Exile in Guyville
When it was released 15 years ago, Exile in Guyville turned heads and dropped jaws. It was a stunning work, its songs brimming with sexual frankness, bitter spite and adolescent uncertainty. But while people were keen to cue in on the album's more transgressive lyrics — usually a toss-up between "fuck and run" and "I want to be your blowjob queen" — what was often overlooked was just how wrenching and sad it was. The album's protagonist — most times, Phair herself — is lost and wounded and searching, lashing out defensively to keep people from discovering her soft and frightened center. So many years later, it's Phair's damage that resonates: "I write with a number two pencil/ I work up to my potential/ I come when called/ I jump when you circle the cherry/ I sing like a good canary/ I come when called," Phair sings, dead-eyed and desperate, in "Canary." It's arguably Guyville's most chilling moment, the words of a woman hammered into numb obedience, pushing forward zombielike because she doesn't know what else to do.
eMusic's J. Edward Keyes caught up with Liz at her home in California to talk about some of Guyville's classic songs.
On the decision to revisit a masterpiece:
It was such a unique time in my life, and I kind of left it behind and didn't reopen that door, because there were both good and bad feelings associated it for me. I think I'm far enough away from it now where I'm ready. I wanted to go back. For me, a lot of the reissue is reclaiming it, in a weird way. It was this time in my life where I was partying and doing a lot of drugs and hanging out and disappointing my parents [laughs]. And it was really fun and it was a lot of wild times, but at the same time, once I moved out of that, I just shut that door.
I think the first thing that separated me from [the album] is that there was a shitstorm when it first came out. I was part of this little "alternative music" scene in Chicago. I wasn't the oldest member of that scene. I was sort of a newbie, fresh from college, thinking I'm all that. And then I make this record. And it gets huge amounts of attention almost instantly. Suddenly the perception of me in that whole world changes. I remember a lot of people resented me and said a lot of mean things about me. Another thing that really separated me from Guyville was that when I went into the pop radio world, all the original fans just waged a campaign of resentment and fury. They sort of used Guyville as if it belonged to them, as if I had forsaken both them and my record. It's all died down now and there's nothing much more to play out, and I think I was ready. I was ready to say, "This is my past, let's take a look. It can't be that awful."
To read what Liz thinks about major label presidents, click here.