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Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville (33 1/3) [Kindle Edition]

Gina Arnold

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I found this book to be, like Ms. Phair's album, charming and brave and unexpectedly moving. The author is excellent on so many things, including how the power of Ms. Phair's songs grows from their grainy details, quotidian observations that other rockers so rarely give us, about things like housework and roommates and 'what is was like to feel voiceless and powerless in a nightclub, on a road trip, or during sexual intercourse. -- Dwight Garner The New York Times Arnold is a wonderful writer: fearless, precise, full of doubt, never taking anything for granted. She's one of the few people left on the planet who uses presently correctly, which can create its own thrill. Going back to Liz Phair's once notorious, now often forgotten, absurdly in-your-face ambitious first album-'a story about a girl and a time and a place,' the indie-rock world of Wicker Park, in Chicago, in the early 1990s, but in Phair's hands a story told with such heart that you need no such details to catch every shade of meaning and emotion-Arnold has written a book about the past ('when dinosaurs, as personified by Dinosaur Jr., ruled the earth'), its follies and crimes ('Every past is worth condemning,' Arnold quotes Nietzsche, and then puts the words to work), and the idea of an imagined community that the past leaves behind ('Often I think I am a better informed citizen of Middlemarch, Bartsetshire,' Arnold says, 'than I am of San Francisco'). And it's about what it means for a young woman to simultaneously take on both everyone in her town and take down the album that sums up everything that everyone in her town would like to sound like, look like, act like, be-to take down a whole way of being in the world. -- Greil Marcus The Believer Writing at length about two themes - 'third-wave feminism' and the changing nature of indie music over the past twenty years - requires laborious research, cogent arguments, and logical grounding from start to finish. Doing so in the context of one record makes the task even more difficult. I can say, having reviewed many scholarly articles in my time, that Arnold passes the test with flying colors. The book is well cited, filled (but not overwrought) with pertinent facts, and her points are structured in a way that just make sense. In a word, the book is smart. 2bit Monkey Mentioned in Harper's Bazaar -- Hannah Morrill Harper's Bazaar Provocative in all the right places, persuasively argued and certainly among the most professional of the series. It reminds me how much my thinking about gender and sexuality has benefitted from reading women's testimonials to the emotional power of Guyville. It also reminds me how, to this day, I would drink Liz Phair's bathwater. -- Kirk Curnutt Paste Magazine Arnold's book puts Phair in her proper place as the patron saint of f**k you. Because, in the end, Phair had the last laugh. Guyville is no more. It has been laid waste, in part, by the corporate interests that poached and commodified indie rock's talent (Phair included), and finally blasted into oblivion by technology. The critic, like those denizens of Guyville, no longer needs to impress us with her encyclopedic knowledge of a musical act, or lay forth great truths and judgments for us to accept without question. Rather, she can engage in a more lyrical form of storytelling, picking apart at the edges of a work of art, and letting biography and theory bubble forth as need be, in order to reveal a particular, individual relationship. In this way, Arnold's book not only documents a lost world. By presenting an engaging and enlightening example of criticism in the post-critical age, it also points a way forward. -- Brian Gresko The Rumpus


Although Exile in Guyville was celebrated as one of the year's top records by Spin and the New York Times, it was also, to some, an abomination: a mockery of the Rolling Stones' most revered record and a rare glimpse into the psyche of a shrewd, independent, strong young woman. For these crimes, Liz Phair was run out of her hometown of Chicago, enduring a flame war perpetrated by writers who accused her of being boring, inauthentic, and even a poor musician.

With Exile in Guyville, Phair spoke for all the girls who loved the world of indie rock but felt deeply unwelcome there. Like all great works of art, Exile was a harbinger of the shape of things to come: Phair may have undermined the male ego, but she also unleashed a new female one. For the sake of all the female artists who have benefited from her work—from Sleater-Kinney to Lana Del Rey and back again—it's high time we go back to Guyville.


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3.0 von 5 Sternen Three-and-a-half stars 9. Mai 2014
Von The Bibliophile - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
Some prefatory remarks...

(1) Despite the criticisms outlined below, I thought this was an interesting book/essay by Arnold.

(2) I'm a years long admirer of both Phair's and the Stones' "Exile" albums, considering them to be the apex of both artists' outputs.

(3) This book deserves a longer response than I'm willing to give it in this context.

(4) I'm prepared for the inevitable backlash that awaits any male's reading of a feminist critique of art or culture. I'm guessing somebody will try to dismiss me as "unqualified" to respond to this book on the grounds of being a white male. If that's you, then skip on to the next customer review and save us both the headache...

That said, I think a lot of folks will come to this book with the expectation of a meatier musical critique of Phair's album, when what Arnold mostly presents is a sometimes insightful, sometimes desultory (sub)cultural critique of the time and place in which the album is situated. There are some questionable digressions (not sure how important it is to anybody but the writer herself that much of this book was written sitting at a Starbucks in South Korea, though having lived there myself I confess some mild interest in those details), but Arnold is obviously well-read, though sometimes with a grad student's penchant for wanting to refract too much of her analysis through some fairly narrow theoretical lenses. The fact that she spends more than the first third of the book outlining her gender critique of the music industry and of the even smaller, more insulated "indie" scene (and even smaller yet, the indie scene in Chicago circa 1992-3) was a bit more than I bargained for, though I didn't disagree with much of what she had to say (it was obviously a bitter, disillusioning pill for Arnold when she realized that the mass culture's pervasive patriarchal norms could still be found in the over-idealized indie music subculture).

