Tuesday 18 November 2008

It is strange how much one person can change in ten years.

We will start at the beginning. This is a performance by Chan Marshall from about ten years ago. This is the version of "Metal Heart" on her 1998 record "Moon Pix", which happens to be the very first Cat Power record I ever bought, about four years after the original release. If I think about how I discovered her - more accidentally than anything else - searching for a cover version of "Wonderwall" I had heard on the radio that was actually by Austrian band "The Billy Rubin Trio" and stumbling upon her version of the Oasis-song in the process, it occurs to me that this is one of the cases proving that "finding" music is such a remarkable thing. At 15, "Rockets" and "Nude as the News" were songs that I could not compare to anything else I had ever heard before. They were stunningly intimate, impossible to share, drawing you into a different state of mind.

"Free", released in 2004, soon became my favourite record. I marvelled at how the complexity of the songs evolved over time, how on "Free", each line added an instrument, how in spite of the repetition and symmetry each song still got somewhere. "Cross Bones Style" off the "Moon Pix" record is a good example: its like a mantra, kind of inescapable - the video to the song features dreamlike choreography, slow motion group dancing.

In 2008, two years after "The Greatest" changed everything, Chan Marshall released "The Jukebox". I had already felt bad about having to admit that "The Greatest" did not meet my expectations because it was -- less raw, less dramatic, less sad. For somebody who does not like Chan's music, the older records must sound hopeless, like she was lost - but for me, they were actually helping. They were beautiful art created from a feeling of misery. Essentially, I did not connect to "The Greatest" because it was not a record for unhappy people.
There is a new version of "Metal Heart" on "Jukebox", a record compiled of cover songs, like "The Covers Record", but different because of the shift that had happened before. A version of the song that encapsules Chan Marshall's development as a singer and songwriter. This sense of loneliness is gone. She isn't alone on stage in the video above, yet you feel that she is somehow still lonely and not really connecting with either the other musicians or the audience. Later, when I discovered Christian Petzold's movies, I would often ponder this: how this sense of people who are meant to always be in a frame on their own, with nobody around them, and who still seem alone when they actually are sharing a scene with other characters, also applies to Chan Marshall as a performer - or used to apply, until these amazing concerts with the Memphis Rhythm Band started to happen.
Here is a performance of the new version of "Metal Heart":

Everything is different now. If you didn't know that this is the same singer as ten years ago, you'd think they weren't even remotely related. I never really understood all these articles about how Madonna re-invents herself every few years, because it is difficult for me to imagine how you can actually actively invent yourself as a public persona - but this is something different, this is a story about overcoming your fear of sharing your songs with an audience. In an interview Chan said she didn't realize before that those people came because they loved her songs, because they wanted to see her live, because they adored her as somebody who gave them this beautiful music to listen to.
So the end of the year is quickly approaching and I only put "Jukebox" on the list of things that didn't quite make it up there - despite the name of the blog, or the fact that I am still and without hesitating going to say that name when asked for my favourite musician.
Just that now, my favourite musician has been in a movie alongside Norah Jones, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz ("My Blueberry Nights" by Wong Kar Wai).

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