not a Pretty Girl. Little Plastic Castle. These albums gave me the anthems that smoothed my rough ride into becoming an adult woman. When it was safe enough and armed with Ani's strength, I practiced Hollaback from sheer rage.
So why did I feel self-righteous, in the early 2000s, when I learned that she'd married a man? It was never outside the realm of her possibility. She hadn't deceived us.
Now, she lives with a husband and two children, Petah and Dante, in New Orleans. If you're going to quiet your indignation, get a picket fence and still practice advocacy (she canceled a show in NC this year to protest their anti-LGBT law), that's the town to do it in. A town worthy of her.
Love or happiness have quieted her rage. "I have that typical songwriter’s disease," she said in an interview with Adam McKibbin in 2009, "where when I have a problem, I reach for my guitar, and when I’m happy, I’m busy being happy."
After her daughter was born in 2007, she wrote her best love song.
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—from "Present/Infant", released on Red Letter Year, 2008And where is God in all this happiness? Nowhere. In 1999, she wrote and sang, "Up up up up up up / Points the spire of the steeple / But God’s work isn’t done by God / It’s done by people."
Amen. Good deeds and aspersions alike, on this plane, are practiced by humans alone.
My spirituality tends to be more in the vein of, if there is a God it exists within us, and the responsibility for justice is on our shoulders. What if we just looked to each other in this way? What if the steeples didn’t all point up? What if they all pointed at us, and we had to care for each other in the way that we expect God to care for us? I’m much more interested in that.” —Ani DiFranco, interview by Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive, May 2000We do not hold humans to this expectation because humans are incredibly disappointing most of the time. Love is rare; balanced and respectful relationships are rare; altruism might not exist. We can't lift humans up with reverence and worship them, the way we can a myth.
Ani turns to the atom.
The glory of the atom
Begs a reverent word
The primary design
Of the whole universe
Yes, let us sing its praises
Let us bow our heads in prayer
At the magnificent consciousness
The smallest unit of matter
Uniting bird and rock and tree
And you and me
Oh holy is the atom
The truly intelligent design
To which all of evolution
Is graciously aligned —from "Atom," released on Red Letter Year, 2008YES. The glory of nature and the universe, what we do understand that boggles the mind, contains plenty of reverence and meaning for me.
And raising our expectations for humans, that we meet one another eye-to-eye and take greater responsibility for one another's care and just treatment, could contain plenty of holiness.