y Robert Forryan

Self Evident 


Wembley 1997 was not a good experience for me. I know some people thought it was excellent so maybe I was unlucky with my situation because I could hardly hear Dylan’s vocals at all as they were drowned in a frenzy of guitar sound. But at least I discovered Ani Difranco. She was the warm-up act and I’d never heard of her. Like most people, I guess, I wasn’t particularly interested in anyone except Dylan, so it says a lot for her talent that, within a couple of songs, she had me hooked. And with her minimalist two-piece band the acoustics were fine and I could hear every word. I was entranced by the music and by her persona – New York tough folk-punk feminist is how it seemed. I loved the sharp and sassy way she dealt with the boorish (male) Dylan-fan hecklers who weren’t prepared to open their minds just for once. But the female cheers suggested that she had a fan base – that people were here not for Dylan but for Difranco. 

Elaine and I both loved her and now her CDs are among the more regularly played ones in our collection. I also now know that Ani has a sizeable following both here and in the States and that she has achieved that following by talent alone; without the support of big label record companies, fancy agents and media-hype. When she had been on the road long enough to feel able to cut a record Ani formed her own record label (‘Righteous Babe’) so she didn’t have to sell out to anyone, and that is still the outlet for her records. She is as far from a ‘manufactured’ star as it is possible to get – all of which fits with her radical, anti-business, anti-globalisation, anti-conservative politics. She is, in fact, one of the more political musicians at work in the 21st century. You might say she carries the mantle of Woody Guthrie. She certainly seems more committed in her political beliefs than Bob Dylan ever has, which might put you off, of course. 

Actually, there is something of the beat poet about her performances; almost a descendant of Jack Kerouac. Her latest albums seem to be aspiring to a more jazzy style of musical backing which fits with the ‘beat’ ambience. If Ani has a weakness it is, for me, one that she shares with Joni Mitchell and that is a lack of memorable melodies in many of her compositions, though when I said that to Elaine she disagreed, so maybe it’s just me. Certainly there are songs with strong tunes, such as ‘Everest’ and the song selected by Nick Hornby for his book on 31 songs: ‘You Had Time’. A song which tends to define Ani’s character (rather than her looks, which are fine by me) is ‘Not A Pretty Girl’, which is a sort of tough version of Janis Ian’s ‘At Seventeen’: 

I am not a pretty girl
That is not what I do
I ain’t no damsel in distress
And I don’t need to be rescued
So put me down punk
Wouldn’t you prefer a maiden fair?
Isn’t there a kitten
Stuck up a tree somewhere?

Last year Ani released a double live album ‘So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter’. It contains a track ‘Self Evident’ which is her response to September 11th and addresses that event in both personal and political terms. I have tried to transcribe the  words for you because if you don’t know this track you ought to have a chance to read the lyrics. They are not sung but spoken in a Kerouac-like stream of consciousness style and, about halfway through, a lovely saxophone kicks in to expand and augment the jazz/beat feel of it all. Oh, and if you think the opening is a tad pretentious, stick with it. It gets tougher.


Us people are just poems
We are ninety per cent metaphor
With a meanness of meaning approaching hyperdistillation
And once upon a time we were moonshine
Rushing down the throat of a giraffe
Yes, rushing down the long hall despite what the PA announcement says
Yes, rushing down the long hall down the long stairs
In a building so tall that it will always be there
Part of a pair, there
On the bow of Noah’s Ark
The most prestigious couple just kicking back parked
Against a perfectly blue sky
On a morning beatific in its indian summer breeze
On the day that America fell to its knees
After strutting around for a century without saying ‘thank you’
Or ‘please’. 

And the shock was so sonic and the smoke was deafening
Between the set-up and the punchline
‘Cos we were all on time for work that day
We all boarded that plane for to fly
And then while the fires were raging we all climbed up on the windowsill
And then we all held hands and jumped into the sky.
And everybody looked up when they heard the first blast
And every dumb action movie was summarily surpassed
And the exodus uptown by foot and motor car
Looked more like war than anything I’ve seen so far
So far… so far… so far…
So fierce and ingenious, a poetic spectre so far gone
That every jackass newscaster was struck dumb and stumbling
Over ‘oh my god’ and ‘this is unbelievable’ and on and on
And I’ll tell you what… while we’re at it…
You can keep the Pentagon, you can keep the propaganda
You can keep each and every TV that’s been tryin’ to convince me
To participate in some prep school punk’s plan
To perpetuate retribution… perpetuate retribution. 

