Back When Liz Phair Was Cool…

One of the coveted – if not the one and only publicly known female artists – to come out of the Chicago 90s boom was Liz Phair. Her debut record, Exile in Guyville, was adored, and still today is highly regarded by fans of that era; critics showed love, too. Off her ’95 EP, Juvenilia, came a cover – one that AMG claims has been recorded 141 different times. The well-known, notoriously to some, while others embracing all versions, no matter the idiocracy, is Turning Japanese. To me, a fun track – nothing more and definitely not much less. Not Phair’s usual lo-fi formula: an energetic delivery from Liz, including a great time change, churning guitar play, hard-hitting, frenetic drums, all with a sense further proving post 90s Phair just isn’t the same.

Liz Phair :: Turning Japanese


13 Responses to “Back When Liz Phair Was Cool…”

  1. November 12, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Great post! “Exile In Guyville” still rivals some of the best albums ever made! Simple and pure, a classic album, that brings back fond memories of a time when Chicago had the best music scene in the country! “Fuck and Run” is my fav off Exile…I need to out and grab me a copy of that reissue with those bonus tracks!

  2. 2 Rose
    November 12, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    It’s completely incorrect to state that Phair is the “one and only publicly known female artists (sic)” to come out of the Chicago scene in 1990s. That statement is actually replete with the same anti-female bias that plagued radio stations of the era and reduced to female musicians to mere tokens. While Pitchfork might not give them indie boy love like Liz Phair, Veruca Salt was another pivotal publicly known group of female artists to come out of the scene. In fact, Stylus magazine actually ranks their big hit “Seether” number two on their “Top Ten Songs of the Mid-1990s Rock Scene.” Centerstage, who touts themselves as “Chicago’s Original City Guide,” notes the band became a “word of mouth sensation.” The site also says their first album “remains one of alternative rocks most snarling and rockin’ music staples to this day.” Clearly, I have much love for the band, but it’s also clear that you’re totally ill-informed if you think Liz Phair was the only worthy female artist to come out of 1990s Chicago with a high degree of public notoriety. Again, this is a problematic example of the music industry’s tendency toward “tokenism” with female artists. I would have hoped this music blog would not have engaged in the same sexist approach that permeated music industry culture in the 1990s.

  3. November 12, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    I am a Veruca Salt fan. You can’t stop the Seether, Rose. Unfortunately, they don’t spring to mind when I think 90s Chicago. Nothing more.

  4. November 12, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    I wouldn’t even put Veruca Salt and Liz Phair in the same category. Phair has been steady with her career, while Veruca Salt imploded early on. I enjoyed “Whip Smart,” even dug “WhiteChocolateSpaceEgg.” She has had a solid career. Veruca Salt, on the other hand, were basically one hit wonders, right? I did like their American Thighs record, especially “Forsythia (Gordon),” and “Number One Blind(Gordon/Shapiro)” but like I noted, mostly the Gordon stuff and thought that she would be better alone…that never panned out even after she had the chance. When I think of Chicago Rock, Veruca Salt doesn’t really come to mind. They were such a flash in the pan. It’s sad that more women don’t come out of Chicago. I do like this newer girl called Stolie, she’s really versatile, and all over the board! Great voice though, and of course, still unsigned!

  5. 5 Rose
    November 12, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    A couple of points:

    (1) Dave– you say that “they don’t spring to mind” to you, but, in your original post, you make a declarative statement that Liz Phair is somehow the “one and only” female artist to come out of Chicago’s scene in the 1990s. It’s fine if you didn’t think of Veruca Salt, but don’t write declarative statements that are based on subjective (and, in this case, flawed) perceptions.

    (2) Secondly, you state that you meant “nothing more” by your post, when, in reality, your entire post and way of thinking about the scene is influenced by a culture of sexism. This doesn’t mean you are actively aware of your own bias– in fact, as I’ve written before on this blog, many racist and sexist thoughts are constantly repeated in unconscious ways. What I’ve asked you to do is to dig a little deeper, go beneath the surface and ask yourself why you could only think of one artist. Could it have something to do with the culture of the music industry that often only allowed a certain number of female artists to be popular at a time? There’s always a reason why we think the way we do and it’s never as simple as “nothing more.”

    (3) Afrankl2, I’m not sure how anyone remotely familiar with Liz Phair’s career could characterize it as “stable.” I’ve loved Liz Phair’s music, but “stable” is the exact opposite of what her career as been. “Exile in Guyville” is an absolute triumph. “Whip-Smart” and “whitechocolatespaceegg” were both solid efforts (whitechocolatespaceegg less so, but it did have some redeeming qualities). But, seriously, what happened with her music and her career post the 1990s is the antithesis of stable. If you want to talk about “imploding,” look at her 2000s partnership with the Matrix– the music she produced during the past decade, as many critics have acknowledged, doesn’t begin to compare to what she did before. Joe and I excitedly bought tickets and then attended her “Exile in Guyville” tour stop in Washington, DC. It was easily, for both of us, the most disappointing concert experience we’d ever had. Even as she performed the amazing songs from that album, there was no passion and no spirit. Again, many who have looked at her career closely believe that she largely “imploded” in the late 1990s too.

