The first time I heard Chan Marshall’s voice, on a Cat Power song, we clicked instantly. It was 1995 and I found her on a mix tape sent from overseas. Separated at birth, we were; Cat Power and I, convinced; an "AHA!" moment; my long lost twin showing up during Sweeps Week. Although the cassette would eventually suffer death by meat tenderizer and roaring fire, it was too late, the bond had been made, our destiny set. She was my better half, this “Chan Marshall,” and the torch singer I always wanted to be.
"This is music people commit suicide to," my twenty-three year old roommate begins, after hearing Cat Power a few too many times, back in 1995 "like slit your wrists, blow your brains out, stick your head in an oven."
"I know, don't you love it? It's just so visceral, so real?" I answer, off in a daydream.
"Why do you love it so much?" my roomie continues "Why do you love her so much? I mean, I get it, its intense, it can be romantic. It's about love… like, not having any?"
"She's a torch singer," I say, "And I was born to be a torch singer. Plus, we have the EXACT SAME BIRTHDAY!"
"You want to be in a constant state of unrequited love, don't you?" she asks.
"All great artists are" I answer back, confidently.
"Well, if you play her CD in the house, one more time, I'm going to blow your brains out," she continues, "It's not, you know, healthy for you to listen to this all day long..."
"What do you mean? " I ask, still daydreaming while talking to her.
"You're...impressionable...and kind of volatile..." my friend goes on.
I know what she is referring to, random spurts of anger and violence leading to the destruction of my vintage bedroom set. Cat Power had nothing to do with it. In fact, I believe Yo La Tengo's "Painful" was the real culprit. Goddam Ira, Georgia and James; their tear inducing melodies.
"She's a nut case," my girlfriend continues
"A temperamental artist," I argue, "hey, aren't you the same girl who played the theme song to Midnight Cowboy, "Everybody's Talkin'" three hundred times in a row one night? Even put the song on our answering machine? Now that song, that’s depressing. The last thing I want is a dream with Ratso Rizzo in it."
"Fine, play Cat Power all you want, just wear headphones!" she screams; her time of the month, probably.
Chan Marshall sang like Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin, you know, "damaged?"
The first time I saw Cat Power live, Chan Marshall hid her face behind long hair and her back faced the crowd as she sang.
After yelling at the audience to be quiet, numerous times, Chan Marshall ran off the stage, and, into a hallway near the coat check. She turned every handle of every door in that hall until she found one unlocked. I watch all of this and we make eye contact briefly. I see myself in that half second.
Chan Marshall slams the door behind her and I hear her sobbing in the restroom. I place my hand up on the old Oak door, gently, in an effort to connect with her. Twins are often lost without the other, or so I had heard. I wanted to tell her, "You don't have to come out, if you don't want to."
So, I’m standing in an alley outside of Schuba's bar waiting for the bus boy to take out the garbage at around nine o'clock at night. At age 39, I had accumulated what I thought was enough damage to sing a torch song properly - as Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power .
So, I sneak into Chan Marshall's dressing room at Schuba's thinking I am at least five steps ahead of the game. I have electrical tape, to tape her to a chair; a bandana to gag her, and a bottle of Bourbon(I had heard she went off the sauce.) I merely planned on incapacitating her for one song. Then I would set her free, we would drink some Bourbon together and braid one another's hair. She was going to be my best friend. Twin's always are.
I wanted to sing just one song, you know? Before I hit 40? Even Woody Allen let Diane Keaton sing "It Seems Like Old Times" in Annie Hall. That was brave. I couldn't wait til I was any older to be brave, you know? The time was now to be brave. I wanted to be brave like her - like Annie.
Annie was nervous up on that stage... but she sang...anyway.
I was surprised at what I saw in the dressing room when I turned the lights on. Three computer screens showing stock market links, a Jessica Simpson poster on the wall and a macramé blanket over the chair with "Nixon 72'" embroidered on it; a half drunk Kombucha on the desk. I wanted us to be alike; she would know all of my deep dark secrets and desires, wouldn't she? I'd overlook the kitsch decorating to bond with her, Chan Marshall, my sister.
I go to take a sip of the Kombucha, to swap spit, and then, WHAMMO, I am hit on the neck and knocked unconscious.
I wake up in the chair under the Nixon blanket; my own body, electrical taped down, the bandana around my mouth. I look across the room to see Chan Marshall reading the stock tape on MSNBC eating Greek Yogurt. It was like discovering a peanut M and M stuck in a car seat, while battling PMS, I was that happy. I think, "My long lost twin. Finally, we meet!"
Chan notices my eyes are open and puts the yogurt down. I see her typing on a keyboard and wearing - a navy Ann Taylor pantsuit?
Chan flips her phone open, "Yeah, buy Big Blue, William Buffet just did. He's a closet liberal, but we'll take his economic lead. I just wired you the funds."
Chan flips the phone off and turns up Fox News loudly. I hope she is not doing it to cover my screams when she dismembers me.
