Hailed today as "an American original" (by the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Michael Heaton) and "a genre unto herself' (by People Phranc has come a long way since her idyllic childhood in Mar Vista, California. She was a nine-year-old neophyte surfer when Allen Sherman's My Son the Folksinger first inspired her to pick up a guitar. As a 17-year-old senior, she "came out" to her parents, dropped out of high school, and moved to San Francisco.
In search of the San Francisco's gay community, Phranc ended up connecting with its punk scene instead. "It was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me," she recalls, "because I had never before identified with my peer group at all. And here were people my age who were very creative and exciting and experiencing a lot of emotions."
Back in Los Angeles by 1978, she hooked up first with a synthesizer band called Nervous Gender. "I didn't sing with them," she recalls, "I screamed. A lot of horrible things." A year later she was playing rhythm guitar with "a kind of Gothic reggae band" named Catholic Discipline, who were featured in Penelope Sheeris' ace punk documentary, "The Decline of Western Civilization."
Eventually though, Phranc became frustrated by the fact that punk's volume obliterated the music's lyrics...and she turned to folk music. As this was several years before the neo-folk boom, (she was folk before folk was cool), Phranc's reception at the major labels was pretty chilly. Admittedly, this may also have had something to do with her unique perspective. As People later noted: "Although she opted for a folkie sound, the lyrics of her songs -- including 'Take off your swastika...I'm a Jewish lesbian," a putdown of pro-Aryan punks -- (were) a far cry from 'Michael Row the Boat Ashore."'
Undaunted, Phranc took the money she'd saved teaching swimming, and sank it into the album that would be called Folksinger. "I wanted to make a record that sounded as flat and true as Bob Dylan's first album and which also included the sassy humor of My Son, the Folksinger," she recalls. Recognizing the extent to which she'd succeeded, Rhino Records released Folksinger in 1985.
Then Phranc, who is certainly one of the hardest-working women in show business, hit the road. During the next four years she toured with the cream of the era's alternative rock acts, including the Violent Femmes, the Smiths, the Dead Kennedys, X, Husker Du and the Pogues. She later explained to Outweek's Victoria Starr that "while it's great to play for people who love you, like on the 'womens's music' circuit, I feel that my job is to go out into the big world. You never know who you might reach out there." Of course, there are easier jobs than preaching to the unconverted. David Menconi of The Daily Camera of Boulder, Colorado --writing of Phranc's performance as the opening act for the Smiths in'86 -- captured her daring: "I figured that anyone who could get 10,000 strangers to sing along on a song with a chorus of,'I don't like female mud-wrestling' was definitely onto something."
Then again, as Arion Berger once pointed out in LA. Weekly, "Phranc has made an art out of being all wrong....The rebel-babies didn't like it when Phranc sang "fascism isn't anarchy' and now good girls with Gibsons are threatened by the brutal and witty butch in their midst." Phranc herself, characteristically, is confident that bucking the trend has definitely paid off. "After ten years of opening for other artists, my audience is a very eclectic mishmash of all kinds of people, which is my favorite."
Having paid her dues as a pioneer and opened the door for others, Phranc has a feeling that her time may now be coming. In conversation last year with Beach Culture, she allowed as how she couldn't wait for the release of Positively. "With three albums to your credit," she slyly noted, "the record stores have to give you your own bin."