Saturday, September 30, 2006

Cat Power...

The cat comes back
By Cynthia Joyce

Sep. 30, 2006 Prior to the arrival of this year's polished and sweetly upbeat "The Greatest," listening to any one of Chan Marshall's six previous records required bracing yourself to get seriously bummed out -- though, if you were depressed already, well, you weren't likely to find more soulful solace anywhere.

Marshall, the itinerant chanteuse who performs under the name Cat Power, chalks up her Southern gothic sensibility to an unusual and unstable Southern childhood in the '70s. "Did I grow up eating government cheese? Yes," she said during a recent interview with Salon. "Did I go dumpster diving while my parents were at Charlie Daniels Band concerts? Yes. And did I grow up in the tobacco fields of North Carolina and in youth groups singing Christian hymns? Yes."

Marshall, 34, got her start as a singer touring and collaborating with giants of the indie rock genre. After moving to New York from Atlanta, she opened a few shows for Liz Phair in 1994, signed to Matador Records soon thereafter, made a bona fide indie classic when she paired up with Dirty Three's Jim White and Mick Turner in 1998 for "Moon Pix," and later recorded with Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl on 2003's more bombastic "You are Free." She became a critical favorite based on the strength of her recordings, and cultivated a cult following in spite of her legendarily unpredictable performances. In a 2004 New Yorker profile, the accompanying Richard Avedon photo revealed her for the helpless eccentric she is -- topless but hiding behind a Bob Dylan T-shirt, her jeans unbuttoned revealingly as if to say, There are still some taboos worth breaking here.

Her music inspires an intense, brooding intimacy, but listening to it at home is one thing and seeing her perform is another -- her notoriously spotty live shows have driven many fans to swear off seeing Cat Power altogether: "She's great. I love her. I can't ever see her again."

So when Marshall put on two sold-out, back-to-back knockout performances at New York's Irving Square Plaza in mid-September, it felt like a historic event, the triumphant turnaround that had long been hoped for. Finally, the Queen of Sadness seemed happy to be onstage and capable of delivering a performance that matched the nuance and depth of her recordings.

Predictably, some longtime Cat Power fans argued that the full-band production of "The Greatest" has taken away from her signature sound -- the album was recorded in Memphis with some of the original architects of the city's R&B sound -- but talking to Salon two days before the New York shows, Marshall largely credited her collaborators for her newfound confidence.

"They've been around the block quite a few times, have played with all these amazing people -- James Brown, Aretha Franklin -- and they have all these amazing stories," she said. "One of my favorite musicians of all time is Otis Redding, and to actually have somebody like Teenie [Hodges, the guitarist] who knew the guy -- all I can say is, good, good, good. Just to know that they survived that lifestyle, and that they're still, like, youthful in their hearts, and in their love for playing, just keeps me ... you know, it just opens a whole new idea of a life for me."

Marshall's made no secret of the fact that sobriety is a big part of this "whole new idea of a life, " though when she appeared onstage at the first of the Irving Plaza shows -- a verse late, lighted cigarette and coffee in hand -- it seemed for a moment like the old Cat Power had returned, and the audience's apprehension was palpable. But when the band launched into the title song from "The Greatest," an amazing thing happened -- the backup vocalist went ahead and sang the harmony line without her, and it was as though with that simple gesture she had given Marshall just the boost she needed to come out of herself. Marshall started out affecting cockiness -- gesticulating erratically, prancing and self-mockingly fluffing her breasts before she finally made her way to the microphone for a tentative finish. But by the time the band moved into "Living Proof," a song well suited to the lush instrumental accompaniment, Marshall's confidence was real, and she took a moment afterward to greet the audience with a broad smile and a Southern drawl that was not self-mocking at all: "Heyyyyy Y'all!"

