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A conversation with the singer about turning bad habits into assets, and the two affairs that shaped her adult life.
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Liz Phair's album Whip-Smart was my first CD. At 14 years old, I marched into the record store and decided with that purchase to embrace the future and leave cassettes behind. If you know the first track from that album, "Chopsticks," you also know that as soon as I slid that disk into the CD player, I learned about the future in other ways. That sex could be funny. That sex could be boring. And that a woman could be the narrator of it all. 

So, 25 years later, it was a thrill to talk to Liz Phair about what's happened in her life since then. In her new memoir, Horror Stories, she writes about marriage, divorce, and navigating rock 'n' roll as an artist and frontwoman. And along the way, Liz engages very directly with her regrets and the hard-earned lessons that have come with aging. 

When we talked, Liz said something about that process that I've thought about a lot since. She described the tricks she's learned to play on herself to make her rebelliousness work for her instead of having it get in her way.

This is something I've been taking stock of a lot in my own life. About how getting older is about learning to not flinch from my own weak spots and bad habits that I (and my intimates!) have gotten to know quite well. I'm slowly learning to recognize them, and instead of pretending they're not there, to name them and notice them, which has the effect of slowly sanding down their edges. 

These are parts of myself I didn't know or understand when I was a teenage Liz Phair fan—how my particular mix of people-pleasing, defensiveness and pride predictably show up in different scenarios. And now as a grown listener to Liz Phair, I hear her unflinching and self-aware lyrics with an even greater appreciation. 

Anna and the Death, Sex & Money team

P.S. We have a treat for you. One of my favorite chapters of Liz's book recounts how, when she was nursing a really brutal heartbreak, her regular grocery-shopping trips to Trader Joe's became an important salve. From there, she tells a story that is beautiful, sad, and utterly normal. Random House let us post that excerpt on our website! Please enjoy.
This Week on Death, Sex & Money

Liz Phair has always been frank in her music. When she was 26, her debut album, Exile in Guyville, was upfront about sex and relationships. But the whirlwind of fame after the album came out was overwhelming. "I felt like my life wasn't my own at that point," she told me. "I couldn't keep up with the person everyone expected me to be." Within a year, she'd put a "hard stop" to her music career, got married, and was pregnant with her first child.

In today's episode, Liz talks with me about growing up and away from the public eye; the affair that she's still punishing herself over; and making art now that she's in her 50s. Listen in your podcast feeds now. And once you're done with the episode, switch over to our curated playlist of our very favorite Liz Phair songs

Your Stories: Race and Friendship
We're still working on our upcoming race and friendship episode, and as we're sifting through your stories in our inbox, we wanted to share a few that have come in. (Heads up: the first one below includes a racial slur.) And if you have a story about a moment in a friendship when race became a flashpoint, it's not too late to send it in—record a voice memo and email it to deathsexmoney@wnyc.org.
"I'm a black man of Ethiopian/Eritrean descent. Growing up my two closest friends were white—I'll call them James and Robert. I used to sleep over at their place and they would sleep over at mine (which is a huge deal in African households). I remember spending literally every non-school hour with them. We dreamt of what we would do as billionaires, we made games and adventures, and we laughed almost every day. These were my best friends.
 
When they moved to a rural city in Ohio, we were all devastated, but we promised to not let that get in the way of our friendship. We organized ways to make the 40 minute drive to have sleepovers and hang out. And for a while, it was great.
 
One night about 10 years ago when I was sleeping over at their place, I overheard Robert downstairs with his dad and I thought I would join them. Their dad was really drunk and he started talking about black people and then said, "I believe every nigger deserves a bullet in the head," and he motioned a gun hand at me and then laughed. I was 15 at the time. Robert was visibly shocked and I just remember going blank. I went upstairs and said I wanted to sleep. I was tired but I didn't sleep that night. I never slept over at their place again.
 
I remember feeling every single word he said. I felt like at that moment when the dad pointed a fake gun at me and said what he said, I just closed the door and I never felt compelled to open it back up again.
 
My friend group now is practically all black. Every time I engage with a white person, I just feel like I couldn't trust them."
 
—Solomon, 27, Washington, D.C.
"I was just looking through some photos to post on Instagram from a party I went to last night with all my close friends. I was really struck in the picture by the fact that all my friends are white.

I'm in a PhD program and one of my closest colleagues in the program is a black woman, and she's basically one of two people of color in the entire program. She talks about what that feels like, and she's mentioned to me that the only reason that we're friends is because we're in the same program. We're very close, and now she's prepared to graduate and I feel like I will lose a very deep friend. Whenever she goes out of town, I see pictures of her on Instagram with her girlfriends who are all all black women as well.

It's just left me wondering, do I choose my friends intentionally? I don't choose my friends because
they're white, but my friends happen to be white. And is that because there are similar histories and understandings? Is it because we don't think twice about it? And if I didn't hold the dominant space as a white person, would I be as struck by the lack of diversity in my friend group? Is this something that my friend thinks about?"
 
—Julianne, 29, Athens, GA

Listen to This: Audio We Love

Shig Yabu, one of the former incarcerees in last week's episode about Heart Mountain, was featured in this week's episode of the StoryCorps podcast. He sits down with his grandson, Evan Yabu, and tells him about Maggie, the magpie he cared for at Heart Mountain. Shig also talks with his longtime friend Willie Ito, who was incarcerated at a camp in Topaz, Utah. Shig and Willie reflect on readjusting to life after incarceration, and why it took them decades to share their experiences with each other.

And if you're curious to learn more about how we make our show, check out the most recent episode of the Werk It Podcast. Anna, along with DSM producers Anabel Bacon and Katie Bishop, presented at this year's Werk It Festival (an annual podcast conference for women) about how we make our "listener episodes"—like our episode about STIs. "I wasn't really conscious when you make a show called Death, Sex & Money, and then you put out some stories, that people will write back with their own stories of death, sex and money," Anna told the audience about how this type of episode came about back in 2014. "Listeners want to get in on the conversation."

Next on Death, Sex & Money

The entire Death, Sex & Money team was in the same place this week! (This never happens.) So we decided to record a 🎉 YEAR END SPECTACULAR 🎉, where we reflected on our favorite moments from the show from 2019. Yes, this includes tape that hit the cutting room floor. Don't miss this extra special episode, coming to your feed next Wednesday!

As you think about year-end donations, we hope you'll consider supporting our work!

Check out our fabulous thank you gifts at deathsexmoney.org/donate.
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