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“Cat Power as Part of a Search for a Larger Truth”

In a post about two months ago, I think I chided pitchfork for framing their Speedy Ortiz interview with some comment like Sadie Dupius gaining “boss status,” and “agency as a woman.” I sort of feel ashamed at myself for doing this, but I also cut myself some slack because I think it might be women’s instincts at work which are working to attempt to kill off all men.

But I dunno, I subscribe to an ideal, an ideal of music fandom that says that musicians will always be outsiders… I mean I guess it’s “punk” I’ve imbibed, but even pitchfork in its early days had this totally un-yuppie sneer, spitting on the establishment and holding music, usually rock like Brainiac or The Dismemberment Plan, as sovereign. This sort of attitude, of zeitgeist, is inspirational, and it gives us a break from the competition we face in the albeit pretty livable economic paradigm of capitalism. [1]
“He War” is a Cat Power song I’d like to begin with, in my endeavor to illustrate how she is unmatched historically in the department of pop/rock’s harbinger zen. [2] Her mission statement became more prominent and pronounced on 2003 album You are Free, compared with the spookier but more metaphorical Moon Pix from ’98. Cat Power is attempting to zoom out, finding scruple with the capitalistic paradigm of competition and superiority, apparently ascribing to these things a spiritual degradation, and rightly so. Anyway, the value in this, if music has any value at all, is getting people in a placid, content state of mind. Indeed, there’s something just intrinsically SUPERIOR about Cat Power. She’s got a beautiful voice, and by You are Free the production hits on all cylinders, the guitar sound rotund, the vocals throaty, syrupy and mix-encompassing. Apropos of how I once had a dream I was at a Cat Power show, although I’ve never seen her (I also had a dream about being at a show of Beach House, whom I did see, at the 2010 pitchfork fest, and who blew away Pavement that day, Pavement whose Wowee Zowee I rank on this site as the best album of all time), the songwriting is undeniable. She could do an MTV Unplugged and it would be a classic album, provided at least some motivation on the artist’s part. “He War” is no exception: “He war he war / He will kill for you… / I’m not some hot new chick… / We’re on to your same old trick / Get up and run away with it.”
Of course, anyone who’s been around love is skeptical of Cat Power’s askance mode here, knowing that visceral power is a prominent player in romance, and that women can be wooed by it. But the opener on this album “I Don’t Blame You” is about Kurt Cobain, and about his committing suicide, Cobain who wrote a song called “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” and wanted to call the album In Utero that. So we’ll willingly ascribe to Cat Power some self-hating here, and see that on “He War” she at least MEANS well, and wants a world without war.
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[1] But don’t take it from a man, just cite Franny’s character in J.D. Salinger’s grand finale novel Franny and Zooey: “I’m not afraid to compete. It’s just the opposite. Don’t you see that? I’m afraid that I will compete–that’s what scares me. That’s why I quit the Theatre Department. Just because I’m so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else’s values, and just because I like applause and people to rave about me, doesn’t make it right. I’m ashamed about it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody” (30).
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[2] I use the word “zen” so freely here partly with the aid of Lester Bangs and his reference to Franny and Zooey (sorry, don’t feel like being jolted by Bangs’ prose right now in looking up the exact essay, but it’s all essential reading for anyone anyway, from either Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste or Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung).
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Addenda 1: The Cursorily Efficacious Critical Knock on You are Free
Rob Mitchum, an old pitchfork writer, fan of early Sleater-Kinney, The New Pornographers and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists among others (and I believe the Hot Hot Heat album Make up the Breakdown, which he took some flak for among the writers there) grew vitriolic before the track “Names.” “Names” is included toward the end of Cat Power’s album, after the sort of centerpiece titled track, and got the rap for basically being lugubrious and unneeded, extraneous on an already “classic” album, which by all parts it is. I’d like to offer, though, a sort of theoretical, not a musical, or even artistic, reason as to why Cat Power chose to include this song. It has to do with her very aversion to competition. Also, she ascribes to the listener some hard bark. She does not think that we will become too depressed by “Names,” otherwise she would not have included it. Also, she’s in an attempt to avoid issuing an album that should become a “poster child,” or collection of “summer anthems,” of sorts. She is adverse to the idea of America’s success. So she does not want actually to imbue disaster in the listener, but she does want to get him or her OUT of the mindset which would facilitate success in the capitalistic empire. She is actually attempting to quell American functioning, musically, hence “Names”’ inclusion.
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Addenda 2: Franny and Zooey
Ok, now this piece is in danger of just dissolving into an attempted conversation with the now deceased J.D. Salinger, and it’s hard to tell what he’s more put off by: Christianity, or the human race. We’re all attracted to the “unhinged” among us. Anyway, I’d set the limit of pages of this novel I can read without seeing tears well up in my eyes at about six. It’s a tour de force of a condition of “the walls closing in,” as Bukowski would put it, replete with authentic, vivid and declarative “low grade spiritual counsel” (195) and a scene cited by Lester Bangs in one of his methed-up rants, Bangs who was also a Bukowski fan.
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Salinger, J.D. Franny and Zooey. Little, Brown and Company, 1955: Boston.

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