Letters for the week of August 13-19, 2003

Jenna Nanetti didn't deserve it. Jerry Brown did nothing for it. Gina Arnold overdid it once again (but, hey, will she marry me?).

“Little Miss Murder,” Feature, 7/9

You only deepened the pain

I am DEEPLY offended by your remarks in the article written about Jenna Nannetti. Your statement, “Jenna and Mike ran with a crowd of angry, disaffected Livermore kids. Many were high-school dropouts or teenagers who, like Jenna, ended up in a continuation school for troubled students at risk of not graduating. They hung out at a local Internet cafe, worked low-end jobs, and partied in the hills surrounding the town” is poorly written, inaccurate, and grounds for a libel suit, if I were so inclined. There is only ONE Internet cafe in Livermore, that being the one I frequent and am also volunteer business manager for, and I do not appreciate your characterization of our clientele.

First off, Jenna was a cafe regular PRIOR to becoming involved with Simons. After the two became involved and later married, Jenna was rarely seen at the cafe. I believe Mike came to the cafe a total of three times. Prior to her disappearance, we had not seen Jenna for approximately two months. I don’t know what you consider to be “hanging out,” but that doesn’t count in my book.

Secondly, your portrayal of our clientele as angry, disaffected youth who quit school and are only out to party and eke out a living on a “low-end” job is COMPLETELY out of line. Before volunteering to manage the cafe, I was a cafe regular. I am neither angry nor disaffected (although reading this article makes me very angry). I did not drop out of school and I do not have a low-end job. The same follows for almost our entire clientele.

The cafe you are referring to is a safe place for the youth of our community to gather and network, and is drug- and alcohol-free. It is a place where they can feel supported and appreciated; a place where they can come to when they need to talk or just be with friends. We are not here to bring each other down, or encourage negative behaviors. We try to lift each other up above what life and circumstance sometimes dish out. We are a local business, led by a very caring local businessman who has had the foresight to create a haven in our often uncaring society.

I also want to make it clear that Jenna was well loved by our “family,” and her death was as much a tragedy for us as for her other friends and family. We miss her and are still pained by all that has happened. Your article has inflicted more pain and reopened the wounds that we all suffered back in October.
Laura Wilcox, Draggin Bytes Internet Cafe, Livermore

“Firing Folks Is Hard Work,” 7 Days, 7/16

Didn’t Jerry work for Gray?

The Jesuit Prince has got to go.

What has he done for Oakland? In recent memory, Jerry Brown has presided over the neglect of our Parks and Recreation programs, a nixed affordable housing and downtown stadium deal, the disintegration of the public school district, and our worst murder rate in decades. His answers? Fire local leadership, give multimillion-dollar subsidies to developers, eject public artists in favor of charter schools, and bring outsiders into upper-middle class, downtown lofts.

Do you like the work he is doing?

Though you may not be a baseball fan, the Oakland A’s are an example of a local asset that has been awfully neglected by our current city leadership (there are many others we could name, such as the African-American and Latino communities, public schoolchildren, seniors, and others). Look at the players on the team: young, talented, multiracial, willing to stay with the team, and poised to win championships. (Kind of like our youth.) With a downtown ballpark, and the concurrent revenue it would generate for the team, we could retain our stars and attract more of the talented players who appeal to our diverse community of baseball fans. Such a team, by rousing excitement through pennant races and by changing our city’s social patterns, would generate a buzz soon to rebound into improvements in dining, housing, nightlife, and more. Instead of the stale, enclosed, corporate environment proposed by the current Forest City project, we could create a real heart for our as yet unrealized downtown.

Alas, Bobb is off to green pastures, Forest City is in our bed, San Diego is luring away Miguel Tejada with more dollars (and a new stadium), and we are faced with Moonbeam until 2006.

Why don’t we throw him out?
Michael Siegel, Oakland

“Exile in Whinerville,” Music, 7/16

Talk about backhanded sexism

Okay, let’s start from the top. Liz Phair’s album sucks. The lyrics are often insipid and stupid to a fault. Lines like “I’m extraordinary, if you’d get to know me” sound like high school come-ons. The lyrical conceit of “Favorite” runs about as thin as the frayed underwear she trumpets.

The music. Ugh. If you like what’s on the radio, you’ll like this. Which is, in my book, a somewhat damning thing to say about somebody who aimed higher. The point is there are substantive reasons why Liz Phair is a bad album.

Now, let’s turn to Gina’s comments in particular. A work of art? PLEEEEAAASE! She goes on to excoriate the MALE critics implying they don’t know what it’s like to be female, don’t like an empowered female, and therefore don’t appreciate the album. But hold that bus. Didn’t Slate editor Meghan O’Rourke write the damning NYT piece? The Slate piece by NYT writer Mim Udovitch (what was this, job-sharing day?) was a pretty uncomplimentary review as well.

Now let’s turn to the MOST OFFENSIVE comment Arnold makes — itself a bit of backhanded sexism that she should be ashamed of: “When it first came out, the record [Exile in Guyville] — or, more accurately, Phair herself — was also excoriated by (mostly male) critics who found her persona (smart, blonde, sexy, self-aware) too threatening for their weak little brains to contemplate.” DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT? It’s such a ridiculous misstatement of the facts and history it practically begs a retraction. This was the NUMBER ONE album in the Pazz & Jop critics’ poll that year (a vote of more than three hundred critics). So who were these Exile-bashing critics, or is this just reconstructed history?

I hope we can, henceforth, get back to writing about music, without being taken to the shed for being male, because we think it’s a hopelessly compromised, slick, musically bland album made by an artist who we perhaps wrongly expected better of. Personally, I like the Jewel album better, and would take any of Sheryl Crow’s albums over this.

