Divorce Song

Album: Exile In Guyville (1993)
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Songfacts®:

  • Indie rocker Liz Phair was still in college when she wrote this song, about a couple whose relationship starts to disintegrate on a tense road trip, while trying to sort out a friends-with-benefits-type relationship with a classmate. Like the couple in the song, the pair went on a road trip and found themselves at a motel, wondering if they should spend the night together.
  • Phair's debut album was crafted as a song-by-song response to the Rolling Stones' 1972 album Exile on Main St., with this track corresponding to "Ventilator Blues." Phair explained the connection between the two songs in a Song Exploder podcast: "What I got from that song was tension, and everyone's gotta release the tension. In 'Ventilator Blues,' things get like so intense and people just keep slogging through life. So with 'Divorce Song,' it's a lyrical corresponding thing. That was like what it is when you're in a relationship. You're just slogging through together. There are times that you blow up and fight with each other, and it doesn't have to mean it's the end of the relationship necessarily – you just have to ventilate."
  • Phair revisited Exile In Guyville for its 25th anniversary and broke down the tracks in a Rolling Stone interview. She said of this song: "It has that deadpan delivery. It's an ordinary person doing ordinary things, and the action in the song is really just about relating to another person. It feels like an action-packed song. You've done a lot, you've been a lot, you've seen a lot, you've heard a lot, but really it's just two personalities trying to be intimate and bumping up against each other on a road trip and that's all that happens.

    So much of what happens in our lives that we feel so deeply is really no action at all. The stuff that's in movies never happens. There's rarely an earthquake, there's rarely, like, a break-in, and most of your day, you feel like you had drama, but it's just these micro-interactions with people. 'Divorce Song' is very much about that."
  • "I had really specific ideas for the rhythm parts for this song," Brad Wood, the album's producer, explained to Song Exploder, "and a lot of that comes from Liz's guitar style. She does a lot of accents off the beat, doesn't play on the downbeat. The really obvious thing to do would be to play a drum pattern that hits those accents but I had been taught never overplay."

    Wood also explained the Stones' influence on the arrangement: "One of the things that Rolling Stones are so good at is Charlie Watts' drumming. With 'Divorce Song,' I wanted to have an element that complemented and pushed further the accented strumming that Liz does on that song, and that's where the percussion comes in. What makes 'Divorce Song' sound like a Stones song in my mind is that it's got shakers and cabasa playing this odd accent. And every time I hear that start, it sounds like Jimmy Miller, the producer of the Stones, playing the cowbell on 'Honky Tonk Women.' The whole song starts out with the cowbell and then Charlie comes in with the beat. That's what makes a Stones song for so many people. It's the thing that you would hear first, and we don't have to have a bunch of big rock guitars and bluesy chords - it just needs some of these very essential, it's like the whiff of, like a vapor, of the Rolling Stones' essence."

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