Me: Songwriter - Musicmaker - Storyteller - Freak
By Ani DiFranco
Ani DiFranco was in town over the weekend, singing
at the Warfield on Friday and the Fillmore on Saturday, as charmingly
outspoken as ever. Her performance recalled a letter she wrote to the
editor of Ms. Magazine in 1997, which remains relevant today:
November 5, 1997
- Marcia Ann Gillespie
- Editor in Chief
- Ms. Magazine
- 135 W. 50th Street
- 16th Floor
- New York, NY 10020
So I'm poring through the 25th anniversary issue of
Ms. (on some airplane going somewhere in the amorphous blur that amounts
to my life) and I'm finding it endlessly enlightening and stimulating as
always, when, whaddaya know, I come across a little picture of little me.
I was flattered to be included in that issue's "21 feminists for the 21st
century" thingybob. I think ya'll are runnin the most bold and babe-olishious
magazine around, after all.
Problem is, I couldn't help but be a little weirded
out by the paragraph next to my head that summed up her me-ness and my
relationship to the feminist continuum. What got me was that it largely
detailed my financial successes and sales statistics. My achievements were
represented by the fact that I "make more money per album sold than Hootie
and the Blowfish," and that my catalogue sales exceed 3/4 of a million. It
was specified that I don't just have my own record company but my own
"profitable" record company. Still, the ironic conclusion of the
aforementioned blurb is a quote from me insisting "it's not about the
money." Why then, I ask myself, must "the money" be the focus of so much
of the media that surrounds me? Why can't I escape it, even in the
hallowed pages of Ms.?
Firstly, this "Hootie and the Blowfish" business was
not my doing. The LA Times financial section wrote an article about my
record label, Righteous Babe Records, in which they raved about the
business savvy of a singer (me) who thwarted the corporate overhead by
choosing to remain independent, thereby pocketing $4.25 per unit, as
opposed to the $1.25 made by Hootie or the $2.00 made by Michael Jackson.
This story was then picked up and reprinted by The New York Times, Forbes
magazine, the Financial News Network, and (lo and behold) Ms.
So here I am, publicly morphing into some kinda
Fortune 500-young-entrepreneur-from-hell, and all along I thought I was
just a folksinger!
Ok, it's true. I do make a much larger profit
(percentage-wise) than the Hootster. What's even more astounding is that
there are thousands of musicians out there who make an even higher profit
percentage than me! How many local, musicians are there in your community
who play gigs in bars and coffee shops about town? I bet lots of them have
made cassettes or CDs which they'll happily sell to you with a personal
smile from the edge of the stage or back at the bar after their set. Would
you believe these shrewd, profit-minded wheeler-dealers are pocketing a
whopping 100% of the profits on the sales of those puppies?! Wait
till the Financial News Network gets a whiff of them!
I sell approximately 2.5% of the albums that a Joan
Jewelanis Morrisette sells and get about .05% of the airplay royalties, so
obviously if it all comes down to dollars and cents, I've led a wholly
unremarkable life. Yet I choose relative statistical mediocrity over fame
and fortune because I have a bigger purpose in mind. Imagine how strange
it must be for a girl who has spent 10 years fighting as hard as she could
against the lure of the corporate carrot and the almighty forces of
capital, only to be eventually recognized by the power structure as a
I have indeed sold enough records to open a small
office on the half-abandoned main street in the dilapidated urban center
of my hometown, Buffalo, N.Y. I am able to hire 15 or so folks to run and
constantly reinvent the place while I drive around and play music for
people. I am able to give stimulating business to local printers and
manufacturers and to employ the services of independent distributors,
promoters, booking agents and publicists. I was able to quit my day job
and devote myself to what I love.
And yes, we are enjoying modest profits these days,
affording us the opportunity to reinvest in innumerable political and
artistic endeavors. RBR is no Warner Bros. But it is a going concern, and
for me, it is a vehicle for redefining the relationship between art and
commerce in my own life. It is a record company which is the product not
just of my own imagination, but that of my friend and manager Scot Fisher
and of all the people who work there. People who incorporate and
coordinate politics, art and media every day into a people-friendly,
sub-corporate, woman-informed, queer-happy small business that puts music
before rock stardom and ideology before profit.
And me. I'm just a folksinger, not an entrepreneur.
My hope is that my music and poetry will be enjoyable and/or meaningful to
someone, somewhere, not that I maximize my profit margins. It was 15 years
and 11 albums getting to this place of notoriety and, if anything, I think
I was happier way back when. Not that I regret any of my decisions, mind
you. I'm glad I didn't sign on to the corporate army. I mourn the
commodification and homogenization of music by the music industry, and I
fear the manufacture of consent by the corporately-controlled media. Last
thing I want to do is feed the machine.
I was recently mortified while waiting in the
dressing room before one of my own shows. Some putz suddenly takes the
stage to announce me and exclaim excitedly that this was my "largest
sold-out crowd to date!" "Oh, really?," I'm thinking to myself, "that's
interesting...too bad it's not the point." All of my achievements are
artistic, as are all of my failures.
That's just the way I see it. Statistical plateau or
no. I'll bust ass for 60 people, or 6,000, watch me.
I have so much respect for Ms. magazine. If I
couldn't pick it up at newsstands my brain probably would've atrophied by
now on some trans-Atlantic flight and I would be lying limp and twitchy in
a bed of constant travel, staring blankly into the abyss of the gossip
magazines. Ms. is a structure of media wherein women are able to define
themselves, and articulate for themselves those definitions. We wouldn't
point to 21 of the feminists moving into the 21st century and define them
in terms of "Here's Becky Ballbuster from Iowa City, she's got a great ass
and a cute little button nose..." No ma'am. We've gone beyond the limited
perceptions of sexism and so we should move beyond the language and
perspective of the corporate patriarchy. The Financial News Network may be
ultimately impressed with me now that I've proven to them that there's a
life beyond the auspices of papa Sony, but do I really have to prove this
We have the ability and the opportunity to recognize
women not just for the financial successes of their work but for the work
itself. We have the facility to judge each other by entirely different
criteria than those is imposed upon us by the superstructure of society.
We have a view which reaches beyond profit margins into poetry, and a
vocabulary to articulate the difference.
Thanks for including me, Ms., really. But just
promise me one thing; if I drop dead tomorrow, tell me my grave stone
- ani d.
Please let it read:
— Ani DiFranco