Watching her newly discovered self-assurance onstage, it was hard to believe that just a few months ago, her label, Matador, was forced to cancel her scheduled tour due to her long-running battle with alcoholism. She says she quit drinking early this year, though, and has been mostly sober since (she admitted to having seven drinks in as many months in a recent New York Times interview). By talking about her alcoholism, it does seem as though Marshall is offering, if not an apology, at least an explanation to loyal fans.

And there was certainly a lot to explain. She often performed wasted, and yet she was still capable of captivating an audience. At one Knitting Factory show in 1999, she genuinely seemed to want the audience to know the full schedule for some great roller skating rink in the Bronx, telling them all the details: "Thursdays are Old Soul night -- that's the best night -- although they have a Friday night hip-hop night, and that's pretty fabulous, too..." It was partly nerves masquerading as stage patter, but it was almost maniacal, and like many other Cat Power shows of the pre-"Greatest" era, not a single song was sung in its entirety at the show.

At a show in New Orleans in 2004, Marshall at one point came down from the stage and curled up into a ball on the floor -- still singing something, not a song exactly, more like the dregs of a dirge -- and several fans gently reached their arms around her in a futile attempt to be consoling. "Oh, I remember that show," she says now. "God, was I depressed. I was having a really rough time at that time in my life. Things are a lot better now. I'm sober since February."

There are still some ghosts to exorcise, of course -- her recent show in Chicago did not, and perhaps could not, live up to the recent hype surrounding the new Cat Power. And when asked what her favorite song to perform is, she answers without hesitation, "I Don't Blame You."

"I'll never tell you what that song is about," she says, and then immediately starts to. "That feeling of not being understood, but supposedly being understood by everyone ... being inside of a spectacle, it's like being a prisoner of war. I don't know if that makes sense. It would be like being in an insane asylum, where you are who you are, and the only person you've ever been is yourself, but then they want you to be someone else.

"What it's about is very simple," she continues. "It's about someone who plays the guitar, but to me it signifies sort of Everyman's feeling. I just like it, because I can feel like that, like 'I didn't want to play this fucking song tonight,' and it can translate to the audience. There's a lyric in it, 'You never owed it to them, they never owned you anyway.' I like saying that to the audience.

"I like that I can look at them and say that to them. It makes me feel good about being a musician. Because maybe I didn't sound good that night, or maybe I didn't [sighs heavily] give a good performance. But at least I was able to look at the 14-year-old kid and maybe somewhere it resonated -- maybe that kid got the words, that nobody owns me.

"A lot of people think my music is sad. It's not sad, it's triumphant. I'm triumphant," Marshall says. "If people can be open enough with themselves to be creative and let things like that come out, you know, allow themselves to feel things enough to be that honest with themselves -- I feel like that's really positive. Even though that might sound sad."

Marshall has a tomboy's troubled attitude toward being beautiful. When during the Irving Plaza show she did another mock fluffing of her cleavage, she excused her antics by saying, "We all try, right?" When the audience laughed appreciatively, it was the cue she was hoping for: "Guys don't have to try, and it pisses me off. But we all have to wear perfume and makeup, because we stink and we're ugly, right?" It was an effective device, comic relief from the gravitas that would immediately follow as she sat down at the piano to play a heartbreakingly beautiful solo, Nina Simone's "Wild Is the Wind."

Asked about whether all of her songs are about love, she offers some insights into her writing process.

"All creativity comes from a place in everyone where we don't have love," says Marshall. "The people that love to receive that creativity -- listen to it, feel it, interpret it -- it comes from the same place. I've felt that for about 15 years, that the space where love is, that's where creativity comes in. It's creating -- creating is from love. People say that sex isn't love, but it sure as hell feels like it, right?"

In the song "Good Woman" from "You Are Free," Marshall expresses all of the humility of heartbreak without a trace of hardness:

I will miss your heart so tender
And I will love this love forever.
This is why I am lying when I say
That I don't love you no more.

As if no adult could possibly project such innocence, she's backed up by two little girls on vocals.

