I grew up around a lot of music. My dad stayed at home with the kids and would entertain himself by making us dance to Fleetwood Mac and Billy Joel records; when we stayed with my grandmother we would listen to Billie Holiday and Etta James while we cleaned the silver (Catholic grandchildren have their uses.)
We didn’t have a lot of cash growing up and I remember listening to top 40 radio in the 90s and taping all my favourite songs onto cassette – sorry SOPA – so I could sing along. Like every kid I had my fair share of terrible pop CDs, gifted from well-meaning family members in a time before developing your own music taste was much of a thought (did you know Hanson had a Christmas album? Because I do.) But a long winded account of me acquiring 100% Hits of 1997 and soulfully vibing along with Billie Piper is not going to make me look cool on the Internet. At least my first independent purchase is slightly less devastating in retrospect.
I had sung my whole life but when I was 10 we did a guitar unit in school, which effectively became my baptism of fire. It had never occurred to me to write songs and play an instrument; most of the female voices I remembered hearing from being young were unencumbered Divas, and I didn’t really know any girls who played guitar. An older friend introduced me to Ani Difranco when I was about 11, and I was sold. She played guitar! And she played it like nobody else I had ever heard. And one of her songs had the F word in it like twenty fucking times! After school I went to the much-loved local record store Beaumont Street Beat (RIP – there’s a lingerie store there now) armed with a rudimentary knowledge of her back catalog. After speaking with the girl who worked there, and figuring out that I had been both mispronouncing AND misspelling Difranco’s name, I ordered a copy of Dilate with my birthday money. I distinctly remember meekly asking if it would cost more money to have it shipped in, and being patiently assured that there was no charge. (Which was lucky, because I couldn’t even afford the sticker price. Thank God for COD.)
Getting that record is the reason I play guitar the way I do. I obsessively listened to it, clinging to the seemingly contradictory themes of heartbreak (which I had never had) and feminist rage (which I had never had words for.) To this day, I credit that record with my tendency to write a sensible amount of self-righteous bitchiness into most of my heartbreak songs. I don’t listen to as much as Ani Difranco as I used to, (read: exclusively) but I still find that whenever I hear one of her songs I am transported back to that fledgling stage of learning to play guitar, and also acutely aware that I just totally jacked her style. “Done Wrong” remains the best break up song I have ever heard in my life, and the hook “every pop song on the radio is suddenly speaking to me” from “Superhero” is still one of the most perfectly executed lines ever. “Adam and Eve” was the first song with alternate tuning I ever learned. (It was also the first time I realised you could alternately tune a guitar.) It was a record I would revisit as I got older and actually experienced real grown up heartbreak and betrayal and all that jazz, so it has aged well along with me.
Ani D is a hugely prolific artist, but Dilate is my favorite of the 20+ releases she has to offer. If your local record store doesn’t have it, get ‘em to order it in – they don’t even charge.
Jen Buxton is an Australian singer, songwriter, mama, mottephobe and aspiring librarian. Her stubborn and overly confessional debut release DON’T CHANGE YOUR PLANS is available on CD/LP through www.poisoncityrecords.com. You can follow her on Twitter @jen_buxton if you like wine-inspired musings and very short stories about cats.