Ani DiFranco

Allergic to Water

Ani DiFranco opens her Allergic to Water album describing the clutter of information, the challenge of classifying information, all the stories we should read, all of what we need to know, and the ensuing chaos as the information piles up. Meanwhile, the news screams that we are getting dumber. As the data pile grows, we get more confused. Her verses describe what we have read from numerous social critics. We wait to see if DiFranco can put her spin on it. It is with the chorus that we get there:

This one is easier to digest than some earlier DiFranco work, but maybe not as filling.

i got clutter in my closet
clutter in my bed
clutter in my office
and clutter in the shed
and I can’t find a thing
in all this confusion
i can’t think a thought
all the way to its conclusion

i got a database
behind my face
of dithering information
ask me anything
about anything

To dither is to be indecisive, to waver or vacillate. This describes my brief forays (ok, not so brief) into shopping for a few things over the Black-Friday-cyber-week-always-on-sale weekend. I found that I could read reviews and follow digital bread crumbs from site to site all to choose the best (fill in the blank), which in the big scheme of things will likely make little difference in my life. But this dithering could also describe the state of agitation that comes with this information overload, with the possibility of there being better information on the next link. There usually isn’t.

DiFranco, an icon on the folk protest singer scene, has sung about numerous important issues, but may be best known for her feminist critiques. “Woe Be Gone” delivers what we might expect.

woe be gone
the madness and the suffering of the human race
the history of the world is such a losing place
the alphabet took us on a wild goose chase

but still there’s swiftly shifting sands
beneath our feet

But at first listen, this album seems to take a U-turn on the highway of social criticism. It begins to reflect on the difficulties that happen in marriage, and it isn’t about the evils of patriarchy but the challenges of staying together.

it’s exactly as hard to talk to you
as it is to talk to me
let’s not make this harder
than it needs to be

When I really listened to the next lines I laughed out loud, not because they are funny, but because they are so true.

i know i married your mama
and i married your papa
when i married you
and right now it’s clear
who i’m talking to

When I chose this album to review I was expecting the usual social commentary presented in a lyrical but challenging manner. For that, you need to go to any of her previous 19 releases. As I began to reflect deeper and dived into her blog on the Internet—where else would I go—I found some interesting clues in her comments about her comrade, Pete Seeger:

I once watched him do a press conference backstage at Madison Square Garden on the occasion of his 90th birthday celebration. One reporter rattled off a long history of his outstanding accomplishments and then asked, “Can you tell me, Mr. Seeger, what you are most proud of?” There was a pause and then Pete responded, “I stayed married to the best woman I ever met for 55 years and we raised three children and six grandchildren.” It struck me as a radical feminist flip of the script to hold up family and a history of positive personal relationships above worldly achievements.

Pete taught me you are never too old or too male to be a radical feminist.

The hardest part of living out our ideals may be in the deepest relationships, and what we should be the most proud of is when we manage to make them rich and beautiful in spite of challenges and our dithering mind. I hit 33 years of marriage while I was first listening to this album.

The title song leaves my skin crawling as I consider what life would be like if I had that rare allergy to water. What if you are allergic to what most of us can’t consider living without—water? What if to cry wasn’t just an emotional release but a potential physical pain? Then we realize that DiFranco is asking us to consider what someone else might be living with.

you may wonder how it’s possible
something so basic could go so wrong
and all i can say is
if you stretch your mind all the way as far is it goes
there’s someone out there who lives further than that
in a place you can never know

Musically the album is a fun mixture of styles for listening, with great bass provided by Todd Sickafoose and percussion by Terence Higgins. This one is easier to digest than some earlier DiFranco work, but maybe not as filling. If you are a fan you will likely enjoy this, even without the concise commentary. If you are new to DiFranco you might want to step back to Which Side Are You On? (Pete Seeger performs with her on the title song) before starting in on this one.