Monday, February 7, 2011

The Power of Cat

For those who don’t know her well or have only heard rumblings of her past trials with anxiety and depression – it’s easy to YouTube old footage of her paralyzed, shadowy performances and get the jist of what a day in the life was like for indie-queen Cat Power.

After reading Cat Power: A Good Woman, and listening to her own admission of the distance she went to revive herself and triumph through music, I’m still completely fascinated with the story of Chan Marshall and her decade-long struggle with self-doubt. With this struggle, that landed her a short stint in a Miami medical centre on a mental hiatus, Marshall overcame whatever persistent demons were revolting within her and birthed some of her greatest music yet.

A really eye-opening musical comparison that properly exemplifies exactly the battle she faced, can be heard in music from over ten years ago, when Moon Pix was released. It featured a haunting and unembellished acoustic song called “Metal Heart”. Although lyrically profound and beautiful in it’s own way, the dainty double-tracked vocals and instruments accurately represented the hazy and stunted life she was leading. Still one of her most ingenious albums to date (the life-changing song “Colors and the Kids” will deserve a whole separate analysis at some point), this song and it’s shy, almost cowardly deliverance sets the scene for what her struggles were like in 1998.


Now, flash forward to 2006. Right in the midst of her escape from her own musical and personal misery, Cat Power records one of her most acclaimed and widely known albums to date, The Greatest. In an almost violent upheaval of her own self-intolerance, Marshall re-crafts and re-records her old classic, “Metal Heart.” Only this time, she does it for the seats in the back.


I get chills when I listen to her newest version. It so perfectly encompasses the blatant liberation from a messed-up existence and feelings of musical worthlessness. In 2006’s “Metal Heart”, a strong, beating piano begins the song and distant howling guitars carry it alongside the angry conviction in her unshackled voice. She sings it with heart and with pride, and suddenly, the profound lyrics make so much more sense. It’s as if the small-feeling and troubled young Marshall wrote this song for when she was really ready to sing it – and when she needed to mean it most. The songs builds and builds until the entire ensemble is slamming across the stage, taking whatever was left of the 1998 version and tossing it to the wind. It’s heavy, it’s emotional, and to me – it is still one of the most memorable and meaningful musical transformations I’ve ever heard.

For an artist to cover their own song; to lather it with a new kind of feeling and feed it right back to the universe – now, that’s a beautiful thing.

Metal Heart

Losing the star without a sky,
Losing the reasons why.
You're losing the calling that you've been faking,
And i'm not kidding.

It's damned if you don't, and it's damned if you do.
Be true 'cause they'll lock you up in a sad, sad zoo.
Oh hidy hidy hidy what cha tryin to prove,
By hidy hidy hiding you're not worth a thing.

Sew your fortunes on a string,
And hold them up to light.
Blue smoke will take,
A very violent flight,
And you will be changed.
And everything,
And you will be in a very sad sad zoo.

I once was lost but now i'm found was blind,
But now I see you.
How selfish of you to believe in the meaning of all the bad dreaming.

Metal heart you're not hiding,
Metal heart you're not worth a thing.

Metal heart you're not hiding,
Metal heart you're not worth a thing.

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