This past Friday, Chris over at Crisis/Boring Change kicked off a new feature he calls Permanent Records, an ideally 52-week discussion of his favorite albums; kind of a long-form version of Desert Island Discs, really. He kicks things off with a discussion of Ani DiFranco's amazingly excellent Little Plastic Castle. He has a lot of great things to say, about both the album itself and its impact on his life, and reading his thoughts reminded me of some of the goings on in my own life (or at least the lives of those around me) when this came out. I talked a bit about it in Chris's comments section, but I want to discuss it here, too. It's my blog, and I'll be repetitive if I want to be. I'll be repetitive if I want to be.
Anyway, if I recall correctly, I was a junior in college when this record came out. At that point in time, I knew a lot of people (most of them women, but not all) who considered themselves to be really hardcore Ani fans - I worked at the radio station and hung out with a lot of theater people, so that's to be expected . They had all the records, the posters, the patches, and the occasional bootleg CD; they went to shows whenever she played close by, they taped her rare TV appearances, and some of them even shaved their heads to resemble the way Ani looked on her earlier record covers. And may God have mercy on your soul if you happened to mention in their presence that you kind of liked Alana Davis's cover of "32 Flavors."
So Little Plastic Castle comes out, and of course everyone buys it. But amongst the self-proclaimed DiFranco cognoscenti, there was a lot of angst: Ani didn't sound the same! If you've never heard it (or any other Ani CD, for that matter), this album marked the beginning of style change for DiFranco, as she began to move away from the aggressive folk sound of her early work and started experimenting a bit with funk (and a hint of ska on the title track, too). And no sir, they didn't like it! They felt lost, abandoned, and betrayed; how dare she try something new, when she could be making records that sound just like Not A Pretty Girl or Dilate?
Sound familiar, comic book people? Still more proof that fandom is fandom, no matter the genre.
Now, it's only fair to admit that I'm no fan of Ani's later work, either, (though I must agree with Chris that Little Plastic Castle is pretty phenomenal), but I do appreciate the level of effort she puts into everything she does, as well as her desire as an artist to grow and experiment. Everything that she and her company, Righteous Babe Records, has achieved is due to the Herculean efforts she has undertaken through the years to get her music out there; Ani DiFranco is diminutive in stature, but not in talent or ambition. So if she were to do an album of Norwegian funeral dirges accompanied by nothing but a washboard and a vocoder, I wouldn't buy it, but I'd say more power to her.
I just found the whole thing kind of funny. A recurring theme throughout Ani DiFranco's music (and especially on this album) is her refusal to be pigeonholed as an artist, to never be saddled with any one particular label, and yet it was the people who claimed to be her biggest fans that insisted on pigeonholing* her the most.
*Doesn't the word "pigeonholing" sound astounding dirty?