Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Music Biz: Napoleon

Ani DiFranco: Napoleon


As we've seen this week, plenty of musicians rail directly against the major label mindset even as they continue to work within the major label model. But modern inheritor of folk-as-labor-movement Ani DiFranco -- who, through her music, her activism, and her establishment of her own pro-feminist indie label Righteous Babe, has spent her career forging another path altogether -- is most interested in actually making change.

As such, her canon includes songs which directly address the labels and the suits, like so many others posted this week; see, for example, The Next Big Thing, which describes a meeting with a label rep who evaluates her looks instead of her music. But in the combination of her lyrics and a determined indie approach to musicmaking, Ani also takes a broader critical look at those other parties, from fans to artists, who are complicit in perpetuating the "big money" model. After all, says Ani's life and work, how can we genuinely claim to oppose the status quo if we continue to allow the labels to manage even those songs which rail against the industry?

Here, in a song which Spin Magazine once claimed was directed against fellow urban folksinger Suzanne Vega, Difranco directs her energies at musicians who have chosen the easier path, taking an unnamed friend to task for sacrificing honest art for the egotistical temptations of greed and power, and the result is neither kind nor pretty:

They told you your music
Could reach millions
That the choice was up to you
You told me they always pay for lunch
And they believe in what I do
And I wonder if you miss your old friends
Once you've proven what you're worth
Yeah I wonder
When you're a big star
Will you miss the earth

And I know you would always want more
I know you would never be done
'Cuz everyone is a fucking napoleon
Yeah everyone is a fucking napoleon

And the next time
That I saw you
You were larger than life
You came and you conquered
You were doing alright
You had an army of suits behind you
And all you had to be was willing
And I said I still make a pretty good living
You must make a killing a killing

Napoleon was originally released on Ani's 1996 album Dilate, but it clearly one of her favorite tunes; it remains in heavy rotation on her setlists, and it shows up on both her major live albums. This version, off 1997 live double-set Living in Clip, seemed appropriately raw, given the subject.

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