Goddess, phone home

Transformations is finally out and let me give profound thanks to everyone who have bought a copy.

One of the things surprised me most about bringing the book to press is Ani DiFranco’s unwillingness to let me quote her lyrics.

I didn’t want much, but she refused even to entertain my request. What’s odd about this, of course, is that in the age of Weinberger, Shirky, O’Reilly and Jenkins, we understand that the new knowledge economy represents a new knowledge economy. More exactly, it is almost always better to turn our work into the public domain than to protect it from distribution.

This is a tough lesson for corporations to learn, keen as they are to protect their intellectual property rights. But a woman often styled as a folk-punk artist? This is a tough lesson for her? Really?

And that’s the really odd thing about DiFranco’s refusal. In point of fact, DiFranco ought to be the patron saint of the new economy, the new culture. Here was a woman who seemed to grasp what was happening to us. Indeed, DiFranco can actually claim to be an author of our cultural shift.

DiFranco seemed to get the new symmetry between producer and consumer. She resisted the smash and grab which which studios approached the music world. She resisted the celebrity model. She resisted an apotheosis that took people out of the ordinary world into stardom. DiFranco instinctively embraced the idea of growing your audience, one performance at a time, of staying small, of remaining loyal to your roots. DiFranco grasped the idea of remaining close to your home town, even when this meant making Rochester her base of operations and her mother the head of book keeping. Most of all, she understood that a musician could now control the means of music, marketing and celebrity production, of running her own show. I mean, much of what we see happening with all those independent film and music festivals begins with her. Lilith is impossible to imagine without her. (She did not participate, I think.) SxSW and even Burning Man, I think these were brought closely to the real of the possible by her acts of imagination.

In point of fact, DiFranco should now be an object of worship for anyone who cares about popular culture. Instead, she remains a minority enthusiasm. She is an architect who helped us move from a world of zero sum to something more generative, a prime mover in the transition from value capture to value release, a champion of what Sahlins would call generalized exchange, a participant in what Foucault would call a “sudden redistribution.” DiFranco is there when we move the conference from something dialogic to something all-in. Foo camps, anti-conferences and interesting conventions, these come, in a sense, from her. (Wow, listen, “DiFranco is there,.” Really, author, really?)

But she is, forgive me, unsung. The women who ought to be our patron saint, our Judith, our Joan, our firebrand, refusing the status quo, daring the future to happen, things seemed somehow to pass her by. Somehow DiFranco got “read out of history” as Kuhn would say. The paradigm shifted, but the women who helped shifted it got forgot. I have a friend who actually had in his possession the prow figure of the first American ship to enter an English harbor after the American revolution. Think of DiFranco so.

Well, and maybe this is just as DiFranco wants it. Perhaps she is distressingly true to her intentions. All of us want to pretend our independence but still be showered with fame, glory and riches. Maybe, DiFranco is more scrupulous than the rest of us. Perhaps she is distrustful of the center even when the center is pretty darn and increasingly alternative. But the tragic possibility is that she is addicted to the margin, even after the creative center of things has moved to the center. In which case, she is as the English would say, yesterday’s woman, a person who just somehow can’t grasp that the world has changed.

I say nothing at all of the fact that DiFranco is an architect of 3rd wave feminism, but of course this distinction, too, belongs to her. And I will say from my own experience that I was raised in a feminist household but it was only when I heard her music that I fully grasped what feminism could mean to our culture.

Last note:

Yesterday’s blog, was written in an Air Canada Beechcraft 1900D, one of those little planes that seats, like, 16 people and make you wish to God you had never trusted your life to the miracle of flight. This post was written on an Amtrak Acela barreling from NYC to Boston. I dare you to tell the difference. Because here at This Blog Sits we exercise quality control. Every post, whatever the circumstance, is written by a small team of dedicated writers who stand behind every word they write. (No, not really.)

Really last note:

We here at This Blog offer birthday greetings to the state of Israel on her 60th birthday.


Cole, Susan G. 1995. Ani DiFranco: Folk-punk phenom unleashes songs and real-life passions. Now Magazine, no. March: 1-3. here.

DiFranco, Ani. 1996. Dilate. Dilate.Vol. copyright Righteous Babe Music. Buffalo: Righteous Babe Records.

———. 1996. Outta Me, Onto You. Dilate.Vol. copyright Righteous Babe Music. Buffalo: Righteous Babe Records.

———. 1992. What If No One’s Watching. Imperfectly.Vol. copyright Righteous Babe Music. Buffalo: Righteous Babe Records.

Foucault, M. 1973. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York University Press.

Kuhn, T. S. 1972. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Leibovich, Lori. Ani DiFranco: Dilate. Salon.

Poet, J. 1996. Ani DiFranco: Independent as she wants to be. Pulse. here.

Sahlins, Marshall David. 1972. Stone age economics. Chicago, Aldine-Atherto: Aldine-Atherton.

Shirky, Clay. 2008. Here Comes Everybody. New York.

Van Meter, Jonathan. 1997. Righteous Babe. Spin 13, no. 5: 54-60, 126-28.

Weinberger, David. 2007. Everything is miscellaneous: the power of the new digital disorder. New York: Henry Holt.

5 thoughts on “Goddess, phone home

  1. Tom Asacker

    Grant, did you actually speak with her? Or did an intermediary speak with an intermediary and through this person ask permission to publish her lyrics in a marketing guy’s marketing book?

  2. Mike Madison

    If you were really planning to quote from the lyrics, rather than reproduce all or most of a song, did you or your publisher consider going ahead and relying on a fair use argument in case a claim was made? The door to the new knowledge economy swings both ways.

  3. horsleycarr

    maybe she just thinks you’re a pompous ass in the pay of the corporate companies she’s spent her life protesting about.

  4. communicatrix

    Wow. Fascinating account of a surprising reaction.

    Your theory about fringe-dwelling is an interesting one–I wouldn’t have thought of it (I think) but it feels possible.

    One other thought is that precisely b/c she’s a pioneer and seemingly very earnest about how her stuff proliferates, she (a), gets inundated by requests and (b) may feel the need to personally vet usage, but lacks the time to do so (see “a”).

    At least, I hope it’s something like that. Because I’m a big fan, and she’s a hell of an inspiration, and I’d hate to see her become irrelevant.

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