Spectacles of Devotion: Ani vs. Adi

I love listening to songs first thing in the morning. I have a habit of waking up in a very emotionally vulnerable state, both raw and easily triggered: put on something loud, Bratmobile or Fugazi or, admittedly, Marilyn Manson, and I’m angry and pumped and in a do-or-die mood for the rest of the day. (Which is sometimes useful — when I have 3-page to-do list, for instance.) On the other hand, when I start off with something tender and brooding, like my beloved John Denver, I expect to have an easygoing, restful, hakuna matata sort of day.

This morning, the song that popped on walking to work* was a tremulous, moody song. It started out quiet, with a sort of automatic drone in the background and loud, sustained notes wrenched more than plucked out of an acoustic guitar. I remember when the Ani Difranco album Dilate came out, and the first song came on for the first time. We’d all known the song before. We’d heard Ani perform it live in concert countless times before. It was a breakup song called Untouchable Face, raw, angry, belted-out between a slammed guitar and a throat that was always sore by the end of it. That was the Ani Difranco we loved: raw, pissed-off and self-righteous.

Only, on the album, the song didn’t sound like that at all. It was quiet and reflective. It was tempered and thoughtful. The lyrics, which onstage she sang as if it was the moment she realized the relationship had gone to pot, were, on record, withdrawn, introspective, even hopeful. This wasn’t the heat-of-the-breakup passion, which is red-hot and then fades: this was a new, taking-it-in-stride passion. It was a reserved passion, a long-term passion. The kind where you look back on an old relationship and, as stupid as it was, you feel pretty good about it.

So that song came on my headphones this morning. And then, as the vocals began to trickle in, I realized: the song that popped up now on my phone wasn’t Ani Difranco at all. It was the song “Ata Kadosh,” the theme from the film Ushpizin, which wasn’t an Ani Difranco song at all — it was sung by the Hasidic rock star Adi Ran.

Posted on September 15, 2008

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