"I had just been with someone I'd known since I was 18, and I was deeply in love with him for a long time, and I was just sad, you know, and I couldn't do it anymore," Marshall says, explaining the song's origin. "I was sad. I was all the way across the world, calling him -- two friends of ours had just passed away in Atlanta, and I was just really sad. He was an alcoholic -- he's now since sober, has a family -- but he couldn't love me in that state. I don't know. He was a drunk. He loved me, but he couldn't find the responsibility to respect me the way I needed to be respected -- I mean, it was just half-steps and backslides all the time. It wasn't like he was mean or hurtful. He was a really big part of my life. I couldn't be angry with him, but I needed to move on, you know what I mean? I just had to move on."

She's moved on in other ways, too. During the best moments of the Irving Plaza show, it sounded less like Marshall was carrying a tune than riding one, at times getting tugged away by subtle melodic nuances as though at any moment she might be swept away onto another song entirely. Her guitar solo of "Love and Communication," for instance, sounded at one point like it might become Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." She can also take a song you've heard literally a thousand times before and make it sound totally new -- a feat she pulled off with a heart-wrenching cover of "Rising Sun," another version of which was released on a four-song live EP. She made it her own by switching up the lyrics slightly to more closely match recent history:

My mother was no tailor
She stole my everything
My father was a music man
Do you really know what that really means?
There are many houses in New Orleans
We call the rising sun
It's been a life of sin and misery
Oh god, I am done

She took off a pair of pumps she'd put on during an earlier song and played air drums with them before bowling them off the stage while moving into an encore of "Satisfaction." On the recorded version of "Satisfaction," in a voice that sounds certain of failure, Marshall trails off while repeating the refrain "I'm trying, I'm trying..." During the Irving Plaza show, the words became the chant of someone who was actually enjoying the work, a cheerleader on a chain gang. That night, Marshall actually sang the refrain, "I can't get no satisfaction," which was funny both for being so raucous, and because it seemed so obvious that she finally has.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Another Site

D- the woman who fostered Theo (back in the days when he was aptly named Dribble)- emailed me another blog site that is about a woman with a household of cats.

Looks like someone else out there has as much (if not more) feline excitement in her life.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Nobody Told Me There'd Be Days Like These

Last night I was downstairs eating my dinner. Thompson sat in the living room window watching the quiet street in front of my house. Theo and Diego raced upstairs and I heard a big clunk as some piece of furniture was knocked over.

Thompson looked at me and I swear he sighed. Usually he tries to keep up with the other two as they are chasing each other around but this time he didn't seem to have the energy.

I think I knew exactly what he was feeling.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

If the Shoe Fits...

Some of the boyz obsession recently in getting fed has crossed the border into whining. And since I'm trying to fit in with the rest of the household, I think I'll contribute my share...

Here's been my routine the past month or so: I get up at 6 a.m. and am off to work by 7 a.m. If it's nice out, the most enjoyable part of my day is my scoot to and from work.

I get to work around 7:25 and then by the time my morning coffee has kicked in and I'm actually awake I look at the clock and it's around 10.

I've been getting out of work around 7 or 8 in the evening, just enough time to fix myself some dinner and go to bed. Rinse, lather, repeat.

The past three nights I've finally gotten a chance to watch the second season of Veronica Mars. I got the DVD around a month ago. The plan then was to watch an episode a night but I've been too tired to do that. But for three nights I've watched 3-4 episodes a night. It's quite good. I love the character of Logan Eckles.

The boyz must pay attention to the sound and light on the TV because they usually don't join me until I turn the TV off. Or maybe they just don't think Veronica is as good a show as Buffy was.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How About Those Twins?

The Twins have clinched a spot in the playoffs. This is pretty remarkable given that back in May the team looked exceedingly mediocre- the type of team that just sort of plays out the rest of the season with little hope of contending.

When they did get hot the newspapers calculated what they would have to do the rest of the season to pass the two teams in front of us, Chicago and Detroit. Back in June it was something like if Chicago and Detroit played .500 ball the rest of the way the Twins would have to win 75 percent of their remaining games.

