Like most artists, Ani DiFranco’s work has grown and progressed over the course of her long career. The folk rock singer-songerwriter was once known for her contemplative, slightly angsty lyrics, but has since ventured into other topics and grown as a writer. This particular interview focuses on that growth and how having a child has affected her work.

"Empty Chairs" by Don McLean

I had always known Don McLean for “American Pie,” but it wasn’t until last night that I actually bothered to download the entire album and truly give the man a listen. This song ends off the album. It’s an example of stellar songwriting that not only gives a vivid, sensuous description of the song’s subject, but uses these images to evoke the overarching feeling of isolation and loneliness. I could go through and point out all of the individual images the contribute to this, but I think you can find them yourself. As if “American Pie” wasn’t enough to make you respect McLean as a songwriter, here is yet another reason.

Lyrics:

I feel the trembling tingle of a sleepless night
creep through my fingers and the moon is bright.
Beams of blue come flickering through my windowpane
like gypsy moths that dance around a candle flame.

And I wonder if you know
that I never I understood,
that although you said you’d go,
until you did - I never thought you would.

Moonlight used to bathe the contours of your face
while chestnut hair fell all around the pillowcase
and the fragrance of your flowers rest beneath my head,
a sympathy bouquet left with the love that’s dead.

Never thought the words you said were true.
Never thought you said just what you meant.
Never knew how much I needed you.
Never thought you’d leave - until you went.

Morning comes and morning goes with no regret
and evening brings the memories I can’t forget.
Empty rooms that echo as I climb the stairs
and empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs.

"Leave" by The Swell Season

What I love about this song is quite simple. It perfectly captures that moment in a relationship where one person tells the other person exactly what they’re thinking and that truth leads to the realization that it’s over. Glen Hansard, the star of the film Once and the singer for The Swell Season, has a powerful voice that communicates emotional pain quite well without being overdramatic. This track was (I think…) featured on the Once soundtrack. 

This song almost makes me feel like a voyeur, as though I’m watching a scene between two lovers play out and I’m not supposed to be there. 

Lyrics:

”I can’t wait forever” is all that you said
before you stood up.
And you won’t disappoint me.
I can do that myself.
But I’m glad that you’ve come,
now if you don’t mind…

Leave, leave,
and free yourself at the same time.
Leave, leave.
I don’t understand, you’ve already gone.

And I hope you feel better
now that it’s out.
What took you so long?
And the truth has a habit
of falling out of your mouth.
But now that it’s come
if you don’t mind…

Leave, leave,
and please yourself at the same time.
Leave, leave.
Let go of my hand.
You said what you have to now
leave, leave.
Let go of my hand.
You said what you came to now
leave, leave.
Leave, leave.
Let go of my hand.
You said what you have to now
leave, leave.

"Wiggley Fingers" by Patty Griffin

In this song the normally shy Patty Griffin lets loose and brings out her sexy side. I always knew this song had some sass to it, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered what it was actually about.

Apparently Pope John Paul openly criticized masturbation in the 1990’s and “Wiggley Fingers” is Patty Griffin’s response to what the Pope had said. It’s needless for me to get into the copious amount of reasons why this whole anti-masturbation notion is ridiculous.

I very much enjoy seeing this facet of Griffin’s personality. The majority of the time her songs are much more introspective, quiet expressions of emotion, but here she touches upon sexuality in a vivid and biting way. She also shows off her phenomenal songwriting abilities when she describes of the Pope dreaming of “hollow candle holders.” What an eloquent way to word it! This is one of the many tracks that makes Flaming Red such a fantastic album.

Lyrics:

I’ll never be sad, I’ll never be lonely,
I’ll never be hungry and I’ll never be homely.
Never make a noise when I’m kissing a boy.
Amen, amen.
Old John Paul is keeping a tab
in his big red folder.
At night he is dreaming
of hollow candle holders.
Big is the weight of the world
on his shoulders.
Amen, amen. Amen, amen.

He’s keeping those dirty little wiggly fingers to himself
and he sees you keeping those dirty little wiggly fingers to yourself.
‘Cause he’s always keeping those dirty little wiggley fingers to himself.
Always keeping those dirty little…Oh yeah…

Shaking the tree baby.
You should be shaking the bed.
You know you’re rocking the boat baby.
She’ll be rocking your head.
All the family’s watching 60 minutes instead.
Amen, amen. Amen, amen.

You’re keeping those dirty little wiggley fingers to yourself.
You’re keeping those dirty little wiggley fingers to yourself.
You’re keeping your dirty little…Oh yeah, oh my…

They’ll send you flying right out of St. Francis Xavier
with a note to your daddy about your unspeakable behavior.
And who in the hell is gonna be your savior now?

Everyone says love is a labor,
so I guess you go call a sex line
if you want to love your neighbor, baby.
I’ll just standing right here and I’ll just get safer and safer.
Amen, amen, amen, amen…

You know I’m always
keeping my dirty little wiggley fingers to myself.
Keeping those dirty little wiggley fingers to myself.

