You should first know that I bought two tickets weeks ago without actually having a date lined up for the show, because too many times I’ve been the guy who buys one ticket and then a potential date/concert buddy/couple-who-would-make-me-feel-all-third-wheely-anyway bails and I’m stuck going to a sold-out show by myself. This time I thought ahead – added the on-sale date to my Google calendar and got an electronic reminder 15 minutes before. (This should indicate the fanboy rabbit hole you are approaching.)
But I haven’t gotten as far as filling my +1 and the August 26th date is fast approaching. Would you go to Cat Power with me?
Before you agree to come along to what you think will be a laid-back Friday night at Webster Hall, you should know that The Greatest still gives me chills now some five years after it dropped; every new spin reawakening the haunting, satin-wrapped voice of Chan Marshall (the sound of which my ears still refuse to believe belongs to a living person).
You should know that the time when The Greatest was in its heaviest rotation on my clunky old iPod was a particularly emotionally vulnerable period for me, having just learned of a diagnosis that would turn into a fatal bout of leukemia for my dad; a period of financial destitution that would disprove the Pollyanna-ish hope that a full-time job would stave off financial ruin. I had just settled into a quarter-life-crisis malaise where all prospects of professional career, romantic life and greater meaning were being washed away in a bland haze of joyless southern heat, drank away via the bitter, watery beer I turned to while living on a South Carolina resort island for several years.
To really understand what’s at stake, you should know that You Are Free was instrumental in bridging a gap in between The Terrible Crap I Listened To Before The Internet, and The World Of Real Music With Meaning. So you should know that “He War” will cut me deep, exposing raw bone from an incarnation of myself long before I moved to New York City. And you should know that if she plays “Good Woman,” I will feel the collective shame for every relationship problem I’ve caused over the years, even though none are really that bad in comparison to Chan’s shredding portrait of love gone to bad places. If you go to the show, I’ll turn into one of those people who secretly covets deeper pain, even if for just a few hours on a Friday night.
You should know that when I listen to any Cat Power album pre-You Are Free, my brain automatically releases some heretofore unnoticed emergency cache of red wine tannins and it’s the only time I ever crave a cigarette, not in the drunk-party-on-because-I-won’t-remember-this sort of way but in the hunched-over-the-kitchen-table-at-1-am-scrawling-manifestos sort of way.
I will most likely tell you that out of all the albums that jockey for position on my All-Time Top Ten list, The Greatest is the only unflappable flag, while the winds of age constantly reorder and demote the various ska, garage rock and Springsteen tracks that make up the rest of its inventory.
You should know there’s a good chance I’ll bristle at noise at the concert or shoot particularly pointed arrows of disapproval at what I will unfairly judge as bridge-and-tunnel suburbanites who came in to hear a replay of something they heard in the background while Juno was blathering on.
I’ll probably tell the story, at least once, of the first time I saw her perform oh so many years ago in a steamy desert tent packed with sweaty, fragrant dipsters (desert hipsters) at Coachella 2006. And I’ll stress the part about how she still seemed so frail and scared on stage despite the strength of a powerful, beautiful album and soulful backing band lifting her from behind, until, that is, she unleashed the jaunty, self-assured refrains of “The Greatest.” That was when she pulled her veil of hair back from in front of her eyes into a quick twist behind her head to reveal her stunning Chanel-model of a face, the one she kept packed away like precious porcelain for all those years beset by stage fright, now revealed and —
“Wow,” I said to my friend or maybe just to myself, “she really is beautiful,” in the full, ancient sense of the word.
As the song went into bouncy instrumentals she sprang forward in a fighter’s stance, raising her hands in mock boxing gloves, as she hopped about with rabbit speed and fought phantom enemies from entering stage right, like she was protecting us, the audience, from her own demons. The crowd, struck by the sight of her bursting into life with a fight stance and then whisking into a ballet move, exploded with cheers, encouraging her as if they were worried she was still in danger of taking her toys and running off the stage. “We love you Chan!” someone shouted. It wasn’t me, but it might be on Friday.
You should also know I will probably drink from my flask for a large portion of the evening and that the drunkenness I plan on getting lies somewhere between “wistfully attentive” and “sloppy emotional wreckage.” It’s also possible I may get so transfixed I forget you’re there and forget to share the flask.
You may want to bring a flask of your own. Unless, of course, you get chills in the same way, in which case it has the potential to be a great night. So would you go to the Cat Power show with me?