Go ahead and grab my hand as I lead you towards the end of our list. Numbers five through ten are set and there are only five more spots to go.
Before I can reveal the artist at number five, I have to cut one of the remaining artists. Needless to say, I do this with a heavy heart... The new number eleven, the last artist to get cut is...
If the top ten somehow had eleven spots this would not of happened. The list of recent artists who owe their sound to this Cali band is extensive. If you are one of the many that has never listened to Pavement... get yourself off that list and order them off Amazon or iTunes. Trust your Uncle Hof.
Back to the countdown... The music industry is nothing more than a machine. Why is it so rare that a true and innovative artist makes it on the big scene these days? The machine is no longer fueled by talent. It is fueled and greased by suits with wallets. They sit high on their Mount Olympus and dictate what the mortal masses will hear. Everything released now has been watered down and chopped up. Nothing new, just leftovers heated up and served again.
Most artists know this but feel they have no choice. They feel one must dance with the devil to get their music out there. Many give up their sound and give up their soul to get played on the radio, to get their CD pressed and in the stores. Many do but one certainly did not.
She's been courted by all the major labels. She said "no" to each one... every time. She was told she could never make a living in music without the suits owning her. She flipped-off anyone telling her that... to each one, every time.
She started with only anger, words and guitar. She turned this into one of the few major independent record labels. She taught us that sexuality was not about labels. She taught us you can be angry at men, women, bigots and the careless but not hate them.
It is my pleasure to welcome...
...to the number five spot in the top ten most important music artists (with a debut album out in or after 1990).
Maybe the only talent to ever come out of Buffalo, NY... Ani was born in 1970 to parents that loved music (especially folk). They gave her a guitar at eight and she was playing Beatles and performing in local bars by nine. She left home at fifteen, moved to NYC, and supported herself with music.
She made a name for herself in the underground NYC music scene so it was not a huge shock when a major label approached her soon after her eighteenth birthday. They offered her the one thing most starving artists dream of - a record contract. She, unlike most, read it. She read it again. And again. She folded it back up and pushed it across the table unsigned. She said "no" to the suits. At eighteen she started her own record company (Righteous Babe Records). In 1990 she released her first self-titled album.
The simple black-and-white cover graced by her shaved head contained one of the most powerful debut albums in the history of music. Some people play guitar, she exploits it. She pushes the six strings and wood beyond chords, beyond the scales. From the opening song we learned that her guitar was the vehicle for her almost jazz-like sense of rhythm and sound.
..and, oh the words.
Her lyrics make you stop. Stop. Not only are the subjects of her songs courageous and choice, her words force you to understand. Her words make you think. As a lyricist she is right up there with Lennon/McCartney, Dylan, Young, Waits and Simon. The first song on her first CD gives you just a small taste...
graffiti on your body
I am drawing the story of
how hard we tried
I am watching your chest rise and fall
like the tides of my life,
and the rest of it all
and your bones have been my bedframe
and your flesh has been my pillow
I am waiting for sleep
to offer up the deep
with both hands
Are you fucking kidding me? How can a little eighteen-year-old girl put these words together? She went on to release at least one album a year for the next 16 years (she skipped a release in 2000 but put out three albums in 1999 to make up for it.)
Recently she explored new sounds and added a funk-jazz sound to her music. Talking about her released music only tells half her story. You don't know Ani if you've only jammed out to her records. You can only know Ani if you've seen her live.
When she is in concert, she is very live. Very alive. The power of her vision, the hammer of her words, the chariot of her music carries you.
You are in a theatre but it feels like her living room. You are surrounded by strangers but they feel like your neighbors. You are watching her raised high on stage but you think you can reach out and touch her. You can't but she reaches out and grabs you.
I've seen some great shows. I've seen many of the greats live in concert. I've never experienced an artist with the charisma of Ani. If you didn't love her before the curtain rose, you were writing mushy notes and passing them to her in class by the end of the show.
During her journey she was made the poster-child for the lesbian cause. Her songs about sexuality and teaching that sexuality is about love and people and not labels and categories gave many women a voice. She often said she hated being shoved into this role. She often protested being thought of as just a lesbian musician. She often protested being labeled a lesbian. When she ended up marrying her long-time male road manager (Goat) it caused quite a stir. Many women were angry and thought she sold out. Anyone that did not understand how she could marry a man never really listened to her music. They never listed to her words....
somedays the line I walk
turns out to be straight
other days the line tends to
I've got no criteria for sex or race
I just want to hear your voice
I just want to see your face
She looks me up and down
like she thinks that I'll mature
like she's got my number
like it belongs to her
call me, Ms. DiFranco
if there's anything I can do
I say, I've got spots
'nuff said, folks. Ani was the easiest one to put in the top ten. She is one of the greatest... one of the greatest of all time.
Here is our list so far:
5) Ani Difranco
6) Rage Against the Machine
7) Smashing Pumpkins
8) Tori Amos
There are only four spots left. Who will be number four? Who will be number one? Stay tuned!