Ani DiFranco Appreciation Club Meeting #2: Ani DiFranco Is Trying to Break Your Heart

Ani DiFranco Appreciation Club is an all-inclusive, safe space devoted to the appreciation and discussion of Ani DiFranco’s music. Meetings are open to anyone with a love of Ani DiFranco; new members welcome. Please sign the attendance sheet in the comments. We also encourage everyone to buy Ani’s music and not download it illegally, please.

Ani DiFranco is trying to break your heart. Actually, she’s probably already succeeded a bunch of times, which is why you’re here. Because that’s what’s so special about Ani’s music: although she’s never been popular in the mainstream or gained much radio play, she’s cultivated legions of fans through the raw power of her lyrics and her ability to write something so heart-wrenchingly true to your own experience that it makes you feel like SHE KNOWS YOU.

It’s that deep connection, that feeling of relating so completely that makes our love for her so deep and red.

This is what we’ve determined, anyhow. While cultivating this meeting’s thematic list — her most close-to-the-heart-devastating tracks — we came to the conclusion that Ani DiFranco is better at describing your feelings than any other living musician of all time forever infinity plus one. That’s right — YOUR feelings.

When Ani detracts from singing about “you” to sing about a specific man/woman/person — which she rarely does — it’s necessary for the story but it’s not contained within her. We’re not on the outside hearing stories about her life. We’re sitting in a drum circle (lesbians love feelings and drum circles) where the details are inconsequential compared to the feelings they provoke: feelings that are too fucking honest for anyone to NOT relate. Ani herself can bare her raw, pulsing, bleeding soul all over her guitar and still remain a total mystery. THAT’S fucking artistry.

Which brings us to today’s topical list of Ani’s most personally-meaningful-for-us / devastating songs. At our first meeting, we discussed some of Ani’s more “classic,” well-known songs. In our opinion, her best songs are not necessarily the most popular, they’re the ones that tear you up. Everyone has a few Ani songs that speak SO LOUDLY to a specific experience/time/relationship/drama of yours that you feel it viscerally. Those songs are different for everyone.

Most of the songs we (riese & bcw) have chosen to discuss are off the album Reckoning, which, we are prepared to argue, is her overall most heartbreaking album. These are songs you may not have heard before, but might just rip your heart out of your chest and feed it back to you. Or they might not. One of the best things about Ani is that just about any one of her songs has the potential to do that. Except Hat-Shaped Hat. That song is weird.

dotted-divider2

Providence (To The Teeth)

buy on itunes

bcw: You guys, PRINCE. Prince is on this song. This song is a bit of a departure musically – along with the rest of To The Teeth – and I wasn’t into it the first time I heard it. But like some of her other songs, once I can relate to it it’s all over. I think this song is a masterpiece, quite honestly. It tells a whole story in just the first line. Then it goes on and tells a hundred more stories that could be anyone’s, and spans years, and includes lines like “it’s late – much too late for us, and I’m fixing to go home / with just my conscience and a bitter sense of irony as my chaperone.

Riese: Ani has a few different voices (at least in my head), and this is the voice she uses for songs about ‘accidental/irresistible (maybe doomed, maybe not) romance.’ Sometimes my head contains only two things: 1. Providence, 2. “Is a new episode of The Office up yet?”

+

Grey (Reckoning)

Buy this song

Riese: For this –> “As bad as I am / I’m proud of the fact / that I’m worse than I seem.” It’s the hollowed-out urgent despair that follows ‘losing a thing you love.’ When you feel proud of yourself the first day you make it through work without crying in the bathroom.

bcw:I’m proud of the fact that I’m worse than I seem” is maybe the best way of describing that feeling of . . . you know, I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes trying to think of a way to describe that feeling and I just realized that Ani’s way is already the best way. Maybe the only way.

Riese: …as my (above) attempt to describe that feeling suggests!

As Is (Little Plastic Castle)

buy on itunes

bcw: This song will always remind me of this time when I like 14-15. It was my first bigger-than-anything-has-ever-felt crazy girldrama: we like-liked each other but she was scared to be gay so she’d just write me really intense letters. “Just give up and admit you’re an asshole” meant a lot to me at that time.