"Think you'd get one over on the old Chanster, did you?"
"You realize I studied with the Mossad in Israel. Don't worry about the loud music, I could have killed you an hour ago, but I don't have time to chop you up and bury you before the show starts. Plus, I just bought these Clark's Easy Spirit loafers on Black Friday. God, I love Capitalism!"
I couldn't decide what freaked me out more, the fact that Chan Marshall jokes about almost killing me or the fact that she wears Easy Spirits?
"Alright, I am going to take the bandana off and you can tell me why you broke into my dressing room."
Chan Marshall pulls out a shotgun from under her desk and points it at me.
"Just no screaming, okay?"
Once the bandana comes off I can breathe again.
"You're not one of those crunchy liberal lesbian stalkers are you?"
"No, I'm your twin. And one of your biggest fans."
"What do you mean, twin?"
"We have the same birthday. We are both turning forty this year."
"We are, are we? So that's the only reason you're here. Not to rip my Ann Taylor pantsuit off and make sweet lesbian love to me, but to wish me an early Happy Birthday?"
"I assure you, that is not why I am here. But "sweet lesbian love" is on my list of things I have not done before turning 40. It is number 5."
"Oh, you want to know why I am here, well, I want to be a torch singer. I wanted to sing one song as you, on stage, before my fortieth birthday."
"Not exactly the worst request, I've heard" she says, putting the shotgun down, by her side. She starts to chug some Immodium.
"I still get stage fright. It even gave me ulcers. That’s why I have to chug all this junk, and eat the yogurt."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. I have incredible bouts of stage fright to. Not usually in front of a crowd, but one on one definitely. If I am alone with one person, a man usually, I get restless, I am afraid of, you know, having to be myself?"
"I learned a long time ago that to be an artist, one must not be afraid to reveal oneself. It is an essential part of creating art. Art is new, even if it is a new interpretation of the past. It must come from a place that no one has seen yet," Chan continues.
"Wow, well, the way you make it sound, it's beautiful, and not so scary." I answer.
Chan Marshall sits down in a chair and looks at me - seriously.
"In my spare time I am a tea bagger" she says.
"You mean you like balls in your mouth?" I ask
"No!" she answers
"You can't possibly mean...?" I ask
"I'm a Republican" she states
"But we are Aquarians, independent thinkers; we don't belong to any political party. Didn't you write in Hillary Clinton, like I did? Couldn't bear to vote for Obama. Can't ever be part of a majority."
"All Commie scum." she says, shaking her head back and forth.
"You need to educate yourself, watch Fox News"
"I don't watch television news of any kind; Liberal or Conservative. I think tv is all about personality and lies, and I don't have cable."
"If you play my latest album backwards, you will hear Newt Gingrich's first Congressional acceptance speech."
"Oh, goodie. We went to the same college, Newt and I. Go Green Wave!" I answer.
"What do you do, other than stalk tea party members who happen to be great torch singers?"
"I am a writer"
"Really? What have you written?"
"Movies, tv pilots, short stories, a novel. But I haven't got paid for any of it yet. Although I wouldn't mind an Ann Coulter pay day sometime."
"What do you write about?"
"Oh, you know the lovable loser? Like Tina Fey but less Greek with better tits. The girl who is always one step away from getting everything she wants. She can't figure out what she's doing wrong, but the audience knows."
"And what is she doing wrong?"
"Not sure yet. Waiting for an audience to read my stuff and then tell me."
"I think you are delusional."
"That has in fact been a recurring theme."
"If we are twins, then why don't we have more in common? You are obviously physically weak, a liberal, and suffer from delusions of grandeur. You can't even get published. If I were you, I, too, would be sad about turning 40."
"You know, the art doesn't have to match the artist. Create a persona for yourself like I did. Look at me, conservative by day, dangerously damaged as the Cat Power persona by night. Doesn't mean I don't feel every song I sing. Can't tell you how many times I've been dumped. By losers I might add. I think that's why I'm so shy, why I hide in closets,"
Goddam twins, we are, even if she is a Tea Bagger.
"But my politics, my private life, it stays private." Chan finishes.
"I guess that makes...sense." I answer her, relieved.
"You should have saved your money, like me, I'm not planning on singing, forever. I have a plan, I am actually a Certified Financial Planner and am managing a 200 million dollar hedge fund right now. Once I turn 40, I am retiring from show business to work full time on the Michele Bachmann campaign and buy as many Greek stocks on the cheap as possible."
"There's a definite Greek theme here tonight" I answer.
"That's what she said" Chan answers back, seductively?
"My life used to be like that, but not anymore. I only want to write, I only want to be an artist. Please, please, let me sing tonight!"
"Alright, let me hear you. If I say yes, I don't want you to make me look bad."
Oh, goodie. I get to sing!
I clear my throat to begin.
"I give you, Billie Holiday" I announce.
