Exile In Guyville Is 20 Years Old

Exile In Guyville

Exile In Guyville was released in June 1993.

My first awareness of Exile in Guyville was Phillip Martin’s review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette later that year. I can’t find that review online – for free anyway – but I remember it drawing parallels to the Rolling Stones classic album Exile On Main Street, which happens to be the GREATEST RECORDING OF ALL TIME.

On that recommendation I bought it. I was immediately drawn in by the honest, frank lyrics and the lo-fi production sensibility. Exile in Guyville, in a very real way, is a revolutionary record that sounds as fresh and as shocking now as it did then. It was a huge critical success.

The Chicago Tribune catches up with the record in this 20 year anniversary interview with Ms. Phair and others. If you are a fan, it’s an interesting read.

They thought it was just confessional. They thought that there was no sort of self-editing process. My favorite thing is to be really brilliant while like just off the cuff. That’s my aesthetic, high-low. The fact that they didn’t think that I could be intelligent enough or artistically formal enough to intend things to be the way they were deflated me a little bit.

But I’m not here to talk about the record or Ms. Phair, but to document how the discovery of Exile In Guyville completely altered the course of my life.

In late 1993 when I started listening to it, my first marriage was in the final stages of disintegration. I remember listening to The Divorce Song from Exile in Guyville over and over and over. Even at one point begging my then-wife to “Listen. Really listen.” I would tell her. As if there were some message she was supposed to be getting from it.

When 1993 rolled over into 1994, I changed jobs, going from a stressful and unhappy ad agency job to a corporate marketing job where I was very happy. The then-wife and I also bought a house out in the country that spring.

Early that summer, the wife moved out. The divorce was final in late December.

I lived by myself in the big country house for a while. My best friend lived with me for a short time. My crazy meth-addicted cousin moved in for a while and then moved out. Eventually, I had the place to myself.

I picked up the guitar again. My nephew would come over and I would show him a few chords. He introduced me to Nirvana.

I was lost and lonely, but not really sad or unhappy. I was mostly directionless. I drank a lot.

I listened to Exile in Guyville constantly. Tom Petty’s Wildflowers was also in heavy rotation. Due to the nephew, Nirvana became an obsession. If I wasn’t working or sleeping, I was playing guitar.

My corporate marketing job provided me with my first non-AOL connection to the internet. I remember Netscape being released very early 1995, providing a graphical interface to the nascent World Wide Web. There wasn’t much on the internet in those days, but Netscape proved the potential of the concept for universal access and usability.

In early March, I discovered the Liz Phair listserve. For those of you unfamiliar with listserve, it was basically a way to have a group discussion with folks via email. A precursor to chat rooms, message boards and discussion forums.

The Liz Phair listserve had maybe a couple hundred dedicated fans. It was about as inane as you would expect, and I grew bored with it pretty quickly, but didn’t unsubscribe. Most days a few postings would come through. Some days, nothing.

And then one day an interesting question came in. It questioned and expressed surprise at how men could relate to what was essentially a feminist statement. Grrrrl Power and all that. The post ended with “You can answer via email if you want, so as not to clog up the list.”

I don’t really remember what I said. Probably something along the lines of “I’m a huge fan of Exile on Main Street and that was my entry to the record, but I love the raw musicianship and the smart lyrics and besides you don’t have to be a girl to be a feminist.”

I’m sure Kyran would remember my reply differently, but that started a correspondence between she and I.

At first it was all light and fun, but we started sharing details of our lives and getting more personal about things. We would both spend hours each day composing long emails to one another, Exile in Guyville long forgotten. It was intoxicating. We began connecting in a deep and profound way over the internet.

Kyran lived in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada and I lived 3,000 miles away in Little Rock, Arkansas.

After a few weeks of this very intense pen pal relationship, I learned that my creative partner at the corporate marking job was leaving for an ad agency job, and suddenly I was without a very close friend and work partner, just as the correspondence with Kyran was ramping up considerably. We were actually talking about meeting. In person.

But here’s the thing. The raw honesty that I perceived in Exile in Guyville sort of set a template for the correspondence between Kyran and I.

I remember making a decision early on, that I would simply be honest about who and what I was. I told some little exaggerations here and there about the external things, but I was completely honest about the internal things – what I thought, how I felt, what I believed and who I was.

Unbeknownst to me, she had decided to do the exact same thing.

Kyran and I did meet in person that June, and again in September. Shortly after that second meeting, I resigned from my corporate marketing job and moved to Mexico. She joined me in January. A few months later, we came to Little Rock. Although our plan was for this to be a short layover to somewhere else, we’ve been here ever since.

Since those first emails between us, that’s what has the meant the most to me over the years – the honesty between us. She knows all of me. The good, the bad, the in-between. Kyran loves me for exactly who I am.

In a very real way, I have Phillip Martin and Exile in Guyville to thank for that.