They’ll send me flying right out of St. Francis Xavier
with a note to my daddy about my unspeakable behavior.
And who in the hell said I need a savior anyhow?

I got the dirty little wiggly fingers.
I got the dirty little wiggly fingers.
I got the dirty little wiggly fingers.
I love the feeling of the wiggly…
Dirty. Little. Fingers. Yeah!

"Superhero" by Ani DiFranco

I think Ani DiFranco really captures that complex love/hate emotion that you can have towards someone you truly care about. There is something about being that vulnerable that can either make or break us, and when it does break us, our first reaction is not only pure pain, but anger as well.

In “Superhero,” Ani DiFranco describes that feeling of animosity that crops up when you feel dependent on another person, particularly when they don’t seem to return the dependence. What makes it even more potent is the fact that Ani DiFranco has this “tough girl” image that is completely shattered with the feelings she is expressing. “Superhero” is a perfect example of Ani DiFranco injecting her own personality into a universal emotion with her usual slam poet-esque style of writing.

Lyrics:

Sleepwalking through the all-night drug store,
baptized in fluorescent light.
I found religion in the greeting card aisle,
now I know Hallmark was right.

And every pop song on the radio
is suddenly speaking to me.
Yeah, art may imitate life,
but life imitates T.V.

‘Cause you’ve been gone exactly two weeks,
two weeks and three days.
And let’s just say that things look different now,
different in so many ways.

‘Cause I used to be a superhero,
no one could touch me.
Yeah, not even myself.
You are like a phone booth
that I somehow stumbled into
and now look at me:
I am just like everybody else.
I am just like everybody else.

If I was dressed in my best defenses,
would you agree to meet me for coffee?
If I did my tricks with smoke and mirrors,
would you still know which one was me?
If I was naked and screaming on your front lawn
would you turn on the light and come down?
Screaming: “There’s the asshole who did this to me!
Stripped me of my power! Stripped me down!”

‘Cause I used to be a superhero.
No one could hurt me.
Yeah, not even myself.
You are like a phone booth
that I somehow stumbled into.
Now look at me:
I am just like everybody else.
I am just like everybody else.

Yeah, you’ve been gone exactly two weeks,
two weeks and three days.
And now I’m a different person,
different in so many ways.

And tell me, what did you like about me?
And don’t say my strength and daring.
‘Cause now I think I’m at your mercy
and it’s my first time for this kind of thing.

‘Cause I used to be a superhero.
I would swoop down
and save me from myself.
And you are like a phone booth
that I somehow stumbled into
and now look at me:
I am just like everybody else
I am just like everybody else…

"Eight Letters" by Paul Baribeau

I know that I wanted to post a Paul Baribeau song today, but I had such a difficult time selecting just one. Ultimately, I decided to select the Paul Baribeau song that makes me go silent every time I listen to it, just so I can take it all in. “Eight Letters” shows Baribeau’s knack for telling a story in his songs without making it incredibly obvious. It is such a personal song, but at the same time it doesn’t isolate the listener. Rather, Baribeau invites you into his most vulnerable moments, and asks you to meditate on your own moments where you felt the same.

Some of the lines here really pack a punch while still seeming effortless. It’s that effortlessness that makes Baribeau such a great songwriter.

Lyrics:

The first letter I wrote you was way too long,
way too crazy, way too scary, way too sad.
The second letter I wrote you was way too short.
Just said, “I love you, baby. Please come back.”
The third letter I wrote you was right down the middle.
Somehow it didn’t quite sum it all up.
The fourth letter I wrote you, I did the best that I could do.
We both know that was never enough.

Oh I had nothing nice to say,
I said it anyway.
I made myself feel a little better.
Oh, but in the end, I guess,
it was probably for the best
that I never bothered sending you those letters.


The fifth letter I wrote you was one big, long joke
you probably wouldn’t think was very funny.
The sixth letter I wrote was a strictly business note
requesting you send me back those last two months rent money.
Oh, but the seventh one was magic, it was totally romantic,
it would have made your little boxer shorts melt.
And the eighth time that I tried, I swear I couldn’t even write.
I just curled up and cried all by myself

Oh I had nothing nice to say I,
I said it anyway.
I made myself feel a little better.
Yeah, but in the end, I guess,
it was probably for the best
that I never bothered sending you those letters.

"Tomorrow Night" by Patty Griffin

I obviously have a revived obsession with Patty Griffin this week, one that has taken me on a journey through a lot of her albums that I hadn’t bothered to give a listen before. Needless to say, I’m quite enjoying the journey, which is obvious if you take a look at the posts on my tumblr page from the last couple of days.