Riese: This song is all over the place for me. Pieces of it apply here and there — how you lied to my face about your relationship with the lifeguard, how I knew what I was getting into when I kissed you, how you came damaged and I said ‘I’ll take it as is.’ It’s about me because I never look in the right places and I trip over things. “What scares me/ is while you’re telling me stories / you actually / believe that they are real,” is about everyone’s brick wall.

I write because I’m often convinced I feel the thing behind the thing you’re saying to me, even when you don’t see it yourself AND IT’S YOUR THING. I could be wrong, but that’s irrelevant really. It’s about being a psychic/writer. Her voice is self-righteously playful. She knows how you feel and you don’t know how you feel. If you did, you would understand that this is good enough. It’s so good that it’s ridiculous, really.

Reckoning (Reckoning)

Buy this song

Riese: Someone needed to write these words: “You can doubt anything if you think about it long enough / because what happened always adjusts to fit what happened after that.” So Ani DiFranco wrote them.

bcw:But win or lose, just that you choose this little war is what kills you.” Fuck if that line doesn’t say everything.

Riese: Also, Nothing is as it appears / in the fun house mirrors of your fears/ on the roller coaster of all these years / with your hands above your head.

Revelling (Reckoning)

Buy this song

bcw: I’ve always understood this song to be about being in a relationship with someone who’s more into it than you are.

Riese: I’ve always understood this song to be about losing a best friend to a relationship — not an ordinary best friend, but the kind you’re so close to you feel like you’re in love sometimes.

bcw: But with you down on bended knee, always looking up at me, that feeling of standing up together is gone” is the line that made me think it was about her relationship. When I first heard it, I remember thinking that I’d never heard someone sing about love that way; about such a complicated, disquieting feeling about the person you love or an imbalance in a relationship – like she loved the person but they weren’t on the same page. I really admired how she was expressing it honestly, even though it was probably hard to say. This song made me re-evaluate the way I processed my own emotions.

Riese: When I first heard it, I remember thinking that I’d never heard someone sing about  friendships that way. I was projecting. It was the winter of 2005, when my roommate/best friend/’sister’ and I were fighting all the time and eventually decided to move out of our Harlem apartment. She’d move in with her boyfriend in Park Slope and I’d move to Williamsburg with a straight girl I was hooking up with. (If you know NY neighborhoods that says it all). Your twenties are a weird time to be friends. People keep changing and also never changing. Sometimes they’re on Cloud Nine, and you’re obsessed with your own revelling. It didn’t feel like second place until I heard this song. This song changed my own story.

Independence Day (Little Plastic Castle)

Buy this song

Riese: Have you ever heard “Blood and Fire” by the Indigo Girls? It’s pretty fucking raw, like Amy Ray’s letting her heart bleed all over the stage. This is like that. But it’s Ani, so it’s even better!  These are the worst parts of being left: how I stopped eating when he stopped calling me, (I’ve always appreciated that she used ‘stopped eating’ instead of ‘started starving’, it’s perfect), how she can’t leave me here ’cause I had her back and she’s gotta have mine.

bcw: When Ani hurts she fucking HURTS. “Did I ever tell you that I stopped eating when you stopped calling me” needs no expansion. She will use the phrase “shitting rivers” in a song if she wants to because that’s what fucking time it is.

Marrow (Revelling)

Buy this song

Riese: The song starts after those first two lines (up there) for me. I’ve whittled this song down to what I consider a feeling you have the moment you transition from kissing someone consciously to kissing someone involuntarily, when your body takes over and you lose your mind: I’m a good kisser, and you’re a fast learner, and that kind of thing could float us for a pretty long time.

bcw: This song is so intense, lyrically, that’s it’s taken me years to wrap my head around it.

The answer came like a shot in the back while you were running from your lesson

Which might explain why years later all you could remember was the terror of the question.