Since that level of baseball is pretty much unheard of, and since the Twins didn't appear to be that good a club, and since Detroit and Chicago didn't appear to be the types of clubs that would struggle long term, the outlook didn't seem so promising.

But the Twins did keep up their run of playing remarkably good, crisp baseball and both Detroit and Chicago did hit some hard times (Chicago in particular).

It's been a terrifically fun season.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Separation Anxiety

Some mornings it is much more difficult to leave the boyz then others. As the morning routine gets to the part where my departure is imminent, one of the boyz usually goes by the front door and hangs out as if to block my exit.

Thompson gets a sad look on his face. Diego tends to get disobedient- sometimes going to the couch and scratching the fabric (always sure to elicit a scolding). Theo just tends to get energetic and crazy- racing around the room.

Of course I interpret all this to be some form of separation anxiety but perhaps it is exactly the opposite: the boyz getting all pumped up about finally having the house to themselves again.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Kneader

Theo is a kneader. He loves to stand on a pillow or a blanket and do that back and forth thing with his paws that cats love to do.

I noticed his obsession with kneading the first night I brought him home and he continues to do it much more than Diego (Thompson of course is incapable of doing the kneading thing).

This morning as I was lying in bed underneath my covers Theo was kneading on top of me. He stopped for a moment and I must have moved my hands or something because he bounced and hit me quite hard. He's such a playful chap.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

More My Time

Ever since Theo came aboard Diego-san has tried hard to carve out times that he has my undivided attention. Originally "our" time was right before bedtime after I fed the boyz their last meal and as I headed upstairs to get ready for bed.

This is the time I comb Diego, and he always used to be the first upstairs after finishing his meal. Now days Thompson often comes up too mainly to get a drink of water out of the upstairs faucet.

So now Diego has taken to coming up after I feed the boyz their first meal of the day and as I go back upstairs to get ready for work. I've been checking my email as I drink my morning coffee and Diego has been coming up and howling at me to let me know he needs attention. He usually hops up in my lap after circling me a couple of times and then he lives up to his overly affectionate self.

Truth be told however, I think I enjoy "our" time as much as he does.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Staying Put

After weeks of head wrenching back and forth thought and soul searching I decided to turn down the job offer to a job that seemed to offer a tremendous opportunity.

My current employer made it clear that they really wanted me to stay- and they've offered to put me on some special projects that might be interesting.

Still, I'm not entirely sure I made the right choice. I thought that once I made my decision the stress of trying to figure out what direction my career should go- would lessen. It didn't. Instead I just felt a gripping numbness- and the unrelenting feeling that I will look back at all this three years from now and wonder why I didn't change things when I had the chance.

Of course coming home to the boyz was a tonic for the blues. Once we settled into our evening routine- some of the disappointment began to lessen.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Theo has this tendency to like to stand right by one's feet. This gives him ample opportunity to rub up against people- one of his favorite activities.

This also means one has to pay attention as to not step on him. The other night I ran downstairs to grab a video tape to bring up stairs to watch. I didn't turn on any of the lights because it wasn't meant to be a prolonged task

Once I got the tape I saw that it needed rewinding so I hit the rewind button on the VCR. Once it was done I ejected the tape, turned around and headed towards the stairs. Unfortunately I didn't know Theo was right by my side the entire time and I ended up not so much stepping on him but kicking him. He immediately ran away and into the main level bedroom. I felt horrible, so I went and found him- and he cowered from me. I picked him up and reassured him that it was all my clumsiness and I wasn't trying to hurt him in anyway. All was forgiven twenty minutes later.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

ThankYou -d-s

It's been an incredibly stressful time in my life. Thus I've really appreciated my boyz more than ever before.

And especially Diego-san. His naturally affectionate nature has calmed me during my own self inflicted storm. And his independent, care free, do what you want personality is one I think I'd be wise to adopt.

Thanks Diego-san

Monday, September 18, 2006

Where Did Summer Go?

