Y2K Pete

Maybe Buffalo is just another Rust Belt city, but that's why I like its place in the DiFranco cosmology. Ani on tour helps bring a voice to all those demi-Anis struggling to survive in their own little Lower East Sides, and her widening audience shows that those struggles and sites now stretch across America. Although we aren't all laid-off steelworkers, the anxiety that we might inhabit the next private Buffalo now stretches coast to coast as well.

In the remarkable and ignored Disconnected, Barbara Rudolph traces the lives of six employees who lost their jobs at AT&T during the great 1990s downsizings. Richard Sennett's Corrosion of Characterpaints a larger picture of an affluent America where instability in the workplace has made everyone unsure of who they are and whether they have a history.

While the right wing sees the culture of the '60s spreading like an illness and a stiff dose of trad morality as the only cure, the instability that culture was trying to address has spread to the emotional lives of middle managers in New Jersey.

When Bob Dylan cried out "How does it feel?/To be on your own/With no direction home" in 1965, he was inside an expanding subculture. Today, Rudolph and Sennett show, that same question could be politely asked of any corporate commuter on any train or bus.

In this context, a sexual outlaw whose goal was always connection as well as sensation gained a voice and a history and a self not just alone, but for and with others.

Now an insecurity different from but similar to the one she escaped in her adolescence is spreading to adults across the country. Dealing with it requires someone who understands the link between social context and inner life. It also requires a feminist. Only a feminist can reach back through identity politics to an earlier tradition of opposition without slighting either. Only a feminist can bring us that history, that story, that voice. And only a rock and roller can make it seem as much fun as Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad.

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