I found Cat Power in college at a time in my life when I really needed to find Cat Power. At the tender age of 23ish, I was emerging from the wreckage of a 7-year relationship that had found me as a teenager and left me unsure of who I was as an adult. I was adrift, a fact that had its pros and cons, and in search of what I was/am. Somehow I’d gone from a black-clad beatnik in high school to a pink-satin sucker strutting around San Francisco like I was Carrie Bradshaw or something. I needed to get the pink out.
So I lived alone for awhile; I wrote prose poetry, was miserable and lonely, and then I began a period of ill-fated dating in which I said yes to any fella willing to ask this broad out. There’s no faster way to discover who you are than to subject yourself to a flotilla of first dates that have no prayer for seconds. Being a lady, most dates ended with a sweet high-five becuase there is nothing less sexual than a high-five: it requires minimal bodily contact, it’s rife with bro signals, and it creates very visible distance between two people. This caught many men off-guard, angered a few, and often, despite my best efforts, ended in an awkard hug and a deflected, overly moist kiss that (thankfully) landed on my neck and not my mouth.
At a point, I gave up on men and focused my energies on writing and, later, music. Cat Power entered my life via her 2003 album You Are Free. Songs like “Good Woman”, “He War”, and “Free” spoke to me with their fragility, their indie grace, their absolute honesty and intrinsic tragedy. It had highs and lows, just like I did at the time. This was a woman to relate to, this Chan Marshall Cat Power, and she didn’t wear pink. Shy by nature, she was entering a stint in rehab in 2006 to remedy the way she used and abused herself in coping with crippling depression that often masqueraded as stage fright. Luckily I never needed rehab for my misadventures, but I was definitely, shall we say, somewhat pickled at the time so I identified with her demons.
Concurrent to my Cat Power discovery, I met a boy who helped hammer the lid shut on the pink-satin sucker I longed to no longer be. He was a writer, he was a mystery; he echoed the whipser that flowed like ink through my pen, and above all…he silently understood it all because he was my peer. To call it love would be to minimize it in some way since this boy gave me so much more: he gave me the gift of myself. I met his friends, a spectacular group of people pursuing passions, who welcomed me in as one of their own. On many a Thursday night, we drank, drove ourselves mad on conversation, and danced like idiots to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money” at a dive bar on Irving Street. In this motley crew I felt, perhaps for the first time in my life, surrounded by like-minded folk, and the comfort of belonging did much to reorient my priorities, help me settle some unfinished business with my previous beau, and, in general, be calm.
This boy and I were not to be the thing we tried to be. Ultimately, it was a classic case of poor timing. Instead we float in and out of each other’s lives now, ironically always at the perfect time, and he remains a sustaining pressure point for my writing, a sort of phonetic accupunture that stills the nerves and let’s the words roll; he is a very good friend. The writing has become habitual to a point where I dare call myself a writer. Cat Power, too, still calls to me. I was fortunate to see her perform at the Warfield in San Francisco a year or so after she successfully completed rehab. She was vibrant, sang and played the piano beautifully, and connected with the audience by handing many of us white tulips at the end. Stage fright conquered, to be sure. And that dive bar on Irving? It’s still there, albeit under new ownership, and I walk by it every morning to grab a latte on my way to work.
On the days that I’m particularly nostalgic, I’ll pause a moment in front of that bar to shift my hot beverage from one hand to another, but really it’s to let the memory of a time when I lived in bars and danced on tables sit for a minute. The past in present, again and again and again.