The premiere of the lyrics video for “I’m Not Your Friend,” the first single off Ruby Friedman Orchestra’s powerful debut album, GEM, reveals haunting, true stories of those vulnerable to predators and a vigilante determined to seek justice outside the law. In the post-election glare, the revenge anthem takes on new meanings.
AFLW: In some ways, “I’m Not Your Friend” mirrors the “Not My President” movement, seeking justice for a runaway election, a crime against humanity. The song, about a woman taking matters into her own hands after the rape of two girls, feels more relevant than before, as women are in even more peril now and targeted post-election. Does it resonate that way for you?
Ruby Friedman: Well, the song is basically a double murder ballad. In the first verse it describes the double rape of two young girls and the murder of one as the survivor escapes and tells our passerby-narrator-vigilante the details and whereabouts of the perpetrator. It supplies a philosophical justification for murder. Not the usual “self-defense” per se but the “in defense of the defenseless” sort of sense.
The second verse describes the animal shelter break-in and murder of dogs as well as the escape of the surviving dogs in Riverside, California. Our narrator-vigilante goes after the culprit. Again, a man.
There is also a sense that our narrator-vigilante is aware she cannot be friends with anyone. She is warning us in the chorus that we are being put on notice. She has priced herself, morally, out of the game of society. She acts outside of the law because the law does not protect the defenseless or the least powerful from harm. The law is simply a law, it cannot preclude systems already in place that create injustices and/or welcome or excuse oppression, a continuum comprised of street harassment, domestic violence, rape, murder, etc.
We have institutional power structures that favor some groups over others, male to female in this case, and they give rise to oppressive behaviors and attitudes deemed normal/acceptable. And those who have power do not favor their dismantling or wish to level the field.
AFLW: How does this song speak to you as a song of rage in light of the election of Trump? Is it more urgent? Do you feel it addresses concerns in this time of heightened danger for women’s lives and safety?
RF: I think that any direct association with this song to Trump is problematic because it is the hegemony that creates conditions ripe for a Trump. He did not create the hegemony. But I can appreciate it offering meaning to anyone informed of post-election anti-feminist implications. Yet the demeaning/domination/subjugation/rape/exploitation and/or murder of anyone who is less powerful than the subject has existed and still exists in the animal kingdom, whether it’s a human child or a non-human child. The grocery store aisles are filled with animals created by forced impregnation. Then, forced separation. Incarceration. Then, murder. All these creatures are defenseless and have lives deemed of a value only in how they can serve humans — as food. We do not assign their bodies respect as we exploit them and they are all less powerful or they would certainly want a say in their personal agency and fate.
The song is basically a dark ballad in defense of two groups that are exploited easily — children and animals — because they are easily overpowered by anyone wishing to harm or exploit them. The narrator-vigilante’s moral code recognizes the law is useless in rape/murder prevention as well as unequal in its application of justice for non-human animals. So she undertakes extrajudicial measures to create justice and harmony in her world.
My personal take on a post-election worldview is so much more than one man’s personality and leverage — not to say Trump hasn’t the personality and leverage to annihilate us all — but what’s more interesting to me as an artist, philosopher and student of history is how this populism demagoguery tactic is so persuasive that people can march willfully toward their own demise and embrace or normalize behaviors that fly against their own religion or self interest and/or survival, wooed by the platitudes of a 70-year-old Twitter user with billions of dollars and no history of philanthropy, human service or a meaningful knowledge of democracy.
Ruby Friedman is a Los Angeles-based pop, jazz and blues singer-songwriter whose influences include Lee Morse, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding and Etta James, and Shakespeare and Thoreau. With the Ruby Friedman Orchestra, she has frequently performed at the Troubadour, the Roxy and the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, among other popular venues across the city. Her original song, “Drowned,” was featured on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.” Her recently released debut album, GEM, was recorded in New York, L.A. and New Orleans, and the essence of each locale imbues its sensibilities. The album is available online at Spotify, iTunes and Amazon.
Catch Ruby Friedman live on Sun, Dec. 4, at 4 p.m. at the “Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan & ‘Together Through Life’ With Chris Morris,” also featuring Dave Alvin, Ronee Blakely and others.
For more information on Ruby Friedman, visit her website, rubyfriedmanorchestra.com.
Photo of Ruby Friedman by Alex Elena