what we talk about when we talk about cat power (the singer/songwriter chan marshall) depends, even more than most conversations do, on how we got in, on where we're sitting, and on who's beside us. her substance abuse and crippling social anxiety are better known than her music in some circles, and it's widely understood in the indie community that cat power shows can be transcendent, or train wrecks, or both. over at the awl, dave bry wrote that he'd be skipping her show here in new york city after hearing reports that she's revisiting the bad old days:
[I]t worried me to read, in August, in Amanda Petrusich's profile at Pitchfork, that Cat Power was drinking tequila and whiskey. Steve Kandell's piece in Spin was more explicit: she was wasted. It worried me more to learn, late last month, that she'd been hospitalized in Miami for undisclosed medical reasons.when i was in college, i lost my youthful invulnerability all at once. at one moment i was unaware of the sea of faces impossibly far below me, and at the next i was a tightrope walker without her legs. i eventually relearned how to be in public without crumpling - thank god for tolerant professors and a strong support network - but on some nights the anxiety still echoes down there, and the feeling that i could fall forever is one i won't forget. i've wanted to hear cat power's music live for a decade: her version of "satisfaction" is one of the cleverest covers i've ever heard, and her own songs feel like lullabies from a lost moon. i heard the new album when we were in iceland, and it was fucking great. i've also wanted to bear witness to her recovery, as if seeing her in her spotlight could distance me from my own darkness.
Her concerts have been falling apart again, too. Two weeks ago, the Miami New Times' David Von Bader described a show at Grand Central Miami:
With a golden beam of light shrouding her silhouette, the songstress rallied and got through the song, swaying and itching a bit in what could only be described as a mime's imaginary box, set in the corner of the stage.
On Monday, in Toronto, she was described as seeming "scattered and frail."
I don't think that she is feeling fine. Or, if she is, I don't think that she'll be feeling that way for very much longer. The connection between musical genius and drug and alcohol addiction will not be news to anybody, but this instance is striking me as particularly depressing. Here I am, enjoying one of my favorite artist's new music, celebrating its return to a level of brilliance previously achieved—quite possibly at the expense of that artist's well-being.
Cat Power is playing at Hammerstein Ballroom tonight. Tickets are still available. Maybe it'll be great. I hope it is. Let me know.
it doesn't work that way, of course. i can follow reports that chan underwent a horrible breakup just as she finished her album, or paddle around in her unauthorized biography (an interesting if not unbiased read) and play amateur psychiatrist, but her darkness is as foreign to me as mine would be to her. she halted one song last night, saying that it didn't sound right; we cheered loudly anyway, she and the band began the next song without incident, and we all kept going. "superhero," she said, pointing to a face in the crowd. "superhero," pointing to another. "superhero," pointing at herself. that is my reaction to cat power: i keep going.
my favorite song from sun, a song she didn't halt, is "nothin' but time;" give it a listen, if you have a moment. it's the first track of the mix tape i'm making for my best friend's daughter.