Evenhanded biography of the indie-rock chanteuse.
Admirably avoiding either hagiography or hatchet job, Blender editor at large Goodman constructs her judicious nonfiction debut mainly from the input of music-industry scenesters closest to Chan Marshall during her evolution from interestingly awkward up-and-comer to the hot international commodity known as Cat Power. The author especially excels at re-creating the neo-bohemian social milieus that shaped Marshall’s life and early career—specifically her anarchic Southern Age of Aquarius childhood (raised by a mildly schizoid mother and struggling neo-hippie musician father) and her early-1990s struggles as a starving artist in not-yet-gentrified neighborhoods like Cabbagetown in Atlanta and New York City’s Lower East Side. Marshall’s rise to indie-rock scene-queen was sparked by an anti-performance ethos that seduced alt-rock power-brokers like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Gerard Cosloy of Matador Records. By the mid ’90s, her childlike fragility on stage and soul-baring vocals had positioned Cat Power as the most talked-about act on the NYC scene. She combined an irresistible androgyny with intensely personal songs that managed to be as confessional as they were inscrutable. Goodman dexterously tiptoes around any absolutist judgments on whether Marshall’s now-legendary onstage meltdowns were contrived publicity stunts or simply the result of a genuinely shattered psyche; we’re logically led to believe it’s a combination of both. Although the author reveals a deep-seated respect for her subject, she doesn’t let the slippery singer-songwriter off the hook. Detailing Marshall’s near-psychotic episodes, weighing her quietly manipulative nature or describing her 2006 near-suicide attempt, Goodman expresses a polite skepticism that penetrates the haze of press hype and effectively navigates through the artist’s self-mythologizing smokescreens.
An impressive balance of journalistic objectivity and sympathetic tribute.