Rocker Now Writer Liz Phair Dives Deep Into Emotion, And Memory
LOS ANGELES (AP) — When she began writing her new memoir, Liz Phair found she wanted to tell inside-the-mind stories, not behind-the-scenes stories.
“I’m more interested in the life of a human being than I am about a path to career success,” said the 52-year-old singer-rocker-songwriter whose book, “Horror Stories,” was released Tuesday. “I’ve never been the kind of person that read those types of memoirs, so for me, I like the internal world, the life of the mind. So that’s the kind of memoir that I chose to write, just naturally.”
For more than a quarter-century since her landmark first album “Exile in Guyville” made her a feminist favorite, Phair has swerved between cult status and larger stardom, between deep-dive indie albums and pop near-hits, making choices that thrilled some fans and confounded others.
But “Horror Stories,” which stretches from childhood to her 50s, gives virtually none of the play-by-play behind all that, dwelling instead on moments that may seem insignificant but have proved difficult to forget, as big as giving birth to those as small as moving on with her night instead of helping a drunken girl in a public bathroom who looked like she needed it.
“I had to kind of really go into the recollections that had stuck with me that were really unresolved in a way, kind of still haunting me,” Phair told The Associated Press.
Like memory itself, the essays in “Horror Stories” jump in time and shift from haziness into clarity, often leaving out the year or other grounding details.
“To me, the interesting parts about life are the things you can’t look up,” Phair said. “I want to know how you felt. I want to know what you were going through. That’s the part that I can’t get by Googling.”
She said that while the writing process was so lonely compared to music that at times she “went cuckoo,” she also took comfort in how much putting her thoughts to paper resembled putting her thoughts to music.
“I treated these as if they were songs,” she said. “I made a collection of short stories as if it were a long-form album.”
She’s far from finished making actual albums too. A new record that she quietly made with the team behind “Exile in Guyville” was announced Tuesday. The first single, “Good Side ,” will be released Friday.
Phair said her publishers were hands-off in allowing her to take her novel approach to the book, but urged her to talk about the #MeToo movement.
The resulting essay, by far the timeliest chapter in the book, opens with her reluctance to address the subject, describing her reaction to reading women’s stories of Ryan Adams’ sexual misconduct, which he has denied.
Phair, who does not use Adams’ name in the book but has acknowledged in interviews she’s talking about him, worked on an aborted album with the rocker. She writes that he “hit on” her, but did not treat her as poorly as other women say he did, nor behave as badly as many other men have toward her.
In the essay, Phair’s hesitance gives way to a flood of memories of sexual mistreatment of the times men had stalked her through airports or forced themselves on her in business meetings.
“It was an overwhelming experience to go back and try to list all the traumatic things that had happened to me whether it’s sexual harassment in the workplace, or just predatory men when I was younger,” Phair said. “There are things that either I had not told anyone about or had tried to compartmentalize and put on a shelf. But once I started to open up all the boxes of memories, I really just wanted to throw them all out of the closet on the floor and just be like, ‘and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one.’ It’s not unrealistic to most women’s experience. We have dozens and dozens and dozens of them.”
“We are full,” she writes in the book. “We can’t hold any more.”