I want to tell you how much I love you: Happy birthday, Chan Marshall


The greatest cat named Chan

If it was Cover Friday, I could gorge you with amazing covers that Chan Marshall, i.e. Cat Power, has recorded throughout her long and storied career. Chances are, if you’ve watched TV over the past couple of years, you’ve heard at least a couple already. But I don’t begrudge her shilling. So long as it means she’s working and not under a table in some dank bar in St. Petersburg, I’m happy for her success.

It is well-earned. I remember when her album, The Greatest, came out and a few NPR music correspondents discussed her. Bob Boilan mentioned what an amazing show she had played in Washington DC recently. A music blogger snarked, “She didn’t cry and weep and fall on the floor?” From a pragmatic standpoint, that concern is valid. No one who pays the price for a ticket and actually listens to the music wants to witness the artist implode onstage. But somehow, the fans of Cat Power forgive her for her public shortcomings. They want to hug her.

I watched her play at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco when the Covers album had been around for about a year. It was a little like trying to see the wizard through all the smoke and wacky special effects. She was all long hair in her face and shadows everywhere else. I wondered why someone who was so uncomfortable performing in front of people would choose to go on tour. But she didn’t make any abrupt halts or cuss herself out. She had a coffee-like voice that I thought I might like more if I was 21-years-old.

Fast forward to 2006, after the release of The Greatest. Cat Power’s audience could no longer fit in a shoebox-sized venue in Potrero Hill, and she was playing at the Palace of Fine Arts with auditorium seating. Just to be on the same wavelength, I had snuck in a few of those airplane-compliant bottles of Sutter Hill (in my defense, they were cheap and the only purse-friendly wines available at the liquor store nearest to the bus stop). But Cat Power’s spine had thickened, literally, in that six year lapse. Except for the piano numbers, she stood as she sang. She kept the transitional banter short but friendly and darted off-stage between songs to smoke, but appeared to be way more comfortable than I could imagine myself in a room that size. She gave appropriate praise to her backup singers (who, technically, were both better vocalists than her) and the band, and goosebumps rose on my arm after she performed “Where Is My Love.” I left the theater a little bit in love.

Basically, I think of Chan Marshall’s trajectory as something anybody I know could have experienced. To overshare, I’m no stranger to crazy, or at least feeling as if everyone around me thinks I am. Many people whom I love and respect have or have had very intimate acquaintances with their obsessions and addictions and garden varieties of madness. But, the saying goes, if Cat Power can get through her set without a breakdown, then we can all order another beer and feel OK for a little while longer. I hope that sobriety (“seven drinks in seven months,” as Marshall described it) and music keep working for her.

  • Cat Power ~ The Greatest ~ Matador

Where Is My Love


4 Responses to “I want to tell you how much I love you: Happy birthday, Chan Marshall”

  1. 1 Danielle January 21, 2009 at 10:22 PM

    Huh? Her name is Chan Marshall?? That totally came out of left field, considering I thought her name was totally Kitty (jk). Haha! The Greatest is one of the best most demure albums ever, and I love it!

  2. 2 oldvertue0103 January 21, 2009 at 10:55 PM

    I’m like SO psychic, too. NPR’s song of the day today is from her new EP. Of course, I neglected to mention that this EP exists.

  3. 3 blouseparty January 23, 2009 at 8:10 PM

    remember when Karl Lagerfeld fell in love with her and she started shilling for Chanel and I was jealous?
    me too.

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