I got tossed out the window of love’s El Camino

And I shattered into a shower of sparks on the curb

You were smoking me, weren’t you, between your yellow fingers

You just inhaled and exhaled without saying a word.

Where was your conscience? Where was your consciousness?

Fucking GOOSEBUMPS.

+

So What (Reckoning)

Buy this song

bcw: This one kills me because it feels like she’s singing to me, like I’m the ‘you.’ I feel like she can see me. Like she’s saying, “you know what, asshole? You fucked it up. And you’re still fucking it up. Get your shit together.” I usually can’t listen to it all the way through. “I loved you so / I loved you, so what.” God. LIKE A KNIFE.

Riese: This is about how no matter how much I love you and how hard I try to prevent the moment of your forehead on the steering wheel, it will never match up to your favorite fantasy which doesn’t even have me in it. This song breaks my heart. Not because reality outpaced expectation, but because we’re all unfortunately, unmistakably human. And therefore; so what. WHAT IS LOVE IN THE FACE OF ALL THAT. GOD.

Sick of Me (Reckoning)

Buy this song

bcw: THIS song makes me think of the first girl I ever loved; we were on-off for several years even though it wasn’t really fair to her. We’re still friends ten years later by some miracle. It was 2001, I was 18, this album had just come out and it was the soundtrack of my summer. Which is intense when I think about how many songs from that album are on this list.

Riese: I think, how sick of me must you be by now? at least once in every serious relationship I’ve ever had. Their responses were always the same, though. I first heard “Sick of Me” when I was dating a ridiculously sane future police officer and it hit HOME HARDCORE. Ani said it better than he did though: “I say I’m sorry I’m so crazy, I am astounded by your patience, and you say, believe it or not baby, the joy you bring me still outweighs it”  I never believed him but I could have. It was true. A few years later I was throwing books at the wall, looking at Alex and thinking, “how sick of me must you be by now.”

Shrug (Evolve)

Buy this song

Riese: When she says “dirty drug” I think “mental illness.” I don’t know what “carpet-bombed” means but it seems like a thing that happened with us and I know your Mom didn’t know about it. Whatever it means, I’m pretty sure it’s true.

bcw: An ex sent me this song right after our breakup. HOOOOOOO. It’s a doozie, lemme tell you.

Sorry I Am (Not a Pretty Girl)

Buy this song

Riese: This is about how hard it is to break somebody else’s heart. I thought we were a thing and then it turned out that we weren’t except that you still think we are. She sounds tired in the song, not sad. I’d listen to this in my Bravada driving away from the condo I shared with my now-ex-boyfriend into a different life. I was sorry, but only because he was so sad; not because I still cared. That devastated me by proxy. Because I suddenly cared so much less, all of a sudden. And it’s not you, seriously, it’s me. It’s definitely me.

School Night (Reckoning)

Buy this song

We both agree that “I’m looking for my door key/but you are my porch light” only makes semi-sense with the rest of this song. Also the part about choosing between the children is a bit over the top.

bcw: I don’t know if I can talk about this song, Rachel B. It’s just too much. Maybe someday, in a therapy session or something, I’ll finally be like “I NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS SONG CALLED SCHOOL NIGHT BY ANI DIFRANCO.” But that day is not today.

Riese: This song addresses the phenomenon of you being a party/me being a school night and you never knowing how much I loved you (because I never showed you) OH HOLY MOTHER OF CHRIST. I actually don’t think I can talk about this song either, Rachel B. Not today. Maybe not any day. Maybe I just did. But I actually really didn’t. I mean there’s so much moar where that came from.

dotted-divider2

Okay, you hot messes, it’s your turn to share with the group. Do these songs make you feel feelings, too? Do you have your own, personally devastating Ani songs? Let’s talk about them.

bcw has written 15 articles for us.

114 Comments

  1. seriously! pulse is my cant-talk-about-it-song but school night has history to it. i fell for someone but was with someone else at the time and was like hey, this can’t happen, sorry..and i put this song on a mix cd for that person as the last track and they came to my house and we listened to it on the corner of my street sitting on the sidewalk crying before we said goodbye!!
    we ended up dating and hating each other BUT all of you reminded me of this thing. ugh, school night.
    i actually have lots of mixed/just anti-ani feelings a lot of the time but i understand this is an appreciation club so i will keep it all love. i know every single lyric ever. yeah.

