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Liz Phair: A Rock & Roll Star Is Born

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The blueberry pancakes have just arrived at the Bongo Room, a favorite Wicker Park hangout with an earthy, crunchy feel. There is a problem: "The blueberries are on top of the pancakes," Phair tells a waitress. "I want them in the pancakes. I eat here all the time. They have never been on the pancakes." The offending flapjacks are promptly replaced.

The subject of sex comes up, as it is wont to do. Phair has been keenly aware of her sexuality since she was young. Her earliest erotic memories were triggered by the illustrations in Alice in Wonderland. "Can I confess something really gross?" she says. "Those men were slightly erotic to me. The skinny legs, the big noses. I don't know." She also got an unexplained charge out of "Darth Vader, big time. Until he had his head taken off." Mr. Green Jeans (Captain Kangaroo's neighbor) also provoked a reaction. "He was such a peripheral character," she says, analytically, waving a fork. "There was something about him. Kinda quiet, always doing something. He was the male, busy like Dad, but he had the time to come fuck you."

Phair's personal supernova is Jim Staskauskas, a film editor and her constant companion of more than a year. The two met when he edited her first video, "Stratford-on-Guy." Phair had a dual reaction to him: "I'm thinking, 'Who is this dick?'" she says. "He had the whole editor, bigger-better-older-than-you thing going. But I also had an immediate physical reaction to him. I don't get those reactions anymore." Staskauskas, a genial regular Joe with his girlfriend's coloring, took his time asking her out ("He played me like a goddamn fiddle"), but now the two are inseparable.

Phair, in fact, is primed and ready to get married. She may be part Marilyn Chambers, but she's also part Sandra Dee. "I'm up for it," she says with gusto. "I don't see marriage anymore as the end of my life. It's not a step down, it's a step over." She shrugs. "It sounds exciting." She has the scene – who knew? – fully envisioned, complete with dress and a small ceremony by the beach. Staskauskas is more cautious, having been married before and being the father of one 15-year-old son named Aidan. The three live together in an apartment in Wicker Park. "It's weird for Aidan, and it's weird for me," Phair concedes. "But luckily, we get along."

Phair's relationship has had a measured effect on her writing. "The whole attitude of Whip-Smart is affected by him, affected by my new way of seeing myself," she says as the Bongo Room's proprietor stops by to say hello. "But I really couldn't say. I've never been able to write about people. In fact, I wrote some songs that were directly about him, and they didn't make the album." One tender love song "came out sounding like Don Ho. It was supposed to be the ultimate light-rock Carly-forever love song, and here I am making, like, 'Tiny Bubbles.""

Surprisingly, Phair says she doesn't often write about people she's involved with, which begs the question: Wasn't one specific former relationship addressed on Exile in Guyville? Phair has been cagey about this in interviews. Pulling an answer out of her recalls the Whitewater hearings. "I tend to write more about imaginary scenarios," she says carefully. "Or scenarios that aren't actualized but could have happened. In a way that's my infidelity. Or I code them up, so that only the people that I want to hear them do. It's like a little secret garden." Meaning Guyville was not about one person? "It's not that simple. I answer this a lot of different ways, because I don't want it to be known one way." She pauses and fiddles with her napkin. "That situation just naturally defused. It was never real in some way. That's why I could write a whole album about it." It, meaning one person? "It just pulled out of focus, and my life changed. You can have personal tragedy and not remember it very well in five years." All righty. Meaning you had a personal tragedy with one person? "I did Guyville for myself, because I wanted him to know who I really was." Phair 1, interviewer 0.

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