Even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
Is still hanging in the air
And there’s ash on our shoes and there’s ash in our hair
And there’s a fine silt on every mantel
From Hell’s Kitchen to Brooklyn
And the streets are full of stories of twists and near-misses
And soon every open bar is crammed to the rafters
With tales of narrowly-averted disasters
And the whisky’s flowing like never before
And all over the country folks just shake their heads and pour 

So here’s a toast to all the folks that live
In Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, El Salvador
Here’s a toast to all the folks living
On the Pine Ridge Reservation under the stone cold gaze of Mount Rushmore
Here’s a toast to all those nurses and doctors
Who daily provide women with a choice
Who stand down a threat the size of Oklahoma City
Just to listen to a young woman’s voice
Here’s a toast to all those folks on death row right now
Awaiting the executioner’s guillotine
Who are shackled there with dread
And can only escape into their heads
And can only find peace in the form of a dream
Peace in the form of a dream
Peace in the form of a dream 

‘Cos take away our play stations
And we are a third world nation
Under the thumb of some blue blood royal son
Who stole the Oval Office in that phoney election
I mean… it don’t take a weatherman
To look around and see the weather
Jud said he’d deliver Florida folks
And boy…
Did he ever 

And we hold these truths to be self-evident
Number one: George W Bush is not president
Number two: America is not a true democracy and
Number three: The media is not fooling me
‘Cos I’m a poem heating hyperdistillation
And I’ve got no room for a lie so verbose
Yes I’m looking out over my whole human family
And I’m raising my glass in a toast
Here’s to our last drink of fossil fuel 

And may we vow to get off of this soft…
Shoo away the swarms of commuter planes
Find that train ticket we lost
‘Cos once upon a time the line followed the river
And peeked into all the back yards
And the laundry was waving and the graffiti
Was teasing us from brick walls and bridges
We were rolling over ridges
Through valleys under stars
I dream of touring like Duke Ellington
In my own railroad car
I dream of waiting on the tall blond wooden benches
In a Greyhound station that glow with grace
And then standing out on the platform
And feeling the air, the air, the air on my face 

Give back the night its distant whistle
Give the darkness back its soul
Give the big oil companies the finger finally
And re-learn how to rock’n’roll
Yes, the lessons are all around us
And the truth is waiting there
It’s time to pick through the rubble
Clean the streets and clear the air
Get our government to pull its big dick
Out of the sand of someone else’s desert
And put it back in its pants
Put the hypocritical chants
Of ‘Freedom forever’… 

‘Cos when one lone phone rang
In 2001 at ten after nine on Nine One One
Which is the number we all called
When that lone phone rang right off the wall
Right off our desk
And down the hall
Down the long stairs in a building so tall
That the whole world turned just to watch it fall 

And while we’re at it remember the first time around?
The bomb, the rioter truck, the parking garage
The princess who didn’t even feel the pea
Remember joking around in our apartment on Avenue D
‘Can you imagine how many paper cups
Would have to change their design
Following a fantastic reversal of the New York skyline?’
It was a joke…
…at the time. 

And that was just a few years ago
So let the records show
That the FBI was all over that case
That the plot was obvious and in everybody’s face
And scoping that scene religiously
The CIA, or is it KGB
Committing countless crimes against humanity
With this kind of eventuality
As its excuse for abuse. 

After expensive abuse they didn’t have a clue
‘Look’ – another window to see through
Way up here on the 104th floor
Another key, another door,
10% literal, 90% metaphor
Three thousand some poems disguised as people
On an almost too perfect day
Must be more than poems in some ass-holes passion play. 

So now it’s your job and it’s my job
To make it that way
To make sure they didn’t die in vain
Sshh… baby listen… hear the train.

                      -  Ani Difranco.