    IN HERE!!

  2. Seriously guys, where was this club when I was a lost, newly out, hopelessly in love, 16 year old girl? I f-ing love Ani. If not for discovering Little Plastic Castle through my first girl crush I probably would have felt completely alone/misunderstood. EVERY FUCKING SONG off that album has some connection to some point in my early coming out years. Every album since then has had a special meaning to me throughout my life. Right now I’m stuck on repeat with ‘Wish I May’. I mean, guys, this song hurts just to read the lyrics:

    It takes a stiff upper lip
    just to hold up my face
    i gotta suck it up and savor
    the taste of my own behavior
    i am spinning with longing
    faster then a roulette wheel
    this is not who i meant to be
    this is not how i meant to feel

    Don’t think i am strong enough
    to do this much longer
    god, i wish i was stronger
    this song could never be long enough
    to express every longing
    god, i wish it was longer..

    Anyone who’s ever been in love with someone they can’t have or shouldn’t love knows what she’s talking about here. ANI KNOWS! She knows what it’s like to be reeling from so much wanting. She knows the pain of hating yourself for your weaknesses.

    Thanks for this guys. I totally want to go make an epic Ani playlist now.

  3. School Night. Oh My Jesus. I listened to that song on a loop on a bus in Mexico when my first love broke my heart and ANI KNEW ALL OF MY FEELINGS. It was uncanny.

    Riese and bcw – these posts are awesome and validating and nostalgic and wonderful. thanks :)

  4. Oh, I’m also going to see Ani perform next week in my itsy bitsy town of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. With my ex-girlfriend (who I bought tickets with when we were still together). Oh & my other ex-girlfriend from years & years ago, who is now my roommate. On my birthday. Write a little ditty about that one, Mr. Difranco.

    • Such a good song! And one of my favorites off of that album, which I feel is sorely overlooked in DiFranco’s canon, perhaps because it is relatively new. I may be biased because it was the first Ani album I ever listened to.

      “so that’s how you found me
      rain falling around me
      lookin down at a worm
      with a long way to go
      and the traffic was hissing by
      and i was homesick
      and i was high”

      It’s just so fucking beautiful. Coupled with the ambient noise samples and the use of percussion. This song just makes me ache.

    • When I first heard Hypnotized the tune kind of threw me off because it’s so non-uniform. However, the more I listen to it and take in the lyrics, the more I love it. It reminds me of the first girl I really wanted to be with and how I remember thinking “Why her?” and how it didn’t matter that she wasn’t perfect; she was all I wanted right then.

  5. “Come Away From It” is filled with so much raw emotion that sometimes I have to skip over it when it comes up in the shuffle because it’s too intense.

    “Swan Dive” is my favorite song (as my name suggests) and I play it whenever I need motivation and focus.

    “Studying Stones” became my anthem the first time I ever fell really hard for a (straight) woman.

  6. Oh, goodness.
    How do I begin to explain Ani DiFranco? Ani DiFranco is flawless. I hear her guitar is insured for $10000. I hear she plays shows in Carnegie Hall. One time she met Amy Ray at a concert, and she told her she was pretty. One time her lyrics punched me in the gut…. It was awesome.

    I have a lot of really big, really colourful feelings about Ms. DiFranco, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe them properly. I realise now that it’s clichéd, but as a 15 year old baby dyke who was struggling with her WHAT AM I WHY AM I LIKE THIS WHO WILL EVER UNDERSTAND ME FEELINGS FEELINGS FEELINGS crisis, Ani was basically my saviour. I look back at some of the songs that I held onto so tightly sometimes and laugh a bit, but mostly they’ve stuck with me and I crawl back to them whenever things are going wrong. Also, I’m pretty sure Ani started my feminist awareness, for which I am forever thankful.
    A couple of favourites: Itch, Swandive, Face Up and Sing, School Night (oh, god…. I just can’t.), Out of Habit, Rush Hour, Dog Coffee, Not A Pretty Girl, My IQ, Shroud, Up Up Up Up Up Up, Nicotine, Shameless, Dilate, As Is, Independence Day, You Had Time, Two Little Girls, Little Plastic Castle, Untouchable Face….. I could recite her entire discography, I think. Except maybe for the weirder jazzy numbers (‘Diner’, anyone?). Not really feeling those.

