cat power – the greatest

it’s metallic pink! eugh. i think it’s meant to be ironic. and this brings me to one of the strongest feminist statements that needs to be made through my collection and music generally.

i am the first to admit that i prefer male singers over female, but that has nothing to do with whether women are as talented or capable at creating music and performing it. but the way that  chan marshall has been “treated” by music media and some fans exposes an undercurrent that sometimes frighteningly reminds me of the misogyny that exists in the gaming world (of which i can thankfully and unnerdily say i have no experience). an example from a review of earlier this year characterises her as “the lovingly erratic chan marshall (AKA the music world’s hottest mess)” and cites the frustration and impatience of the crowd waiting for her to appear, then nullified by her fragility that made the reviewer want to give her a cup of tea and wrap her in a blanket. that’s an offence to people struggling to obtain mental health and overcome addiction, not to mention women.

i first saw chan perform (and i mean just her, no band) in melbourne in december 1999. my friend and i flew over just for the show, even though she was scheduled to perform in adelaide as well. to us at that time, melbourne had to be cooler than adelaide! hot tip: it’s not. a film played on the wall behind her and she was in the dark. she sang quietly but could be heard perfectly. it was an unusual show, but so affecting. you could sense the uncertainty, but it didn’t affect her ability to perform gorgeous music. she walked off without saying anything after a full set.

she made it to adelaide before we returned, and we later read the review in dB magazine that lamented she had performed only a handful of songs, apologised and walked off stage never to return that night. we felt all the more fortunate to have seen her in melbourne, for it was truly amazing.

i saw her at least two other times, one of which was at the anu bar here in canberra. she performed a full regular set like any other band, seemingly in great spirits, and extended the show for those who stayed on by playing the piano and telling stories. i think we started wondering whether she would leave before dawn. on another occasion at the gov in adelaide, though, i lost respect for her when she berated one of her band members openly throughout the show. who knows what, if anything, had happened off-stage to prompt the events on-stage – but i’m a firm believer that there are few excuses decent enough to justify that. i felt worse because i saw the looks on jim white and judah bauer’s faces as she did it.

whatever perceptions are of her live performances, this album itself arrived at a point in my own life when i had moved beyond what she could sing to me. the previous album was unbeatable in my mind, and i will get to that, but the three intervening years obviously led me to take different paths.

chan’s voice remained remarkable on it though, as always, and she is still unparalleled in spite of many women singing so like her these days. however, the songs and instrumentation generally aren’t engaging like her earlier work. at least three of the songs have been recorded elsewhere: willie (as willie deadwilder, to come), the moon and love & communication. each of those songs is better in its alternative form than on this album. i will largely say the same of the other album in my collection that covers one’s own earlier music…

instead of embedding a song tonight, i’m linking to a feature on pitchfork last year wherein amanda petrusich visited chan in miami. it’s worth reading for the storytelling as much for the story.

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