Horror Stories — A Liz Phair Memoir

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I have a really good memory, especially when it comes to music and movies. As a movie critic who watches hundreds of movies each year, and did that even before I was a critic, I remember who I was with and what theatres I saw movies at. It always surprises my friends when we’re talking about various films from 30 years ago, and I mention who I saw it with and what they thought of it.

It’s the same way with music. Of the thousands of CDs and records I own, I remember where I bought each of them (aside from the ones I got for free while working in radio). Yet there’s one CD I don’t remember buying. It was Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville” — which is one of the best albums of all-time (and it irks me when people merely put it on the best “female” artist lists, or best debut record lists; it’s one of the best in any category, no matter how you slice it).

After listening to Exile about 100 times in a row, I promptly went to Warehouse Records and bought Whip-Smart, while one of my basketball buddies waited in the car so we could get to our game.

I stalked her when she showed up to 91X studios to do an interview, and had her sign the CDs, telling her that the “Divorce Song” was the best breakup song of all-time, even better than Carole King’s “It’s Too Late.”

She smiled and thanked me. I feel a bit guilty about that now, after reading about the real stalkers she’s had to deal with, including one that ruined an event in her hometown.

I’ve seen her live countless times, including the time at 4th & B downtown when the power went out. I went outside to smoke a cigar, since she couldn’t perform, only to find out she decided to grab an acoustic guitar and sit on the front of the stage and do an “unplugged” set. Me and the other smokers ran inside and caught a few songs. Just amazing.

So imagine my surprise when I was in Barnes & Noble and saw she had written a “memoir.” I have to put that in quotes, because it’s not written in the traditional style of a rock star memoir.

Now since I usually do movie reviews in this section, the reason I thought I’d write a review of the book is because she has starred in a few films. She was in “Seeing Other People” with Bryan Cranston (before he was famous) and comedian Jay Mohr.

She was in “Cherish” a few years earlier with Tim Blake Nelson (who you can see currently in “Just Mercy” and was Buster Scruggs last year), and Jason Priestley. 

She also grew up near where one of the most famous movie critics of all time lived — Roger Ebert. To me, that makes it close enough that I can review her book.

I was a tad disappointed by the first few chapters, but every other chapter I found fascinating. Many people won’t care for the fact that it’s a non-linear narrative. I think if you can get past that, you’ll adore every page. It’s strange because I remember seeing Pulp Fiction and loving it. I recommended it to all my friends, and a few of them had problems with the fact that the story jumps all around in the narrative. Today, you can’t find a single person that has a problem with that.

In much the same way an album has songs that don’t necessarily “go in order” or tell the same story (unless it’s a concept album like “The Wall” or “Tommy”, but again…did anyone listen to Sgt. Pepper and ask, “What does ‘Benefit of Mr. Kite’ have to do with ‘She’s Leaving Home’?” No, they didn’t. So just sit back and enjoy the genius of it.)

So after finding out she was afraid of spiders (yawn), we end up getting into the good stuff. And her perspective is fascinating. It’s great that she’s not afraid to show herself in a bad light at times. She admits to an affair that ruined her marriage (to one of the editors on a film she did). She talks about the feelings you have during an affair. There are a handful of boyfriends discussed, and (spoiler alert), one of them that proposed a few times, ended up being in another relationship with a woman having his baby at the same time. One guy that almost became a boyfriend, was actually an employee of Trader Joe’s. Reading about how she’d get dolled up just to go shopping was hysterical and really…who among us haven’t done something just like that?

She talks more about her son than I expected (although she’s a bit of a kook if she thinks a swimming pool caused asthma and breathing problems for him). 

Yeah, I’ll admit…I was yearning to read some stuff about how Exile was made, but so what? If she’s giving us such great stories, I won’t complain. Springsteen talked about his albums, and…his book was a disappointment. He reveals he gets depressed sometimes, and everyone thought he was revealing so much about himself. Pffffft.

Phair talks about seeing a psychiatrist, and how, when she stopped seeing him…she started surfing with him. How bizarre is that?

She talks about having sex on airplanes (which sounds more like a Bow Wow Wow song than Liz Phair).

There’s a great story about Howard Stern making fun of her after a disastrous Good Morning America performance. 

There are many “horror stories” including one that almost left her dead in the snow, and one that could’ve had her jailed in a foreign country. Ha! You think rock stars just have an easy life.

I found the little nuggets interesting, too. Someone at a wedding of a friend from her hometown, sneering at her because she’s too good to sing at the wedding (she was never asked to).

Trying to deliver a baby, after a long labor and many complications, to have one of the doctors in the middle of it all, talk about a specific show you played and what kind of Fender guitar you were using. It reminded me of the time Julia Roberts told me the first autograph she was asked for, was when she was sitting on the toilet. I didn’t think there would be a more inappropriate thing I’d hear regarding someone famous dealing with a fan.

There’s one disabled “fan” on an airplane that’s anxious to meet her, and what happens when they meet — is a kick in the head!

I had heard the band Heart talk about the creepy radio and record label people that said (and did) inappropriate things, so that stuff didn’t shock me. Yet Phair has such a flair with a phrase, it was fun reading her takes (“dealing with a gauntlet of horny dudes”).

This book is the first of a two-book deal she has with Random House. We movie critics are notorious for complaining about sequels not being as good as the originals. Well, if her sequel to this book is half as good, I’ll gladly pick it up. This might be the first time I’ve been excited about a sequel since I was a 10-year-old waiting to see The Empire Strikes Back. 

This book gets 4 stars out of 5.

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