  7. it just all slips
    away so slowly
    you don’t even notice till you’ve lost a lot
    i’ve been like one of those zombies
    in vegas
    pouring quarters into a slot
    and now i’m tired
    and i am broke
    and i feel stupid and i feel used
    and i’m at the end of my little rope
    and i am swinging back and forth
    about you

    …Done Wrong anyone? I have sobbed on a train while listening to this.

  8. I just found this post while digging around in AS and thought ‘Hmm this artist sounds interesting’. So I youtubed her, clicked on one of her songs and listened to it. The first few notes sent chills down my spine, and when she sang, it felt like the world had dropped out from underneath me. I have found my new favourite artist.

  9. So glad I found this forum! While my love for Ani has definitely become more dormant, it is by no means diminished.
    Overlap is one of my favorites; surprised it wasn’t mentioned in the post. Lately I’ve been finding myself getting to know/dating people who are different because I want to taste what they are like, I want a glimpse of some one else’s life. Overlap is all about this, this draw of the unknown and the comfort of the known, and the excitement of trying to discover the real person beneath.
    Also, I love God’s Country, because it is about roadtripping (what I want to do), and about being a lone woman on the road and encountering difficulties or dangers of that. And it’s also about feeling out of place/in the wrong crowd. Also, she gives it her classic Ani spunk and attitude; and it is one of the few songs that sounds really upbeat to me. Every State Line is another good one in this same vein.
    I also love Angry Anymore- such a fucking beautiful melody. I can’t say I can relate to having had a dysfunctional family (although what family is fully functional?), but I still really love this song because it shows me a bit into her world, and it describes coming to terms with who your parents are.
    Subdivision because it shines a huge blaring spotlight on all the untalked about prejudices and racism still in this country and because it has FUCKING BALLS (which I conceed is an inherently patriarchal expression, but hell, Ani uses it so it must be okay!).
    Other favorites? Fire Door, Shy, Little Plastic Castle, Both Hands.
    Talk To Me Now is also really great. Great melody.
    Out of Range is amazing too. I think it’s particularly pertinent to the generational change and rising consciousness, with the occupy movement that started this past year.
    Make Them Apologize. Hell yes, righteous feminist anger. Served Faithfully is beautiful too, I think it’s her friendship with an old man and it just paints such an honest portrait and shows her tenderness, her forgiveness, his vulnerability and virtue. Cradle and All- confused and sad and angry and all things post-one-night-stand. Grey- achingly sad. Sorry I realized I’m just sharing all my favorites and this comment is way too long, but really, how can one pick just a few? Thank you Ani for providing me countless hours of great songs to sing anytime anywhere, and, as has already been stated countless times, knowing just how to articulate how I FEEL.

  10. I agree with like, almost everything said here but I think a really underrated song that will rip you into tiny pieces is Fixing Her Hair –

    It’s not one of her best lyrically, but it doesn’t have to be really – if you’ve had a friend you adore in an abusive or just bad relationship you know exactly what this feels like. I had a couple years where I sang this angrily in the car a lot.

    the line:
    she bends her breath/when she talks to him/I can see her features begin to blur
    kills me every time.

  11. Question I’ve harbored for years: “eyes the size of snow”??
    “I don’t know who you were expecting, probably some bitch who does not budge, with eyes the size of snow”
    Maybe the only Ani line I’ve never been able to come to an understanding about. I always figured she was referencing some wide-eyed, naive girl (who she’s adamantly insisting she’s not, of course), but how does that equate to the ‘size of snow’? I picture a wide open field with snow 3 feet high…

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!