CRITICS WILL TRY TO GIVE YOU THE IMPRESSION that any listener can make
sense of a record on one or two hearings. With rare exception it just
doesn't work 行 not even with the most simpering of pop songs, expressly
designed for a shelf life of limited duration. Sounds corny, but music does
have a magic to it that only gradually reveals its tricks, if in fact it
a related, rather mysterious phenomenon of how a certain song is wholly
excruciating the first time you hear it, and the next time ... and the next
time ... and ... and there's always a next time, 'cause the dumb thing just
won't leave you alone; strangely, you might even arrive at the point where
you can't live without that excruciatingly dumb song. So, what goes on in
that murky area between the loathing and the loving?
how it's been with Cat Power and me. The pseudonym of singer-songwriter Chan Marshall, Cat Power has for
a few years now made the rounds with several albums' worth of songs that on
cursory listen seem intended to make you feel bad. Bleak's one word for it,
I thought early on: Who 行 aside from very young women alone and afraid in
the great big city after breaking up with their boyfriends 行 has the time
or inclination to wallow in someone else's misery? Give me something that
makes me feel alive!
I listened to Cat Power's big-bummer music anyway, because I had been told
that it was worth the effort, that it could even change my life, burn away
several supposings about myself and the secret language of music. Thus I
kept torturing myself with Marshall's seemingly forlorn guitar or piano-accompanied
musings on life, love, confusion, blades of grass, this color and that
abstract painting. And I achieved a breakthrough of sorts. On her 2003
album, You Are Free, Marshall 行 frustrated with her imposed image as the queen
of sadcore 行 makes a semipoppy attempt at the blatantly upbeat, and,
something like a flower opening up, the music reveals itself as most likely
never having been a bummer at all. Put it this way: If it's a bummer, why
does it make me happy?
called Marshall at her home in Atlanta, where she was rehearsing for an
upcoming road trip, and asked her about all this.Come to find out that she's, like, an actress 行 spacy
and happy (I think she's much in love), bubbly, warm, funny and (busted)
very charming. We exchanged a little chat about various silly things, like
the grommet-encrusted punk rock ring she got for her young fashion-model
boyfriend ("It's kind of scary," she whispers), and my superweird
star chart (all planets except one are in Leo), which makes the astrologers
run screaming from the room.
that's so cool," she says.
I say, "I'm either the second coming of Christ or a latent
the rather beautiful Cat Power moved back down to her native Georgia five
years ago after 11 or so years in New York, where, after being discovered
by Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, she became not just a respected figure in
the downtown art-music scene but a much-photographed model for designers
such as Marc Jacobs. But she went back home "'cause I had important
things to do."
say to Cat Power that I get the feeling, listening to her often deeply
interior music 行 usually more like an outpouring of vague impressions of
wishes, regrets, yearning, loneliness, alienation or visual scenarios
("and love," she adds) 行 that her music is something she doesn't
like to make big plans for, like the idea is to wait and catch something
while she can.
just do what I wanna do," she says. "Sometimes, it's like you'll come home and 'Man, I
really gotta write something down,' maybe at your typewriter, a cup of
coffee, sitting there 行 'I
just gotta write some shit down.' Or you'll run home and you're like, 'Oh God, I can't wait to get my paints,'
or 'I can't wait to go home and fuckin' play guitar.'
kind of makes time feel like it's going forward 行 and it freezes time. It
makes a space that opens your mind a little bit, you see more colors and
you see more visual stuff, not just your surroundings. If you're sitting in
a jail cell and someone pumps the music, you might see more than the jail
Power's songs have a timelessness to them. I feel like I've been hearing
them all my life.
she says sweetly. "Thank
makes a song feel timeless?
so mysterious that we all like certain music, or we all like sunny
days," she says. "We all have that sort of communication that we
don't articulate, because it goes beyond words. It's a sort of instinctual
kind of thoughtlessness, even, that we can't think about 'cause we're too
busy doing our jobs or raising our kids or trying to be the best person in
society or something."
THINK OF CAT POWER'S MUSIC AS A MISINTERPRETED thing. Is this sad music for
depressives to crank while sitting in their rooms and gazing out at the
rain? She's not big on jokes, but listen again for an almost vibrating
black humor. Her inspired persona of forthrightness and ambiguity seems a
rare gift, and it's as if her ambivalence is a running theme in her songs.
does ambivalence mean?"
feelings. You might be addressing a certain subject, but you may not know
how you really feel about it."
guess I think about things. A lot of people think that I'm just sad and
quiet and whatever, but I'm just feeling my environment."
best things Cat's done seem to have been captured instantaneously, rather
than slaved over in the studio. Parts of the You Are Free album, though, are a bit
more produced than her previous work; among her other past records, Moon Pix, recorded in Australia
with members of the Dirty Three,
was a way-loose affair of creaky, stately piano and electric-guitar squawk; The Covers Record featured Cat in austere solo
versions of her favorite pop classics and obscurities, from Hank
Williams to the Velvet Unerground to Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. But You Are Free, with guests Dave Grohl on
drums and Eddie Vedder on Lee Hazlewood-like croon, works hard in spots
apparently to prove that Cat Power can wake up and really apply herself when she feels like it. The
emotions on several cuts, such as "Free," the vitriolic "He
War" and "Speak for
Me," are, how you say, more in your face or up your bum this time
around. But that could be a temporary phase.
poppy songs were just fun to do," says Marshall. "I was thinking
about teenagers and how they're like the boys over here and the girls over
there and, you know, they're so scared of each other, but they like each
other so much, but there's nothing in school that kinda helps them get
along. I know they teach sex education, but they don't teach understanding
and communication. Sex, sex, sex, sex 行 and then when they go home they
don't understand the human part."
power works in an organic way. If you put her music on and listen to it
like you would the wallpaper, invariably you're drawn toward it. It's in
the way she adorns the tunes so simply, and it's in the unspectacular,
untrained normalness of her voice, which pulls you in like the way a
teacher got your attention by whispering. And it's a deceiving voice when
pitted against the well-chosen words she chooses to sing. Hear
"Say" from Moon Pix, where her monotone reading of the line "Never give
up" would seem to trickle irony. But: Bleak, as in empty, isn't the word for it; when she
follows that line with "The music is boring me to death" in "Colors and the
Kids," it's funny. And it's mysterious why that is.
cobbling together the songs Cat Power has accumulated over the last five or
so years, comes after a period in which Marshall was thinking that she
didn't want to be a musician at all anymore.
it's part of the thing that people don't know about," she sighs.
"People say, 'Oh, you know it's so great that you get to do what you
love.' But if it's all you do, it's different." Currently Cat Power
has the urge, though, and inspiration still comes from somewhere in the
is like a place where there's no limit," she says. "You have that
within you, like with painting 行 there aren't any rules; you don't even
have to think about what you're saying or what you're thinking. That's the
best thing about creating; it's just making stuff up."