PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Strange Loops: Liz Phair - “Dance of the Seven Veils”

From knocking indie music scene bad boys, to riffing on the tales of Salome and John the Baptist, to re-appropriating the most taboo of anatomical vulgarities, “Dance of the Seven Veils” is a testament to the cunning complexities of Liz Phair’s composer mind.

Liz Phair

Exile in Guyville

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 1993-06-22

“I only ask because I’m a real cunt in Spring / You can rent me by the hour."

And then there was “Dance of the Seven Veils”, the gobsmacking fourth track on Exile in Guyville, and our first taste of Liz Phair’s unparalleled ability to be haughty, naughty, playful, and pernicious all in the same breath. It is also serves as our introduction to Phair’s more abstract tendencies, stringing together erotic and vaguely menacing imagery in deceptive lullaby rhyme. It’s an apt successor to the pseudo-sexual-spiritual interlude “Glory”, but “Veils” seemingly forgets all the gentility of its predecessor; here, rather, Phair is at her wryly seductive best, disingenuously self-flagellating as she voices her demands and desires so her male subject needn’t do the dirty work (and is perhaps is robbed of his own sure to be underwhelming response).

That Phair marries a relatively straightforward plea for her rocker lover to quit being such a bastard (“Johnny my love / Get out of the business / It makes me wanna rough you up so badly”) with overt references to the Salome / John the Baptist beheading myth / Biblical passage / whatever veracious weight you prescribe it (“I have got a bright and shiny platter / And I am gonna get your heavy head”) is testament to the cunning complexities of Phair’s composer mind. Phair cherry-picks her allusions here, making substantial use of sparse ingredients, and sets a peculiar -- but purposeful -- tone by invoking a provocative cultural signpost and pairing it with what would otherwise be a pedestrian tale of romantic frustration.

This Johnny character (who recurs not only later on the record in the even more beguiling abuse and abandonment romp “Johnny Sunshine”, but also on future albums, including the opening track of Phair’s 2005 soft-rock tapestry Somebody’s Miracle, though there he’s addressed as a more stately “John”) frustrates her to the point of fantasizing about wrapping him in plastic and “pumping [him] full of lead”. And yet Phair’s poetic dreams of annihilating him betray a paradoxical desire to keep him, what with her expressed urgent need to “get a preacher” who can “skip the ‘until death’ part”. Her aggression is, in its way, a form of submission.

Likewise, Phair’s struggle to both obliterate and reclaim Johnny is mirrored in her brilliant, if blush-inducing, use of the word “cunt” at the heart of the track’s chorus. One of the English language’s most confounding terms, with its murky etymologies and particularly harsh phonetics, it has been both celebrated and reviled by feminists, scholars, and artists. Phair surely understands -- and exploits -- that ongoing tension, branding herself a “cunt” as a means of exonerating herself for the dog-in-heat visual she conjures, while also verbalizing how Johnny may very well regard her but would never utter aloud because he -- like the other Guys in the ‘Ville -- mistakes shying away from taboo as a display of sensitivity rather than an act of ambivalence Phair sees through.

Setting the word “cunt” to music, embedding it into a sonic narrative as she does, is also something Phair knows, quite rightly, will alter how the listener hears and digests the word: it is uttered not in a moment of misogyny or anger, but with a soft, churchly reverence. Appropriately, “Veils” is awash in electric guitars that have an almost aquatic -- baptismal? -- effect, heard also in subsequent tracks “Explain It to Me” and “Flower”, where passivity and aggression collide (albeit for contextually diametrical reasons). Later, when she professes to know “all about the ugly Pilgrim thing” and extends the reference by punning that “entertainers bring May flowers”, Phair is in essence shrugging off those very puritanical notions of sexuality’s ugliness, emphasized by her (however incidental) beautification of term so often deemed repugnant.

That’s a lot of heavy lifting for one small song.

Previous Installments



*"Help Me Mary" / "Glory"

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.