September 24, 2006


I had this talk/mini debate with my darling pal Trevor Kelley when he did this HARP cover story about Chan which was supposed to be about addressing Is Catpower CRAAAAZEEEY? and I can't stop thinking about it since the Times pc last week where she comes out about her drinking problem and everyone collectively (in and out of the blogo-tube) goes "a-ha!" and rehashed how bad some show was once this one time she sucked and she cried and it's good cos now she's normal ad naus. Personally, if I had to spend years on the road sweating under hot stage lights and weight of expectation while being given the panting fuck-eye by a thousand people a night I'd be on the bottle too. I think it's wonderful whenever anyone is attempting sobriety, and she is brave to come out and blink at us in the light, but here is my thought about the rest of it:

The Greatest is her worst album. As a song stylist, she is quite fine, she is much too young and too prime to be rolling out some parched "Moon River" shit over reverbed arrangements that signify "class", all the while sounding like a Thorazine ghost. It's not Dusty in Memphis , it's the type of album that female singers (see Joni, Ricki Lee, Linda Ronstadt) make to signal that they are going out to pasture with dignity-- you leave contemporary pop genre; you go see Nelson Riddle, you do standards. For Catpower, we like that she does this because it seems like she is trying, as we've been taking it to heart when she disregards our wants and expectations of being entertained. We want the beautiful woman to care about our opinion of her and to want to please us, to reciprocate our desire expressed through our $14.50 ticket.

We--writers/indie audience America is the we I am indicting here--have such a double standard about what is acceptable for women artists to be. Drunk and drug addled and/or being terrible live is totally acceptable for any male artist of any genre or cannon--those same things are often times considered totemic to their artistry; Daniel Johnston is a bona-fide case and but he gets to be called "genius". Why can't we hold Chan Marshall to the same standard as we do David Berman? (or even Evan Dando for that matter?)

I was thinking about this when I was watching the Coughs the other night; about what we assume about women when they perform--especially when they sing--about their control. About if they appear to be out of control, wild. We compare them to animals and we call them crazy. The idea of her being in willful possesion of herself, of her beauty, her talent, her expression-- to know what she is doing--or to know what is expected of her by genre convention or social contract (etc.) and to not give a fuck-- is too frightening, too loaded a prospect; the real triple threat. They are not allowed their full agency. Our ideas and imaginations about how women artists are don't allow us to ascribe them the full brunt of their will.

Posted by Jessica at September 24, 2006 06:43 PM | TrackBack