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LIZ PHAIR

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”The thing I’m most afraid of is to get on stage and play my songs. For years, they’ve been my personal, private thing, and I wouldn’t play them for anyone, anytime. Now it’s my job, and I feel deeply threatened like a freak.” Fear is not an emotion you’d equate with Liz Phair-not after listening to her brazen debut album, Exile in Guyville. Inspired by the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, the 18 ballads and catchy pop tunes-hushed shout-outs at once tender and ballistic-bitingly point up the contradictions of living female and have critics turning somersaults in search of superlatives. One reason is the 26-year-old’s refreshing, rapper-like frankness when it comes to sex-as in ”F — – and Run,” the album’s pick hit, which is fast becoming an anthem for empowered, twentysomething chicks. ”After that song I was afraid I’d embarrass my parents and get stalked,” says the product of the same staid, upper-middle-class Chicago suburbs that influenced John Hughes’ Brat Pack movies. But Dad, a physician, and Mom, an art historian, seem to have coped. ”They’ve carried it off like the stoic WASPs they are. They’re behaving stupendously.” And Phair, a self-described brat who pursued visual art at Oberlin College (doing ”charcoal drawings of diseased faces”), is keeping her expectations in check. ”I have to make a fool of myself now. When I’m 34 it won’t be charming anymore.”

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