This particular Patty Griffin song is absent of a narrative, but it is very charming in its own way. It’s all about the questions and doubts that can seep into your consciousness even at the happiest of moments. I feel this song is universal, but then again maybe I should just speak for myself.

Lyrics:

Tomorrow night will you remember what you said tonight?
Tomorrow night will all the thrill be gone?
Tomorrow night will it be just another memory
or just another song that’s in my heart to linger on?

Your lips are so tender, your heart is beating fast,
as you willingly surrender to be my darling at last.
Tomorrow night will you be with me when the moon is bright?
Tomorrow night will you say those lovely things you said tonight?

Your lips are so tender, your heart is beating fast
as you willingly surrender to be my darling at last.
Will you be with me when the moon is bright?
Tomorrow night will you say those lovely things you said tonight? 

"Not Alone" by Patty Griffin

I remember when I first got a tumblr one of my first followers was a huge Patty Griffin fan. Him and I used to discuss how underrated she is. She wrote “Top of the World,” the first song that ever impacted me so deeply that I would do nothing but listen to the song on repeat for the entire day, contemplating my own life and growing up and where I was going. It was the first time I had ever truly considered the value of living life and loving those around me before it was too late. Considering she is top-notch as far as songwriters go, easily in the top five, she doesn’t get nearly enough media coverage. Part of it is her own doing I suppose, as she tends to shy away from the media. Still, you would think music publications would want to put a spotlight on someone with such consistent talent.

Patty Griffin has an unerring talent for capturing the glints of sorrow that can be found in every day life. In that regard, she’s almost like an American folk version of Damien Rice. She might be one of the saddest artists on the face of the planet, or at least one of the artists that can feel the most kinship with sadness not necessarily in herself, but in others. Though this quality can be seen in a great deal of her songs, “Not Alone” examines the love as it tries to stretch across the greatest canyon of separation, death. There is something so upsetting about this image of man laying in bed searching for his deceased wife, but as Patty transitions into the chorus and takes on the voice of his wife, it becomes a kind of lullaby. I enjoy listening to this song while lying in bed. It allows you to soak in the story being told here entirely. Though the album title comes from a line in another track, this song reflects the idea of Living With Ghosts.

Lyrics:

She sees him laying in the bed alone tonight,
the only thing touching him is a crack of light.
Pieces of her hair are wrapped around and ‘round his fingers
and he reaches for her side, for any sign of her that lingers.

And she says you are not alone, laying in the light.
Put out the fire in your head and lay with me tonight

One of them bullets went straight for the jugular vein.
There were people running, a flash of light, then everything changed.
Nothing really matters in the end you know. All the worries sever.
Don’t be afraid for me my friend, one day we all fall down forever.

And you are not alone, laying in the light.
Put out the fire in your head and lay with me tonight.

The wedding date was June, just like any other bride.
She loved him like no one before and it was good to be alive.
But sometimes that can slip away as fast as any fingers through your hands.
So you let time forgive the past and go and make some other plans.

You are not alone, laying in the light.
Put out the fire in your head and lay with me tonight.
You are not alone, laying in the light.
Put out the fire in your head and lay with me tonight.

"I need Moses to cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain. I don’t necessarily buy any key to the future or happiness, but I need a little place in the sun sometimes or I think I will die."

Patty Griffin 

"Asking Too Much" by Ani DiFranco

If you all can’t tell, I’m on an Ani DiFranco binge this week. I’ve always thought this song was an accurate description of what most people want in a significant other, then again, I suppose I should just speak for myself on that one. This is Ani mingling the pretty and the ugly, which she one of the things that makes her music so poignant. She does it with the themes in her songs, as well as the way she commands her voice. Throughout this song she drifts into a rough, angry vocal style, only to transition back into the soft, gentle voice she normally has.

Lyrics:

I want somebody who sees the pointlessness and still keeps their purpose in mind.
I want somebody who has a tortured soul…some of the time.
I want somebody who will either put out for me or put me out of misery,
or maybe just put it all to words and make me say
“You know i never heard it put that way,” make me say “What did you just say?”

I want somebody who can hold my interest, hold it and never let it fall.
Someone who can flatten me with a kiss that hits like a fist
or a sentence, that stops me like a brick wall.
If you hear me talking listen to what I’m not saying.
If you hear me playing guitar listen to what I’m not playing.
And don’t ask me to put words to all the silences I wrote.
Don’t ask me to put words to all the spaces between notes.
In fact if you have to ask, forget it! Do and you’ll regret it.
I’m tired of being the interesting one, I’m tired of having fun for two.
Just lay yourself on the line and I might lay myself down by you,
but don’t sit behind your eyes and wait for me to surprise you.
I want somebody who can make me scream until it’s funny, give me a run for my money.
I want someone who can twist me up in knots.
Tell me, for the woman who has everything, what have you got?
I want someone who’s not afraid of me or anyone else.
In other words I want someone who’s not afraid of themselves.

Do you think I’m asking too much?