I burned a disc, my first CD that included a compilation. I was used to making mix tapes in those days. But CDs? WOWZA, no more hiss! I still have that compilation on my iTunes playlist, it’s called, “1998.” Even tho the songs aren’t all from the era, they are exactly what I was digesting and absorbing in those days. That playlist was this in the exact order it was on that burned CD.
“Black Dove” by Tori Amos
“Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls
“Sky Fits Heaven” by Madonna
“Zaar” by Peter Gabriel
“I Should Throw Myself In Front of a Train” by Soul Whirling Somewhere
“Willing to Fight” by Ani Difranco
“Halycon + On + On” by Orbital
“Never is a Promise” by Fiona Apple
“The Box” by Orbital
“The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” by David Bowie
“Adam and Eve” by Ani Difranco
“Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode
"You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart" by Sinéad O'Conner
Ani DiFranco put me in a particular trance, more like a daze in 1998 that I could not shake. I’m still in that daze, and never ever want to be shaken from it. — I first saw Ani at the Shirk Center at Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington Illinois in 1998. She was promoting and circulating her new record release, “Little Plastic Castle.” My girlfriend scored us tickets in an unintended ‘quid pro quo’ assignment; I get us Tori Amos tickets in Chicago, and she gifted back Ani at Shirk Center. And so we went. I arrived, arms folded and a little nervous as I was the only tall boy in the crowd. The opening act was a LA based Mexican American songwriter named David Garza. He was really really cute and was wearing a tight brown leather jacket. I went up to his merch table after his act where he was personally selling his CDs, I bought one and told him his act was stellar. He signed my CD, winked, and that was that.
I return to the auditorium and stood in the bleachers with what felt like the Pacific Ocean of women. Illinois Wesleyan is an all women’s school. I was a tall 5’11” tower of penis! I just hunched, arms folded, and waited for her to sing me “Adam and Eve,” a cut I was obsessed with at the time. The lights go off, the mostly-women crowd goes insane with screams and “I love you’s!” Out comes Ani, black leather pants with pink stripes on the sides, a matching bustier black leather bra type get-up. Her hair was green and pulled up in a fashion that looked like an outrageously curly and braided hair that resembled an 'accident scene.' She had on high high black platform boots. — “Okay okay, everyone be still, she’s just gonna sing us some ditties and we’ll allllll go home happy.” — This is what I thought.
She starts, — the music from the band behind her is jazzy, almost hip-hop jazzy. I’m thinking, “We are seeing an acoustic guitar folk singer here tonight, right?” She gets up to the front stage and starts doing the Pee-Wee Herman dance, her guitar hanging off her neck. This makes everyone laugh and scream even louder! She steps up to the mic and goes into a rap like verse—
“So, when i was four years old
they tried to test my i.q.
they showed me a picture
of 3 oranges and a pear
which one is different?
it does not belong
they taught me different is wrong”
BOOM! This was serious serious stuff! What the fuck just happened??? My arms immediately unfolded and grabbed for the air, I was in a rush, a head-rush is more like it! I had never heard such a an utterance of eloquence in the form of slam poetry. I think the only thing I was slightly disappointed about in the show was that she only sang one song from the record I loved, “Dilate.” That song was “Shameless” during an encore toward the end of the act. I was close enough to the stage to see her mannerisms and even her facial expressions. She looked lost, almost like she wasn’t even present preforming, that she was in a time machine living the moment of her verse. Her eyes would grasp at the light up above her when she would sing, she would look down a few times at the audience, but really, she was in her own world, singing to her source. She would hug that mic with her lips, curl the top left of her mouth, look up and really mean what she was singing. Her source was inside her, and that was so magical to witness and watch! I cried a little when the lights went dim and a punishing blue light permeated the air of the stage, her face only slightly washed out in that blue gel. The lyric that captivated me that she was relentless to repeat for at least two minutes straight, "I would give you my breath, I would offer you my pulse." I hadn’t even picked up her new record “Little Plastic Castle” yet, so I knew none of the songs she was singing that night. "Pulse" blew me over the top that felt like needles poking tiny holes into my soul just to watch it bleed! But I didn’t care, it didn’t matter! The heartache was conveyed which had me convinced, and turned me into embracing that said daze from the beginning until now.
"Pulse." — Ani returns to the stage singing some song about sitting on someone's lap for 5 dollars. After swinging off her guitar to trade it for another by a short man in the shadows off to the side, she somberly struts back to the mic, playing along with her band for a number of minutes. Moving her neck side to side, watching her feet as she moved closer and closer to the mic stand. It wasn't hesitance, it was a dance, but not in celebration, a dance of memory, speculation, and sweet sweet sincerity. — No words, no singing (yet), a minor chord progression, a jazzy type of melancholy yet cathartic sounding jam with Andy Stochansky repeating rhythms and Sara Lee supplying the big bottom bass. Ani looks up at that blue smokey cloud of light, with that same 'lost woman' look, and she recites a poem, not in a singing voice, as if she is speaking directly to her source, again! She starts, "You came into my room that night like some sorta giant insect, and I felt spellbound at the sight of you...." — "That's it, Ani DiFranco, you got my tears rolling, and hard this time! "I'd offer you my pulse, if thought it would be useful." — Come on, who writes like this?" I thought.
Then it finally hit me, her genius, her spell, the very daze I cannot shake to this day, and never want to. I started looking and searching for bootlegs and magazine interviews of her. She was a political enigma, and I don't say that because her politics were hard to decrypt. The enigma lies in her ability to mesh her pathos with her plight. I saw an interview years later from that very era I discovered her, and that was exactly who I thought she was at the time.
After my life-changing experience at the the Shirk Center in Bloomington Illinois, I went rushing back to U of I in Urbana and found the very first record store I could find, and bought the first three CDs I could find. I didn't even care that I was broke and probably bouncing my checks, I was hooked! Those records were "Imperfectly, Out of Range, and Puddle Dive" most likely because they were the most colorful in art work. My girlfriend just laughed and scoffed, “You are so funny! You're obsessed!” But it was no joke to me. This was the first time in my life I was hit by an artist in such a way. Electricity is the only way I can describe it. Love at first "blue" sight!
I was 18.