petite mort In this issueLa Premiére No.1 2003
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Every one of us could describe what it feels like to have our heart broken. What goes through our minds when we accidentally put our hand to the hot stove. We could communicate without words a thousand different thoughts about feeling the wind through our hair during sunset at the beach. Human beings relate through similarities, and we have many, many similarities. This could be defined as empathy, warmth, and compassion – the greatest miracle that humanity has known.

Not all of us are in touch with this element of humanity as much as Chan Marshall. She has refined this tool in the form of her music, named Cat Power. There are an infinite number of things we can choose to say to each other and innumerable actions we can choose to take every day of our lives. But how many of us feel compelled to express ourselves sensitively with the intention of connecting to another? There is a motivation in Chan’s communication that is truly treasured, difficult, and beautiful. She tells stories in her songs that not everyone has the bravery or intimacy to share.

We constantly fall into circles of getting close and pulling away [...]

We all have stories we could tell. All of our stories are important to us, but some have a better chance of being heard. To be recognized as important takes an introduction understood as genuine, and good looks don’t hurt either. ‘You are free’ (matador) leads in with a song called ‘I don’t blame you,’ a bright, melodic anthem of appreciation and reflective forgiveness that possibly she wrote to herself. You remember the svelte image of her with sparkling eyes covered by dark, long hair, simply gorgeous without effort.

My friend Claire shared with me a revealing story about her experience at a recent Cat Power show in Pittsburgh. Claire met Chan after the show and told Chan that Cat Power’s latest album You are Free has become her break-up album (check out track 3, ‘Good Woman,’ I dare you not to get emotional) and that she loves these songs for getting her through some difficult times. Chan thanked Claire, asked her name and if her parents named her after Molly Ringwald’s character in ‘The Breakfast Club.’ Claire laughed but said that she was born after the movie was released. Chan smiled, perhaps embarrassed of making the comment after having drank so much bourbon onstage, and said she was ‘going to do a trick.’ Chan quickly spun herself around in a circle and darted away into the crowd.

There's always a risk of expressing love, because it may be unrequitted.

We constantly repeat cycles of getting close and pulling away, sharing how we feel and then being painfully silent. In essence, the fragile subtlety of human closeness is as enigmatic and intense as a Cat Power song. We’re on the edge of a self-expressed explosion (‘I never meant to be the needle that broke your back’) and a second later retreat back into the nameless, rowdy party crowd like an embarrassed, cowering cat (‘a direct hit of the senses, your disconnected’ – or is it you ARE disconnected?).

If you’re alone and in a contemplative mood, preferably with headphones on, or in your home or in the car, listening to ‘You are free’ is the closest you can be present to the abstract dynamics of human relatedness. Trembling, whimpering, yelling, you grow more disillusioned and amazed. You’re never quite sure if this is the greatest love you’ll ever feel, because you’re afraid your partner might turn away and break your heart.

There’s always a risk of expressing love, because it may be unrequited. There’s a fear about cracking a joke that no one may laugh. There’s also the chance that writing and performing a song, that no one will listen and no one will care. If you have the patience to love, laugh, and listen, then this album will cuddle up to your soul and purr next to your heart. You’ll experience the magic of being alive. X


Marisha Noel Chinsky is a music publicist, musician, and artist living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. In addition to the essay on Cat Power's You Are Free, Marisha has contributed to some music reviews in the music review section. Marisha can be contacted at