The days of open windows and fresh air are numbered. There's been a real bite in the air the past few days made even more cold by light drizzle. It may not be fall yet but the weather is pointing out that it soon will be.

The boyz have been extra peppy the past few weeks. Maybe it's due to something akin to spring fever (fall flu?) but all three have been running around the house as if they can see imaginery mice that are just out of my sight.

I can also tell the nightime cool air is having an impact on them as well since all three have now taken to sleeping in bed with me. That arrangement makes sleeping a little more difficult since there isn't a whole lot of room to roll around in bed. A less devoted cat person would probably kick the boyz out of bed but I just don't have the heart.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Smooth as Sandpaper

Graceful may be a word that is in the cat's job description but it isn't a word that typically applies to Theo.

He's good at knocking things over. When he comes over and stands by me, he sometimes misjudges the distance and ends up standing on my feet. After he's done eating I usually have to pick up dropped morsels of food from around his dish.

But all that really is what makes Theo Theo.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Snoozin (and losin'?)

A lazy Saturday resting up after a long work week. For the second Saturday in a row all three boyz were pretty wound up but by mid afternoon all of us were taking a nap while the baseball game of the week (Chicago losing to Oakland yeah!) played on the TV.

Then when evening came upon me I went out to dinner with my Dad at a great and fairly new Vietnamese restaurant (Hoe Bien at the corner of University and Lexington Avenues in St. Paul). I came home and listened on XM Satellite Radio to the Twins ' important win over the Cleveland Indians.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Gotta Hold On

My fantasy baseball team (the defending champs, the Osaka Cat's Meow) is in trouble. We've been in first place since the All Star break but the second place club (the Minnetonka Mallards) are just a point behind now and the Mallard's strength is the Cats' Meow's weakness- pitching.

I was counting on Twins' phenom Francisco Liriano's return to clinch the league for me. His season ending injury doesn't bode well.

Can the Cats hold on? Can they fight on? The next few weeks are sure to be nail biting and stressful. Life can sometimes be that way.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Thompson is my window cat. While the other boyz will occasionally spend time looking out an open window- they usually don't do so for very long.

Thompson on the other hand will spend hours sitting looking out the bedroom window that overlooks the backyard. This probably has something to do with him spending the first year of his life roaming outside.

When he does lounge around the house he tends to look forlorn and depressed more than bored and pensive. I do wonder if he misses his days as an explorer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Great Smoke Detector Incident of 2006

Over the weekend I was upstairs doing some work. I kept hearing one of the downstairs smoke detectors beeping- indicating that its battery was low.

I asked the boyz to go down and take care of it, but none of them volunteered their services.

In a few hours the beeping was happening more often and on a regular basis so I found a new battery. To change it requires me to stand on my highest chair. I moved the chair over underneath the smoke detector. Now all three boyz were curious. Diego, of course hopped up on the chair and looked down at Theo and Thompson.

I removed him, changed the battery and went back up stairs. A few minutes later I heard another beep. Turns out I changed the battery on the wrong smoke detector. D'oh!

Monday, September 11, 2006


Got my tickets to go see Bob Dylan in October. This will be the 33rd time I've seen him including last winter five shows in London.

With a great new CD out (number one in the country!) I can't wait to hear live versions of the new songs.

Center row seats, on the main floor. Did I mention I can't wait?

Saturday, September 09, 2006


I had a meeting in Buffalo, Minnesota, a city about an hours drive from my house. The meeting didn't start until 1:30 so I was planning on enjoying a leisurely morning with the boyz and then leaving around 11 a.m. so I would have a chance to eat lunch at a restaurant in Buffalo.

For whatever reason all three boyz were full of pep and mischief. Every time I walked up or down stairs either Theo or Diego or both would race up after me. Thompson was running around in the main level hall and bedroom. There wasn't a moment of peace to be found anywhere.

