Dear Ani, I have a confession to make. Actually, I have two confessions to make. Well, maybe it’s three, but I haven’t figured that part out yet. In the end, you will have to decide for me. OK?
The first confession is that I broke the first CD in your 2007 song anthology, Canon. It is cracked almost all the way through. Only track 1 (‘Fire Door’) will play. The rest are too affected by the crack to be readable by any of my CD players. So, I play disc 2 only because it’s still perfectly fine, and somehow streaming your music online isn’t the same thing as hearing these songs on compact disc. I think maybe I unintentionally stepped on Disc 1 while living off the grid in Montana, after a full bottle of Walla Walla Valley red wine. These things, they happen. Not scratched, mind you: cracked.
Confession #2: this is the only album of yours that I own. And intend to own. You see, my friends, they are not fans of your musical style. They find you “strident,” “preachy,” and “raw.” I don’t, obviously. So I play Disc 2 of Canon surreptitiously, when no one else is listening. In my car, mainly, on long – and I mean long – road trips. 400 miles through Eastern Oregon in a winter snowstorm. Wyoming in summer rains. Idaho when the winds are blowing through the Snake River Plain as if humanity didn’t even exist. Northern California during an atmospheric river. Those times.
I love your voice. They way it breaks and wavers and then sounds like you are an alt rock goddess. I love those notes you play on your guitar that no music teacher would ever approve of. I like the Dada tones to your lyrics, the way you flout conventions, the syncopation and the go for broke singing. I love the rough functionality of it all, like a Paleolithic bone knife, or an Aboriginal throwing stick, or something that humans have been making for eons, before the Age of Amazon. You are a portal to times and lives past. Your themes, they are universal. I love the way you hurt. I love the way you yearn. I love the way you ponder your place in the universe and then laugh into the wind and pull yourself closer to your soul and then keep on searching for love and life and the reasons why we all keep going keep going keep going to where who knows for why I have no idea but because you can and we must and that is why in the end a really great reason to avoid checking out too early is simply to listen just one more time to Disc 2 (the uncracked one) while hurtling along a desolate Nevada two lane highway at 85mph while the sagebrush gazes back at us incredulously with only a hint of insouciance as we rush by in a blur of restless motion.
What else shall I confess? That you remind me of Käthe Kollwitz? Or Arnold Schönberg? Iconoclasts. Artists without a trace of timidity in their minds and bodies. People unafraid of forging their own paths in this world. Also, Ani: I don’t really listen to the content of your words anymore. I listen instead to the tonality of your voice, to the way it strains and stretches, to the way your emotions rise and fall and flood into unseen corners of your heart. I listen for the discordant pluck of the guitar string. The rhythm that beats my heart in time with yours. I hope you have found love, or equilibrium, or a life partner and soulmate who isn’t such a jerk as most of the ones you sing about. I hope that the current state of American politics has not led you to flee into oblivion. Because, Ani, we would miss you. We need you. We love you. And even if you will never ever in a million billion years read this Amazon.com review, please know that I really dig what you do – what you did – and who you are.
But, the truth is, if I were to meet you somewhere, I would not introduce myself. Because I know “Ani DiFranco,” not you. Perhaps it would be a nice thing if I did. But even if that never happens, Canon will remain near and dear to my heart. If only because it kept me company on the open road, while I was alone, traveling on my way in search of home.
P.S. Ani, I managed to check out a copy of Canon from my local public library system (San Mateo County, you rock). I listened twice to Disc 1 to refresh my memory. In all honesty, if I had to break one of the two CDs in the collection, I still think I made the right, red wine-assisted choice (I can ship you a bottle of that particular Walla Walla Syrah, if you’re interested). But there are some awesome songs on Disc 1. “God’s Country” is so, so good, but partly it’s because of Rory Mcleod’s stunning harmonica playing. John Popper rolls over in his grave and salutes the effort. I also like “As Is,” maybe more than before. And the 2007 version of “Napoleon” is better than the original recording, with really nice musical accompaniment by Mike, Todd, Allison, Joseph, and Greg.
P.P.S. Ani, I’ve been inviting musicians to spend some quality downtime as my guest on the San Mateo coast, based out of a very small but comfortable cottage in the redwoods overlooking Half Moon Bay. To date, the list has included Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris, Tracy Chapman, the Indigo Girls, Madonna, and Sheryl Crow. I figure that I should extend the invite to you as well; after all, you’ve more than earned it for all the joy you gave me with your music (and I’m going to read your new memoir soon, once it’s available at the library). So, if you’re ever in the Bay Area and want a hiking partner in the redwoods, or someone to show you the most secluded and pristine parts of the Pacific Coast between San Francisco and Carmel, or where to find the best carnitas tacos (hint: in a Mexican taqueria housed inside a gas station convenience store), or the best craft spirits (hint: in Santa Cruz), or the most interesting beer and wine tastings locally, message me social media. I won’t tell anyone you’re stopping by, except for my wife, of course. She’s not a fan, but then again: neither am I. I’d like to think that I’m an Earth-bound fellow traveler who finally found out after years of existence that you’re one of us, too.