There'll be no one unless that someone is you
I intend to be independently blue
I wonder if Chan and Prince are friendly. Billie Holiday was a bad choice. Who do I think I am, Frank-N-Furter?
"God, that’s awful." Chan shakes her head. "Perhaps murdering you would have been the smarter thing."
"No, no, no, I say "One more chance. Its hard to get air into my diaphragm tied up like this."
"Fine, but hurry it up, I've got to change soon. Need to give the liberals what they want - distraught earthy hippie girl: barefoot in bellbottoms, braless."
"Velvet Underground "I say "I Found a Reason."
Oh I do believe
In all the things you see
What comes is better than what came before
And you'd better run run, run run to me
Better run, run run, run run to me
Better come, come come, come come to me
You'd better run
Chan Marshall wipes my eyes with a tissue, shotgun between her legs.
"Now that, that's what I'm talking about. That's real, that's you," she begins,"When I sing that song I think about this guy Bob who used to work at the Chic-fil-a back in highschool in Kentucky. Popped my cherry and everything. He's three hundred pounds now and suffers from sleep apnea. He's my second cousin's Baby Daddy. I hear his voice and my knees get wobbly. I'd love him thick or thin, but I'll never have him all to myself ever again. He's just one, of many, who broke my young heart. Can't be a great torch singer without pain, or a longing for something you might never have"
"Don't you think I'm too old, I mean, we're too old, to still have broken hearts?"
"What's your name again?" Chan Marshall asks.
"Cat" I answer.
"Of course, it's Cat, we're twins, I forgot," Cat Power begins, "Cat, without broken hearts, there would be no art."
"I guess I'm damaged" I say.
"All great artists are" Cat Power shoots back.
"Hooray!" I say meekly. I'd pump my fist in the air if my hands weren't taped behind my back.
"Fine, you can sing, only because I like to give back to the Community"
"What Would The Community Think?" I answer back, witty as ever. My concussion doesn't feel so bad anymore. I've got her in my pocket, now.
“We'll keep your mike on low, so the music will cover you up. What song do you want to sing?” Chan Marshall asks.
Chan Marshall begins to untape me from the chair.
“The Greatest, of course. I can’t think of a better song to sing on the eve of one’s fortieth birthday. In fact, I have been avoiding listening to it all year, because it makes me cry.”
“That song hits me pretty hard, too, Twin. Remember, we will both be celebrating 40 on the same day this year – Saturday January 21st.”
I am almost completely free from the chair.
“The 20th, I thought? You, me and David Lynch? The greatest artists of the twentieth and twenty first centuries?”
“NO, my birthday is the 21st!” Chan Marshall yells with crazy eyes. She lifts her fists up again, in anger.
“But we are both Aquarians!” I scream, my last words, before being knocked unconscious again.
I wake up a few moments later beside a dumpster behind Burrito’s As Big As Your Head, one block down from Schubas.
“Ouch!” I say, my head throbbing.
I look down on my chest to find a soggy tea bag and a Michele Bachmann button pinned to my chest.
Teabag Mafia strikes again.
I make my way into the restaurant and order a Mandarin Jarritos and three steak tacos- no tortillas- of course.
I sit myself into a cheap, hard booth and slide down to the end, against a cold cement wall, drenching my charred meat in hot sauce. I decide to not cut the fat off the carne asada, since I am turning 40 soon, and my life is going into the shitter anyway.
Cat Power, my Tea Baggin' twin; that bitch will haunt me, forever:
Once I wanted to be the greatest
El Mas Grande
El Mas Grande
I decide I will still listen to Cat Power, still appreciate her for her art.
She will meet others I have had to categorize as artists I appreciate for their work only, not their private lives; like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Kim Kardashian.
I will miss thinking we had the same birthday. If I was indeed Chan Marshall’s twin, there was a slim chance I would have inherited some of her greatness.
As I exit the restaurant, I've got goddam Midnight Cowboy back in my head again:
Everybody's talkin' at me
I don't hear a word they're sayin'
Only the echoes
In my mind
Please God, I beg you, don't give me the Ratso Rizzo dream again tonight. Let me make it to Florida to hustle rich old ladies out of their money. I could...self publish....
A Pool Hustler's Daughter grows up in subterranean America. She dreams big, hustles daily and loves her Daddy. With empathy, fascination and grace she navigates and inhabits every tier of society; sees beauty and hope and magic in all things; respects and lives by the "mitzvah."
A Pool Hustler's Daughter calculates the trifecta payout at the racetrack, hides money on three parts of her body, has an arsenal of "Uncles," and keeps a baseball bat by the front door. She values friendship, loyalty and experiences over "things." Like her father, she seeks to learn "The secrets of the universe" and believes "Life ain't on the square." She applauds the self-made and those who learn to "overcome" their circumstances. Her door is always open for a sofa to sleep on, a hot meal, or an eager listener for a life story.
"Tell me, the dream , again..." "Well, it's night, and New York is particularly quiet. It's not necessarily late at...