You might remember Liz Phair as an iconic, foul-mouthed feminist rocker from the early 1990s. She burst onto the music scene in ’93 with her Exile in Guyville album, and has kept up an intriguing though inconsistent career with such works as Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg (my personal favorite). Phair has always seemed to be on the precipice of failure in the music industry—a failure not of her own making but of external, typically male pressures, and he work can be electrifying because of it.
Now she’s released a memoir, titled Horror Stories, and if your first expectation is that she’s angrily gunning to clear up some misconceptions or exact some revenge on her industry, better adjust those expectations for the better: Horror Stories turns out to be a fascinating, introspective, personal tale of Phair’s journey through life. Very little of it actually touches on her career. It’s an episodic look at the moments in her personal journey that have loomed the largest. Apparently that’s where the title comes from: These are the moments in Phair’s life that have haunted her.
Examples of Phair’s “horror stories” include relationship regrets, memories of her first celebrity photo shoot, romantic misadventures at Trader Joe’s, and—in the episode that affected this reader the most—reflections on her own adoption (and the attendant feelings of abandonment and incompleteness) as she prepares to give birth to her son. Phair turns out to be a poignant writer who can bring your powerfully into her story. There’s a passage in the adoption story that’s one of the most moving I’ve read in a long time.
Horror Stories is a very pleasant surprise, an immersive, intimate, eminently readable pathway toward understanding a controversial celebrity, a book that demonstrates more than anything that Phair is a thoughtful, complex, fascinating human being. Highly recommended for its fearlessness and honesty.
And here’s a look at her latest song, called “Good Side.”