Boy, am I glad I got this off my chest. You can find my own take on the new album in the July 24 Phoenix New Times.
Chris Parker, Durham, NC

The light was green; Gina’s face should be red

I have a few corrections and clarifications to make in regard to Gina Arnold’s recent piece about Liz Phair.

First of all, my last name is spelled Margasak, not Margusak. Secondly, Arnold calls my Spin review of Phair’s first album a slam; I gave it a “green light,” the magazine’s highest rating at the time. Lastly, her suggestion that I “was angry in real life at Phair for breaking up with [my] best friend” is a new one to me. No best friend of mine was ever involved with Liz Phair. At the time Spin editor Craig Marks told me that Phair had claimed that I wrote the review to get even with her because I had made an unsuccessful play for her attention. It still sounds as ridiculous to me now as it did back then.
Peter Margasak, Chicago

Count your blessings, Liz

As an enormously sexy, long-blonde-haired 36-year-old single mom rocker myself, I just can’t take any more Liz Phair defenses anymore.

1. Liz Phair never really could shock and appall us. She’s always been too damn image-conscious to give it up 100 percent emotionally in either lyrics or music. I mean, “HWC (Hot White Cum)” isn’t exactly a revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll notion — Lydia Lunch, Kim Gordon, Throwing Muses, Pussy Galore — shit, man, even Madonna wrote equally sexy/silly lyrics, and those are just some white ones!

2. After three middleweight albums, we are disinclined to cut her any more slack.

3. The whole “breaking gender stereotypes” rap is sloppy writing, sloppy thinking, and deeply misses the point of music criticism today. Liz Phair’s music and lyrics continue to fail to inspire the human (male or female) heart, mind, and boogie-butt. Matthew Sweet, for example, was equally cute and equally boring as Liz Phair, but do you see his champions blaming his unpopularity on a middle-class, grad-school-stylee dogma?

4. That 1993 Village Voice Critics’ Choice Award she got? That was mostly men who voted for her. The article “Exile in Criticville: Liz Phair, Rock Criticism and the Construction of a ‘Do Me’ Feminist Icon” — that was a man. Okay? I hope Liz Phair is happy, but honestly, it’s really a bitch to swallow her “Oh, I’m a single mom, isn’t life hard” rap when, after all, her privilege and her access outstrip her talent.
Laura Boutwell, New York City

And cut Avril some slack

I thought you made some strong points, particularly about the sexism inherent in many of the reviews. It was also good to make the point that critics were reviewing Phair herself more than they were her music. But aren’t you yourself guilty of that when you write, “True, Liz Phair’s first single, ‘Why Can’t I,’ is as unstoppably catchy as, yes, one of Avril Lavigne’s horrid offerings, but wouldn’t you rather hear someone with authentic musical context and actual songwriting talent sing a song like that, rather than an eighteen-year-old phony punk rocker?” If you’re reacting honestly to the music, why should it matter who is doing the singing?
JD Considine, Toronto

It’s only marketing (but I like it)

Thanks for the interesting article on Liz Phair. I suspect there is a lot of truth to your contentions. But as one who was turned off by the marketing of Liz, I just wanted to make a point. What was such a turnoff — including the sexed-up pictures — was that it seemed so clumsy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with selling out, but it should be done appealingly, like Nevermind or Parliament records or Maybelline.

Seeing those pictures of Phair were uncomfortable in the way that listening to Mick Jagger after 1972 is (mostly) embarrassing. It’s not that older people can’t be sexy, but that their sex should be, well, a little grown-up. John Lennon did it. Amy Rigby does it. (And for that matter, so do Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, and Sarah Cracknell.) Mick and Liz, at least in her marketing campaign, don’t. (Although for different reasons, as Mick just seems like a sexual predator, whereas Phair seems caught in a false move rather than a depraved personality.)

Maybe once I hear the album enough I’ll change my mind. But for now the presentation of Liz Phair and Liz Phair gives me that vaguely uncomfortable feeling you get when you see someone making a fool of themselves.
Rod Taylor, Oxford, UK

She made me think

I don’t get the chance to read Gina Arnold very often anymore, but this was a great article. It’s good to see somebody else besides Robert Christgau actually listened to the Phair album with an open mind. She (Arnold) made me think about why the reviews were so scathing.
Richard Cobeen, Berkeley

I hated you then but love you now

Just a note to let you know I completely agree with your piece. The attacks must have resonated strongly with you, considering the personal vitriol you used to be showered with.

I have to confess, your old stuff used to drive me batty. But I came to understand two things. One was that it was about taste, and the other was that it was largely a matter of opinions, not absolutes of right or wrong. Even when I disagreed wildly with what you wrote, I was always taken aback by the personal attacks that you sustained — you seemed quite the lightning rod. In your writing, you seemed to bear up well, though I’m sure it wasn’t fun to read.

For what it’s worth, I’m a 53-year-old white guy who basically likes the Phair record. (I also read her letter to The New York Times. Obviously, she’s every bit as taken aback by the response as you are. I guess that’s what an “idol” gets for trying to change, or grow up.)
Marc Hoffman, El Cerrito

I like Liz now, but loved Gina then

Hey Gina, I totally agree with you 100 percent about Liz Phair. I’m the only person I know who LIKES it, but I’m guessing no one else has really even heard it. I also wanted to say that I’ve been a fan of yours for years, starting when I read Route 666 back in the early ’90s. I wish you the best … and if you ever want to get married, just let me know.
Bret Falk, Oakland

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