The drive was nice. The weather has been cool and crisp suggesting autumn is in the air. I got back home around five and was so tired I decided to lie down for a nap. I must have been more tired than I knew because I quickly fell asleep and was out like a lamp. An hour later I woke up groggy and disoriented. All three boyz surrounded me in my bed, suggesting too that they too were in need of a nap.

At night I went and saw Lyle Lovett and his large band give an eclectic performance.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Happy Birthday

Today is Thompson's designated birthday (which he shares with his favorite person in the world).

I gave him his favorite treat after singing happy birthday to him. Of course Diego glared at me as if I had finally lost my mind and Theo looked blankly at me as if he wasn't sure what was happening. Thompson seemed glad for the extra attention.

I'm blessed to have the fortune to live with Thompson. He's a terrific cat- dutiful and devoted. Every moment with him has been a joy.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Safe and Sound

There's a tear at the bottom of the main level bedroom's window screen. The other day when I was mowing my lawn I saw Diego-san had positioned himself in the window so that he was leaning against the screen. I'm sure he could have crawled out the hole in the bottom of the screen had he wanted to.

As a precaution I meant to grab the always useful duct tape to provide a temporary solution to the tear but I forgot.

That evening when I was getting home late at night I saw a black cat wandering around in my backyard. My heart sunk as it occurred to me that Diego might have gotten out. I rushed into the house and was greeted by Thompson and Theo but there was no sign of Diego. This always concerns me since Diego is usually right there to greet any visitors to the house.

But moments later Diego came down from upstairs.

Just another exciting little moment about nothing in our household.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Our Game

Theo, Diego-san, and myself played an odd variation of catch today. Theo loves to chase these crinkly balls and bring them back to me. Diego decided to join in only he wasn't trying to retrieve the ball so much as to avoid Theo crashing into him in pursuit of my throw.

So Theo would run after and bring back the ball. I would pat him on the head and pet him and praise him for being such a great fetch player. In the meantime Diego would saunter in watching me, and preparing himself for the throw.

But he wasn't about to race Theo for the throw- nope he would run in another direction from the the flight of the ball as Theo tore off after his prize.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day

Had a very relaxing day off and long weekend. Didn't do any labor other than mow my lawn (I thought Diego-san was gonna hop out the window he seemed so curious as to what I was doing).

Unfortunately I've been absent so much from the house that the only time the boyz seem to see me is when I feed them. So now their obsession with food seems to be more greatly linked to my presence. Guess I'll have to spend more time at home.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The World's Most Stoic Clown

Man he must be putting me on. But I can't tell.

Diego has a wacky streak to him that adds to his abundant personality. He loves to get into places that the other boyz wouldn't even dream of. Last Christmas I bought a cabinet that opens from the top without a latch. When I woke up from a nap one afternoon I saw two nonchalant eyes looking at me from inside the cabinet.

One day I found Diego perched on top of the refrigerator; another peaking out the top of my waste paper basket. Today was another new resting place in his repertoire- inside my backpack. When he discovers one of these new places he looks so unemotional like it's no big deal, nothing new- but he's gotta be goofing off doesn't he? I can't help but chuckle.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bridging the Gap

Ever since Theo's arrival Thompson doesn't devote on Diego-san nearly as often. It used to be Thompson took the time and responsiblity of cleaning Diego. In fact, I rarely ever saw Diego clean himself because he just got used to the idea that Thompson would do it for him.

Now, Thompson rarely if ever cleans Diego. He instead is giving that service to Theo. And because Diego has the most sensitive stomach of the three he is now urping up a lot of hairballs.

Thus I have to devise a plan to get Thompson to return to his Diego-san devoting duties. Not quite sure how to start on that plan...

Friday, September 01, 2006

Our State Fair

It's State Fair time and since I live within walking distance of the fairgrounds that means a lot of traffic (both vehicle and pedestrian) around my house.

It also means that every night around 10 p.m. fireworks go off and the boyz look like they think it's the end of the world. It's a lot of commotion that has nothing to do with them yet it breaks up the usual routine just a bit for them.