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Opinion / Analysis / Essays

On the Road with Ani DiFranco
Photo by Jan Sturmann

Ani DiFranco with Interviewer

December 4, 2003

Ani DiFranco has reached the stage in her life and career where, for now anyway, solitude is looking better and better. She jettisoned her band for the current tour. Her upcoming album, "Educated Guess" (she churns them out at almost two a year), promises to include just her and an eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder holed up in her apartments in Buffalo, New York, and New Orleans.

She has spent most of the last 15 years on the road, starting out on public buses and trains, moving on to her own cars and vans. For a time, she had no fixed address, just a license plate. Now, at 33, she attracts arena crowds and is thinking more about getting to know herself.

Aficionados will see a paradox here, because much of DiFranco's song and poetry is deeply personal. Paradoxes, however, seem to be part and parcel of her genius.

"My outer world is more and more rife with people who want to hug, who want to chat, who want attention," she said during an interview in her chartered motor coach parked inside the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. "I have to carve out space for myself. People would gladly consume it all if I let them - and I have in the past."

DiFranco recently divorced the man with whom she had what she calls a "joined-at-the-hip reality." For years, Andrew Gilchrist - or Goat, as she calls him - was her sound technician. They were together on the road and in the studio, which meant just about always.

"We fell in love and spent the next five years or so having a 30-year marriage," said DiFranco. "He is the best company I've ever known. It was wonderful. So wonderful that I didn't realize how unhappy I was."

The last two years have been really painful, she said. "I'm just getting over the lonely thing and the devastation enough to reap the benefits of being alone. I have much more time to write and work and think and know myself."

Part of that involves looking at her political evolution and how approaching middle age affects accountability.

"We're outsiders as children," she said. "It isn't the responsibility of children to be accountable for something that is not of them." Lately, "my politics have become more and more connected with my society because I've become a part of it."

DiFranco was an emancipated minor at 15 when her mother left Buffalo for Connecticut and Ani decided to not follow. She attended an arts high school and at 18 moved to New York City.

"My politics were inherently more bodily, they were more about the immediate art of survival in a man's world," she said. "Gender dynamics were the greatest force in my life."

Now she is actively supporting a major party candidate for president and agreed to appear, together with Willie Nelson, in a benefit for her man. Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich "feels like one of us," she said. "All my life that I've spent hanging out with my friends, pipe dreaming about what could be, why doesn't anybody cool get into politics? So I think here is a guy who is what me and my friends have been hoping for."

DiFranco eschewed the major labels in favor of her own Righteous Babe Records, which has a staff of 14 working out of Buffalo. As an independent producer, she pockets a larger percentage of her gross than do most top artists.

"One of the great ironies of my little existence is to be somebody who is so excruciatingly sincere about wanting to transform herself, and maybe even others along the way, through music, to then be known as the brilliant capitalist I am trying to avoid," she said. "People who are into this Indie thing ask me over and over, `How did you figure that out?' "

When she is back in Buffalo, DiFranco's companions are mainly Nadine and Carlos, the cats she has had for eight years. Scot Fisher, her manager and "my best friend in the world, my family," looks in on the cats when DiFranco is away, as does one of the Righteous Babe Records workers. She recently acquired a third kitty named Henry when he tugged at her heartstrings at the pound.

The apartment in New Orleans is all about music. "It's a musical epicenter of which there are only a few on the globe," she said. "I can drop into town any time and there's something happening that night so I just go there to be fed."

All articles © Eric Goldscheider

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