There are certain things I wish the book had done better. First, a good editor would have pushed Arnold to be a bit more thorough and expansive. For example, Arnold makes a big deal of the supposedly low sales numbers of Phair's "Exile," but we have no sense of how they compare to other albums by comparable bands of the time. It's a salient question because Arnold makes it a point to circle back multiple times to this limiting barometer. And for a book so preoccupied with gender politics, Arnold gives little more than passing reference to other women in indie rock from that era. Based on Arnold's presentation of the era, you'd have no real clue that the indie rock scene saw a comparative blossoming of female talents pretty widely embraced by the day's hipsters. Given Arnold's critique is so feminist/gender based, to leave out any mention of Bikini Kill and any of the other bands associated with the Riot Grrrl movement feels like cherry picking when it comes to constructing her arguments. And though I understand that Arnold tries to explicate the specific environment in which an album like Phair's "Exile" was conceived, the fixation on the resentment her success received from some of the scenesters in Chicago severely underplays the enormous amount of critical praise heaped on Phair around the country (as Arnold points out, she did win the prestigious Pazz & Jop top ranking). Based on the fact that Phair was pretty widely embraced by music critics across the country (and even by some in Chicago), I'm less convinced that the ugly reception Phair's work received in Chicago was completely about misogyny than it was a backlash to a local unknown "upstart" zooming past more established local bands in terms of recognition and success. In other words, professional/artistic jealousy could easily have been as much a factor as her gender. I think it's far more telling that three of the top five Pazz and Jop artists in 1993 were women or women-based groups (Phair, PJ Harvey, and The Breeders). But those sorts of details make a less tidy portrait of the indie music scene in 1993 for Arnold's purposes, and so that fact doesn't get mentioned.

Ultimately, this unfortunately leaves the reader with the distinct impression that Arnold has an axe to grind, especially when she starts questionably importing "male gaze" arguments borrowed from film criticism to discuss the act of listening to music. As a result, the actual evaluation of Phair's "Exile" album gets pretty short shrift, resulting in only a handful of pages that focus in on the music contained on the album itself rather than all of the supposed socio-political cultural forces than may have shaped it. And that's a shame, because Arnold's musical analysis itself isn't too bad, though it's framed as a "competition" between the Stone's album and Phair's, which is the exact sort of critical approach Arnold decries in several places in which she mentions what she doesn't like about supposedly male-oriented music criticism. She comes down a little too hard on the Stones, stacking the deck in Phair's favor by limiting her critique of the two albums almost entirely to lyrical content (this is *music* we're talking about here, not just lyrics/poetry). Arnold also has a tendency to confabulate lyrical content with the artist him or herself. Good thing neither the Stones nor Phair recorded a murder ballad on these albums.

Other such inconsistencies pop up periodically throughout the book, as when she takes several potshots at collectors of vinyl records as elitist, culturally conservative male chauvinists, only to at one point in the book say that the best way to listen to Phair's album is as it was intended, a four-sided vinyl double album response to the Stones' vinyl record.

Of lesser offense but still grating are a few typos that seem as if they should have been easily caught (it's not a long book, so how hard could it have been to proofread it a couple of times).

All of that said, Arnold is indeed a good writer, and many of her observations about music and culture are astute. I would gladly read more of her work, even though I found this contribution to the "33 1/3" series ended up saying as much about Arnold as it does Phair's album.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen A book-length essay rather than a critical dissection 2. Juni 2014
Von Beau Yarbrough - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
There's a short track by track examination of Liz Phair's first and best album, including a comparison to the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, but for the most part, this is author Gina Arnold's response to Exile in Guyville, explaining the work in the context of Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, the indie music scene of the early 1990s and third-wave feminism.

That's not what I thought I was getting -- I expected something more focused on the music itself, rather than its context -- but this was an enjoyable short read all the same, especially as it concerns one of my favorite albums of all time, by my favorite artist of all time.

Worth a read for hardcore Phair fans.
5.0 von 5 Sternen Best music writing in years. 26. Dezember 2014
Von Brent - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
This book is quite possibly the best written of the 33 and 1/3 series I have read and also the best writing on rock music I have read in years. It is not just a book on Liz Phair's album but also about indie music, the new reality of the music business in the digital age and sexism that is ingrained in rock culture and music criticism. I disagree with her pretty strongly about the Stones and especially about Exile On Main Street ( I see the classic 1972 album as a great homage and love letter to American roots music not a celebration of decadence and misogyny) but her arguments are so well thought and presented that you have to pause and reconsider your views on the great band. I highly recommend this book. I would love to see the author write about Sleater Kinney.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Gina Arnold's book is the best! 21. Juni 2014
Von Phaedra Bell - Veröffentlicht auf
Read the NY Times article and you'll know why this is the best rock criticism since Lester Bangs died. Seriously.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Indightful 2. Juli 2014
Von Steven W. - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
Interesting look at this classic from a grander perspective.
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