    (4) I love Veruca Salt, but I never at any time acted as though they were completely comparable in terms of their influence. As I stated above, “Exile in Guyville” is practically unmatched by anyone at the time, including Veruca Salt. However, that doesn’t mean that Veruca Salt was merely a “flash in the pan” or a collection of songs that were one-hit wonders. If you go back and read my original post, I’ve cited multiple sources that point to the significance of Veruca Salt on the Chicago music scene. If you need yet another, I’d direct you to the website of Chicago Rocked!– the book both you and Dave enthusiastically posted about on this blog. In the very beginning of the project’s description, James VanOsdol lists ten major artists from Chicago in the 1990s. Veruca Salt is among them. Clearly, the author of what could be the definitive recounting of the Chicago music scene in the 1990s doesn’t think they’re a “flash in the pan” either.

  6. November 13, 2009 at 7:15 am

    I appreciate the writing advice.

    James’ project most likely won’t see the light of day – where were these thoughts when I posted about this book awhile back?

  7. November 13, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    You know what Rose, YOU ARE RIGHT! Veruca Salt is CHICAGO ROCK! They are the best thing that ever happened to Chicago! When I think of Chicago Rock, I think of a huge banner that hangs over Daley Plaza saying “Welcome to Chicago: Home of the Greatest Female Rock Band, Veruca Salt!” The “Seether” delivered us all from the pointless shit we listened to up until they appeared with their groundbreaking opus! “Seether is neither loose nor tight.
    Seether is neither black nor white.” As Dr. Seuss just rolled over in his grave, I digress. What the fuck did I do with myself until lyrics this good came on the radio!??? Fuck “Valerie Loves Me,” fuck “Rhinoceros,” and fuck “Stratford-on-Guy!” All Hail Veruca Salt!

  8. 8 Joe
    November 13, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Afrankl2, you need to read a little more carefully. Your comments here are a train wreck.

    Some observations:

    1. Dave puts up a post titled, “Back when Liz Phair was cool.” You respond by calling her career “steady.” When I think of careers that haven’t lived up to expectations, Phair would be one of the first to come to mind. I think Dave’s comment of past coolness is indicative of much the same thoughts. I mean, she started singing backup vocals for Sheryl Crow!

    2. “When I think of Chicago Rock, Veruca Salt doesn’t really come to mind.” Find me one history of Chicago in the 1990s that doesn’t mention Veruca Salt. Before this discussion here, I would have picked off the top of my head Phair, Veruca Salt, Smashing Pumpkins, Tortoise, The Sea and Cake, Urge Overkill, and Smoking Popes. I’m sure there are many I don’t know or I’m not thinking of right now. I never actually listened much to Veruca Salt, but I don’t know how you don’t think of them. They were much more than a flash in the pan.

    3. Your attempt at sarcasm comes off as petty and childish. If Rose were a Ross, I can’t believe you would have responded in the same way. What part of Rose writing “As I stated above, “Exile in Guyville” is practically unmatched by anyone at the time, including Veruca Salt” do you not understand? Rose would be the first to say she doesn’t know the embodiment of “CHICAGO ROCK!”

    While I understand Veruca Salt doesn’t come to mind for Dave as he commented, that fact has really nothing to do with the original post, which was commenting on the publicly known female artists of 1990s Chicago–one of which is undoubtedly Veruca Salt. The band’s debut’s went gold and they’re a constant reference point for a whole generation of female artists. I would regard such states as much more than publicly known.

  9. November 14, 2009 at 7:02 am


    I think I’m turning Japanese. I really think so. Carry on…

  10. 10 lolzify
    November 14, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    veruca salt was good. was. this was when nina gordon was in the band. they suck now so anyone will be excused to forget them when it comes to bands coming from chicago. and yes, veruca salt and liz phair are not in the same level. i am shocked that someone even remembers veruca salt.

  11. November 14, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    these comments sadden me.

  12. 12 lolzify
    November 14, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    oh by the way, phair’s version of turning japanese is indeed cool. it’s practically one of her loudest, most rocking moments. her cover of tra la la (theme from banana splits show) is also hilarious, sexy and rocking at the same time.

    back to veruca salt, they did a sweet, slow paced version of my sharona which is also quite good. i think nina gordon sang the lead vocals. like i said, nina gordon was pretty much the saving grace of veruca salt. now, she’s gone from the band and louise post is still using the name as if she brought the band to such acclaim. it’s pathetic.

    okay, i’m just being catty here. but i pretty much agree with the post. liz phair is the most famous of the women in the chicago alternative rock boom.

  13. 13 Rose
    November 14, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Lolzify, as with afrankl2, I’m not sure what the problem is with basic reading and comprehension. Nobody on here has stated that Liz Phair is not the most famous female artist to come out of Chicago. Joe and I have both stated that over and over again. Nobody has acted like Veruca Salt was was as good as Liz Phair. Also, nobody stated that Veruca Salt was the same after Nina Gordon left the band. In fact, I don’t even own the post-Nina albums. But to say that you are “shocked someone even remembers Veruca Salt” is preposterous. As Joe and I have both pointed out multiple times, every major write-up of the Chicago scene in the 1990s mentions Veruca Salt, so clearly the experts and popular opinion are not in agreement with you and afrankl12, thus proving our point that Veruca Salt was a pivotal part of the scene even if they weren’t as good as Liz Phair and even if you don’t remember them that well (although, clearly you remember them well enough to post about the history of the band, Nina Gordon’s departure, and the songs they sang). Also, your logic is clearly flawed. If they “suck” now and therefore don’t deserve to be remembered, using that same logic, Liz Phair doesn’t deserve to be remembered. Clearly, nobody here, yourself included, would agree with that statement.

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