Twenty years ago, a good many savvy, too-hip-for-the-scene industry types were dismissing Ani DiFranco as a fringe dwelling, mohawked, my-fist-your-face Folk Punk evangelist preaching an angry message to an all-grrl choir, a hard-strumming one trick pony destined to marginalize herself into a narrowly defined cult performer of little consequence.
Clearly, DiFranco didn’t follow that particular career path and her longevity can be attributed at least in part to her amazing diversity and her absolute unwillingness to be pegged as any one thing, musically, politically or sexually. Many of her militantly lesbian fans felt betrayed when she professed her bisexuality and then had the audacity to marry twice and even reproduce three years ago.
From the beginning, DiFranco has defied expectation. As a completely independent artist, she has operated and thrived outside the major label distribution system for two decades. Her one very slight concession to commercial acceptance, 1995’s Dilate, was followed by the stratospheric indie success of her 1997 live set, Living in Clip, and then the stunning musical manifesto of 1998’s Little Plastic Castle, where she took a stand concerning her image, the kind of music she wanted to play and the irrelevance of the music industry as a whole.
Since then, DiFranco has churned out a string of really good to provocatively great albums, capping an amazing catalog that includes 16 studio albums, a pair of best-of compilations and a handful of legitimate live discs, as well as more than a dozen self-released bootlegs. Most importantly, she's used her celebrity as a platform for a number of social, cultural and political causes, including gay and abortion rights and presidential campaigning (she supported Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich in their bids). She's used her songwriting to denounce homophobia, racism, sexism, physical and emotional abuse and war, among many other social ills.
With barely a thought concerning personal or professional consequences, DiFranco has amassed one of the most consistently great catalogs in music history while taking up a variety of banners and becoming not only a potent feminist icon but one of music’s most singular artists in the process.
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